In part 1 of our interview, Charlie Moir talked about the early part of his coaching career, and his first six years at Virginia Tech, when he rode players like Wayne Robinson, Dale Solomon, and Les Henson to two NCAA tournament bids. In the second installment of our three-part interview, Moir discusses the great teams and players of the mid-1980s, his final tumultuous year, and the investigation that landed his program on probation and led to his resignation.
Part 2: The Curry/Beecher/Colbert/Young years, and the final season
Let’s talk about the recruitment of Dell Curry.
Dell was heavily recruited. We got in early. I got to know his high school coach really well. We started working him hard. We convinced him that he could come right in and play for us at Tech, because we were losing a player I felt like he could replace.
NC State recruited him hard, maybe our biggest rival, really. Lefty was recruiting him hard at Maryland. We were very fortunate to get him, and he did come in and have a fabulous career. He started as a freshman. I’m not sure what he averaged as a freshman, but it was up high in double figures. (Editor’s note: Dell averaged 14.5 ppg as a freshman.)
Somebody told me that between basketball and baseball, you saw Dell play about 27 times his senior year in high school.
Yeah, probably. I went up to see him play baseball, he was a pitcher. They were playing in a state regional game, and he was pitching. There were two scouts there, and he was drafted as a senior in high school [by the Texas Rangers]. His sophomore year I let him play baseball for Tech. The only game he lost, he fielded a bunt and threw it over the first baseman’s head. That’s how he got beat. (Editor’s note: Curry went 6-1 with a 3.99 ERA. His lone loss was a 3-2 loss to Virginia in which all three UVa runs were unearned.)
He threw it in the 90’s. He could have made it in baseball, probably. He was a great athlete with a fantastic touch. Dell and I still have a strong relationship. Of course I know Dell’s wife Sonya really well, I believe she’s from Radford. She played volleyball at Tech. It’s been a great friendship.
Was there anything in Curry’s recruitment that you had to overcome? He was a McDonald’s All-American that a lot of people wanted.
We just worked hard. We watched him play a lot and developed a close relationship with his parents, especially his dad, who was involved in his recruitment. I think they wanted him to come to Virginia Tech. They knew he was going to play right away and they would get to see him play. Not only did they come to games at Tech, but wherever we played, they were usually there.
I think it was just hard work that got him, and developing a relationship with him and his parents and his high school coach.
That was a really good core of players and you won a lot of games with those guys, the Youngs, Curry, Beecher and Colbert. How was the chemistry amongst those guys? I always heard it was difficult to manage Perry Young and Dell Curry on the same team.
Well I think they were good friends, but Perry was tough to coach. A lot of people don’t know that. He was a good player, but I called him in the office one time and asked him where he wanted to transfer. That was probably after his sophomore year. Bob Schneider, who was on my staff, and Frankie Allen convinced me to not do that.
I think Perry probably prohibited us from getting a couple of players. I think maybe that he convinced them that they didn’t want to play for me, or that this isn’t the place they wanted to come. He was that type of guy. But he had a great career at Tech. But I was ready to let him go at one point.
Maybe Perry wanted to be the star, but he wasn’t as talented as Dell. He was really tough. I listed him at 6-5, but he was about 6-3.5. He played a lot bigger than that though. He went on and played in the CBA, played in Europe.
What kind of things would he do in practice that would upset you?
Well, he would work hard in practice, but it was just his attitude. He wasn’t the team player that I thought he should have been. Al was, Curry was, Beecher was. Beecher was a very talented player. I didn’t feel like Beecher developed as much as he should have. He could have played pro ball for several years if he had worked a little harder. He just didn’t have the fire.
Bobby was from out in the country, like where I grew up. He probably didn’t know the NCAA from the NAIA. He just didn’t realize the talent he had. He shot the ball as well as Curry. In fact, during his career I used him as our free throw shooter when the other team got a technical foul. Both of them probably shot around 90% from the line. Beecher had tremendous touch. But he wasn’t tough inside. He had more talent than he developed. But he’s a good guy, easy to coach, had a good attitude. He had some great games for us.
There is plenty of material on your big wins. Obviously there’s the win with three sophomores and two freshmen, and Memphis came in and they had just been named the #1 team.
That was a big win for us. Memphis was very talented. They probably deserved to be #1. We played a great game. Colbert did a bang up job on Keith Lee. He was a good competitor. That was a win we probably didn’t expect to get. Reggie Steppe came in and did a good job for us.
We won some big games with that group. We went on and won a lot of other big games after that Memphis win.
What kept that team from achieving at a higher level? Were there depth issues?
We didn’t have the depth that we needed. We had three or four players who could really score. We had three or four other players that were role players. But I know we were playing in the NCAA one time, against Villanova in Baton Rouge. Dell got in foul trouble really early. We just didn’t have anyone who could replace him.
You had a situation against Temple in the NCAA Tournament where Perry Young and Tim Lewis missed a practice, and you benched them.
We scheduled a practice for about an hour and a half after we arrived at the hotel. The bus was there ready to go, and Tim and Perry didn’t show up, so we left. I benched them for the first half of the game. I probably should have benched them for the entire game. I think that really hurt us against Temple. But those are the things I was talking about with Perry, things like that.
Tim Lewis was a good guy. He would never miss a practice.
That’s a tough decision as a coach. You were in the NCAA Tournament, and you had to bench your leading scorer for half the game. How difficult was that?
Well, it was difficult to not bench him for the entire game, in all honesty. That showed me that he wasn’t a team player.
The story that made the papers was that the hotel desk was told to call Perry’s room, but they accidentally called Al Young’s room instead. Al was on the bus, so obviously he didn’t answer, and Perry never got the phone call.
Yeah, that’s probably true, I don’t remember. But he knew the time he was supposed to be there. I was always ahead of time, and I expected my players to be the same way. We probably would have won that game with Perry playing the whole game. We were in the ball game. I felt badly afterwards, but I felt like I did what I had to do.
The next year, 1985-86, the Youngs were gone, and it was Curry, Beecher and Colbert. That team started out 18-4. They went 4-5 over their last nine games and finished third in the Metro. That was the year you lost to Florida State in the Metro tournament on a last second shot.
The guy was from Harrisonburg. Pee Wee Barber. Florida State played better than I expected them to.
They beat you that year and the year before and they really weren’t that good of a team.
No, they weren’t. I don’t think they had good chemistry. That was a game where we played well and still lost. They just played a really good ball game against us, better than I anticipated. That was a really tough loss for us. That was a painful loss. I was very disappointed. I recall that game very well. It was played at Freedom Hall.
Back to the depth thing …
It was really tough to recruit against the ACC. If you got involved with a kid that Duke or Carolina was after, you just moved on to the next guy. Maryland was the same way back then. It’s tough to compete with those guys in recruiting. That keeps you from developing depth. We would have maybe three guys who were real good scorers, and a couple of unselfish role players, but we needed better guys on the bench.
I think that they used to give 5,000 tickets to the students back then when you were a coach. Now, it’s about half that much (actually, 3,500). Back in your day, you were on the bench and the other side of Cassell was just a wall of students. It was really loud back then.
Yeah, it was. The student support was unbelievable. They would camp out for tickets. We had big games in there, especially Louisville, Memphis and some of the other teams. I’ll never forget the Memphis State game when they were #1. The crowd stayed in Cassell and we came back out from the locker room after the game. It was a great experience.
Another time when we beat Memphis State, they were #2 in the country. Virginia beat #1 UNC that day, and that game was at noon. Memphis probably would have been #1, but we kept them from being #1. That was a big win for us.
When I talk about great players that you played against in the Metro days, who comes to mind? Who was the best player that you ever coached against?
Well, probably Larry Bird. But that was before the Metro, and that was one game. At Louisville, you had Jerry Eaves, Billy Thompson, Milt Wagner … they were all outstanding basketball players. At Memphis, it was Keith Lee, William Bedford, Andre Turner … that little guard they had.
Everybody had a good player. Tulane had Hot Rod Williams, and he was a really good player. But Memphis and Louisville stood out to me. They didn’t just have two or three. They had six or seven really good players who had been heavily recruited.
Cincinnati had some good players. We lost a close game to them once where Phil Williams had a great shot set up at the end, but one of the defenders cracked his shooting hand and the officials didn’t call the foul. Officials don’t want to end the game at the free throw line.
Another big win for us came against NC State in Greensboro (in the fall of 1983), they were #7 in the country. Al Young had a good game. Everybody had a good game. That was a tournament, and we should have won the first game against Wake Forest. We missed some free throws down the stretch.
How did you get along with some of the other Metro coaches?
I got along really well with all of the coaches. Two of the coaches who didn’t get along were Dana Kirk and Denny Crum. Dana had been on Denny’s staff, but the NCAA passed a rule that limited the number of assistants you could have, and Denny let Dana go. They had a strong dislike for each other.
One year I was the Chairman at the Metro Conference meetings. If Denny said the sun was shining outside, Dana would say it was raining. They opposed each other on anything tooth and nail. It was tough. But with other guys like Joe Williams and Bill Foster, we got along fine. I had a really good relationship with them.
Denny is a good guy. I remember him saying that Cassell was the toughest place he ever had to take a team. We always played well against Louisville. I remember maybe our first game in the Metro, we were playing Louisville in Freedom Hall on a Sunday afternoon TV game. They were so talented, I was just hoping they wouldn’t blow us out of the place. They got off to a good lead, but we came back and it was a good ball game. That convinced me that we had the talent to be competitive in the league.
My impression is that after you recruited Curry, Beecher and Colbert, you started struggling in recruiting.
Yeah. My last year there, we really didn’t have the talent. We weren’t getting the job done recruiting. We seemed to lose players right at the end, for whatever reason. There were the Dozier twins [Perry and his twin brother Terry, a 1985 McDonald’s All-American]. There was a guard from Bassett that we recruited hard and lost at the end to Wake Forest. I really thought we had a shot at the Dozier twins. Bob Wade was coaching at South Carolina then, and that’s where they went. We were way ahead on them early, and I don’t know what happened.
We had a good relationship with Bob Wade. Frankie Allen knew him real well, and I knew him real well. He later got the Maryland job.
Wally Lancaster transferred from Maryland I think, and Russell Pierre transferred from NC State, and Johnny Fort from Iowa.
All of those were disappointments, in all honesty. Fort was a very talented high school player. He didn’t get along with George Raveling, the Iowa coach. Raveling called me and convinced me to take Fort, which I did. I think Fort felt like he should have been the star, he was a Parade All-American out of high school. But we had good players at his position.
And Russell Pierre just didn’t work hard. He got married, for whatever reason. And we recruited him some out of high school. We thought he was a good player, but he just didn’t develop for us. He didn’t work hard.
Lancaster, it was my fault I guess that we took him. I don’t want to downgrade Wally, but he had been to about three different high schools. His dad was very involved in his recruitment. He was not a good defender. He could shoot the ball, but that was about it. He didn’t want to play defense.
Another guy who didn’t work out like I thought he would was Roy Brow. He was athletic, but he didn’t play much basketball. He just didn’t have any touch inside. He didn’t have the hands. He worked hard, he just wasn’t that good of a player. He was over-recruited.
The Mike Porter thing hurt you.
(Editor’s note: Porter, out of Pulaski County, was a 1985 McDonald’s All-American who signed with Tech. He failed to qualify out of high school, and then was charged the summer after high school with forging a co-worker’s check. Porter went to San Jacinto Junior College in Texas and finished his college career at St. John’s.)
It did. We recruited Mike hard. He was incredibly talented. He would have been a super player, and he would have been a freshman during Curry’s senior season.
He signed with Tech, and during the summer he worked at Tech. He was a good worker and a smart guy, but for some reason … I don’t know what happened. He had some problems in high school. And maybe at the end we cooled off on him a bit.
I do remember your last year when you went 10-18, you were getting thin. Russell Pierre only played a couple of games. Then he was declared academically ineligible. If he had stuck around, would you have been able to hold it together on the court?
Probably so, but still not like it had been with Curry and Beecher and that group. We just weren’t deep at all. For some reason we just weren’t getting the players we needed to get to be competitive against the teams we were playing against. For whatever reason, I don’t know. Frankie Allen worked hard.
Frankie Allen was obviously a good recruiter for you. Who else?
Tom Abatemarco. He came from Maryland. He helped us with Curry a lot, because he had been recruiting Curry to Maryland. He was a recruiter but he was a strange guy. I see him every now and then, I get along with him, but he really irritated me sometimes. He only stayed with us one year. I asked him at the time, and I knew he was real good friends with Valvano, “Are you going to be with us long-term?” He said yes, and then he went with Valvano after one year.
I think that really upset me. After Tom left, NC State ended up signing a JUCO kid from California that we had gone out to see several times. He was from Rocky Mount, NC originally. I called Valvano and told him it was unethical. He said “Well, we were recruiting him.” I said “No, you weren’t recruiting him, you hadn’t been out there, I know for a fact.”
We spent a lot of money traveling to California to recruit him. I went out there a couple of times. Abatemarco went out about four times [recruiting him for Tech]. I think he would have been a better player for Tech than he was at NC State.
In your last year, was there ever a moment where you realized “oh boy, we’re in deep trouble”?
I guess back in those days when you had a player like Curry and Beecher, it was tough to recruit people at that spot. They knew that they were going to sit. That made recruiting tough on us. I guess I had a reputation for not substituting very much, and if I had it to do over I would probably substitute more. But whoever I put in wasn’t even going to be as good as a tired Curry, so I just didn’t substitute a lot.
Another guy who had some big games for us but who didn’t play a whole lot, he’s a good friend of mine and Paige, is John Dixon. He was Beecher’s backup. He probably should have played a little bit more. Back then I only played seven or eight players. Maybe that hurt me a little bit in recruiting, I don’t know. But I knew I had something strong there with Curry, Beecher and Colbert. Dell was a 38 minute player.
Is there anything you want to say about the investigation of Virginia Tech that led to probation?
I felt like it was poorly managed by the administration. The investigators never talked with me. I didn’t know anything was going on. In fact, the first I heard about it was a girl who worked in my office was dating Roy Brow, and I was at a tournament in Maryland, and she called me and told me the investigators had talked with Roy Brow. There were two, they were investigating football at the time too.
The investigators were on campus, and I guess some players got miffed at me because they weren’t playing, but I felt like I should have been notified by the administration. They were making accusations that … there’s no way …
The accusations were pretty outlandish. Shoeboxes full of money, shaving points, etc.
And cars. Hell, it was ridiculous. I felt like I had a good relationship with the administration then, and maybe I was as responsible as anybody, but I felt like I should have been notified. Those two investigators … I know Mike Slive has done well as the SEC commissioner, but as far as I was concerned he was a damned dog. He came at me hard and for no reason. Hell, we hadn’t broken any NCAA rules. I think maybe Bobby Stephens had given a player a ride home from campus, or something like that.
I know they came at me about giving Bobby Beecher money. Beecher was a country boy who wasn’t used to any money. I remember when his dad brought him to Tech, he gave me $600 and told me “Look, when Bobby needs some money, give it to him.” I’m sure that was a strain on his dad and on his family, but he knew Bobby would need money. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just being humane and it’s not an NCAA violation.
There are still some NCAA rules that I think are ridiculous, like giving a player a ride to a class across campus, stuff like that. Bobby certainly never got any money from anybody, except from his family. How the investigators knew that stuff, I don’t know. They agreed, and that was never even brought up in any of the reports. It was ridiculous.
They talked about me buying a car for Johnny Fort. I remember the guy, it was Glazier [the other investigator]. When Fort came back to school, he had a car. How he got it, I don’t know, from his brother or whoever. I told Glazier, “If I bought him a damn car, I should be shot”, because he hadn’t done anything on the court the year before. If I had it to do over, I would have bought Ralph Sampson a car, he would have been worth going on probation for (laughing).
Coming Up in Part 3: Moir talks some more about Sampson’s recruitment, a very generous job offer he once received, and the challenges of building a basketball program at Virginia Tech.