Team Player

Eric Moore dedicates himself to creating a successful football program

By Glenda Winders  //  Photography by Angela Jackson and Daily Journal file photos

Center Grove’s football coach Eric Moore just came off a winning season that ended with a state championship and being named Coach of the Year for the second time by the Indianapolis Colts. What does it take to accomplish this much while fighting against cancer?
“I don’t know,” Moore said, smiling sheepishly. “I’m just a guy who stumbled in here with a little bit of charisma, some ideals and thinking, ‘Why can’t we be great?’”
And great they have been, winning three back-to-back state championships — five since Moore signed on at the school in 1999. But he places credit for these accomplishments squarely on the players.
“These kids and their work ethic are what have gotten me through almost 25 years,” he said. “They’ve had great parenting, and they want to succeed in something at the next level. The parents have been spectacular, and the administration has been amazing.”
Along the way, he has greatly increased the number of players involved in the Bantam League and started the Power Club, where both boys and girls in second through eighth grades can learn agility, speed, flexibility, balance, muscular development and more. He teaches physical education and coaches track and field, for which he also has a state championship under his belt.
And while he might be reticent to say why he is the Colts’ Coach of the Year, Mike Prior, a former NFL player and the Colts’ Youth Football Commissioner, is not.
“We award coaches who have an impact on their team, the school and the community,” he said. “And it helps if they win some games. What Coach Moore has done in that program and the whole community is phenomenal. He exemplifies what a Coach of the Year is, especially with the health problems he has had to deal with over the last couple of years.”
Moore’s story began in Bloomington, Indiana, where he attended Edgewood High School in nearby Ellettsville. He graduated from Indiana University, after playing defensive end and center on the football team, with a degree in education and specialty in physical education. It was then he decided to go into coaching.
“After playing in college, I still enjoyed being in the game and wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “But I’d rather be a facilitator of the game than a participant. It’s what keeps my fire lit. I had a passion for it and I wanted to keep moving in that direction.”
He did his student teaching in Columbus and from there took a job in Punta Gorda, Florida, where he stayed until he returned to Indiana to be closer to his children from his first marriage. Son, Tyson, is now the head football coach in Seymour, and daughter, Hannah, is a fourth-grade teacher in Columbus.
He got the offer to come to Center Grove right after his interview, but he was hesitant at first, partly because he wasn’t impressed with the football facilities.
“I didn’t think I could come here,” he said. “The basketball arena was the Taj Mahal, but football was terrible. We continued talking back and forth, and eventually, I put my pride away and said the best thing I can do for my kids is get back to central Indiana so I could help raise them.”
He also has three children from a second marriage: Sydney, a sophomore at Center Grove; Hayden, a freshman at Ball State University; and Jackson, a barber at Jones’ Barber Shop in Greenwood.
Today, the school has state-of-the-art football facilities, he said, thanks to excellent school boards and Ray Skillman, who donated $1.5 million for improvements. Still, Moore said being a football coach, especially of a winning team, is a tremendous commitment.
“We went to the state finals four years in a row,” he said. “That’s 17 weeks of seven-day-a-week work. There’s never a day off.”
He watches films of Friday night’s game on Saturday morning with the team, and when the junior varsity and freshman games are over on Saturday afternoons, he visits the field where the Bantam League is playing to watch their games and let them know they are important and cared for.
On Sundays, he spends six or seven hours putting together a game plan and a practice schedule for the following week. Then, he supervises practice after school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“It’s a tough life for the amount of money you make,” he said. “You’ve really got to want to do it. We have been extremely successful, so it enables us to continue to push through long periods of trying to get to the state finals and win.”
Something else that keeps him going is the success rate of his former players, whose photographs cover his office walls.
“They don’t all go to college, but what they accomplish is unbelievable,” he said. “Top Gun pilots, doctors, lawyers, Wall Street accountants, firemen, police officers and professional football players — so many great young men.”
The professional athletes he mentioned are Russ Yeast, who plays for the Los Angeles Rams, and Parker Ferguson, who has a futures contract with the Denver Broncos. Several of his former athletes now play on college teams. Whatever they do, Moore believes playing football helps them.
“It builds tremendous character, helps them with their self-discipline and mental toughness,” he said. “We want everyone to be successful, to be bigger, stronger, faster and tougher. It makes them better young men, better workers and fathers — better at anything they choose to do. We have an inspirational saying: ‘Hard work times dedication equals success,’ and we hang our hats on that.”
He inspires his players in other ways, too. He and his younger daughter have a tradition of watching “The Polar Express” together during the holidays, and he said he likes the idea that the bell in the movie could only being heard by people who believe in the Christmas spirit. One year, at the beginning of the practice season, he put a bell with no clapper into each player’s locker, explaining that they would be able to hear the bell ring only when they showed him that they believed the team could be successful. By the first game they were all ringing their bells, and they went on to win the state championship. Another way is to ask them before games what their legacy to the school will be.
Including freshmen, junior varsity and varsity, the Center Grove football program now involves some 150 players, and they stay in the program, some even knowing they might be bested by younger players and never get off the bench. Assistant coach Nick Lyon said it is Moore’s personality that elicits this level of loyalty. He played under Moore when he was a student at the school where he now teaches math.
“Many aspects of Coach Moore make him elite,” he said. “He’s personable. He gets to know us and he treats players like they’re his own children. He’s like a second father, but he also demands a lot out of everyone. As a coach, I want to work as hard as he does to meet his high expectations. He’s passionate about everything he does. He is a phenomenal teacher and a great role model. I’ve learned a lot from him about being an educator and a coach.”
When football season ends, track season begins, which means Moore has little free time. He likes to play golf, but decided long ago to focus on football. He also loves Indy car and NASCAR racing (sometimes giving players the option of running fewer sprints if they can name the winner of the previous weekend’s races) and he plays on a pickleball team. He said he used to play full-court basketball but can’t right now because he needs knee surgery, which can’t be done until the cancer is under control. He also enjoys watching other teams play football and reading about the science of sports.
He might have more time to himself coming up before long, however, since he is starting to think about retirement.
“I’m fully vested, and the longer I stay the less time I’ll have to spend the money,” he said. “It’s guys like me that help the system but hurt themselves by staying too long, but it has been such a great run here. I love the job, the people, the town, the community. We’re the only show on Friday nights because we don’t have to share with the Colts or IU. It’s all about us.”
For reasons he doesn’t understand, Center Grove was dismissed from the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference in which they had been playing, so they are freelancing now, which means playing schools from farther away, often out of state, and that is one of the factors in the decision he dreads to make. Another is after several star-players graduated, he didn’t want to leave a new coach — hopefully someone from his current staff, he said — with a team that hasn’t yet found its footing. When he does leave, he plans to move back to Florida, where he can continue to work on improving his health in warmer weather.
The day he leaves won’t be a happy one for the athletes he has coached, however. Zach Greller, now a senior, began working with Moore as a member of the Power Club and has been coached by him in both track and football. He plans to run track in college and said Moore has helped him throughout the recruiting process.
He summed up best how the players feel about their coach and why he will be missed when he leaves.
“He’s not just a football or track coach,” he said. “He’s a really cool guy to sit down with and talk to. We have great conversations and laugh a lot. He’s definitely what keeps me coming back to football every time, even when I think I don’t want to pursue it. Before every game he tells me he loves me. He’s a great guy all around.”