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Paul Moro nears win No. 300 as Blue Ridge football coachSep 27, 2012 Paul Moro has surpassed his initial goal 12 times over, and yet he has shown no sign of letting up.
It's not hard to see why.
The 60-year-old has spent more than half his life in a place with Midwest values, which is exactly what he was looking for when he left an assistant job at California's Yucca Valley High for the White Mountains in northeastern Arizona.
Football is so entrenched in Pinetop, Ariz., it wouldn't be surprising to hear that a baby boy's first cry after being born sounded like ‘Blue' on the inhale and ‘Ridge' on the exhale with their first breath.
It's that serious.
The town members plan their falls around the Yellow Jackets' schedule and local shops close early if that week's away game requires an extended drive. The Blue Ridge (Lakeside) football community is something out of central casting for a small-town high school movie and Moro has that chiseled chin needed for the proverbial leading man.
"Paul does a tremendous job and it has been a perfect fit," camping buddy and Cesar Chavez (Laveen) coach Jim Rattay said. "He couldn't have been placed in a better spot and I guess you could say it worked out well."
Moro is on the verge of becoming the third Arizona coach to win 300 games, as the Yellow Jackets (6-0) enter Friday's game against St. Johns (3-2) with a 299-49 record under their coach. A win puts him at the milestone only the retired Vern Friedli (331 at Amphitheater) and Karl Kiefer (308 at McClintock and Mountain Pointe) have reached.
What separates Moro from the others, including Jess Parker, who had 298 wins in Arizona and 309 overall after a short stint in Texas, is the fact that he has coached in 16 state title games with 12 state titles, both of which are state records.
Not bad for a guy who never considered 100 wins as a goal when he first took over the program after five years as an assistant.
"When I first started coaching I was hoping for one state championship because I never won one," said Moro, who played at Huntington Beach (Calif.,) after moving from Coronado (Scottsdale, Ariz.). "That was my goal. I never looked at 100, 200 or 300 as a goal. It's a great milestone, but nothing I really thought about."
Even today – one win away – the 300-win plateau isn't all that important to Moro. To him it's a sign of longevity, the hard work of his players and coaching staff over the years and his desire to keeping working with kids.
What is special is that all of the wins have come at Blue Ridge, even though there have been opportunities to bolt over the years.
"I've been very comfortable here," he said. "I look at it like God never wanted me to leave or I'd already be gone. There is a reason I've been here this long and I'd never want to change that."
To get an idea of what kind of program Moro runs, he is one of the few coaches on staff who didn't play for the Yellow Jackets. Former players seem to always find their way back to the Pinetop area and still want to be a part of the daily goings on.
One that did get away is Desert Ridge (Mesa, Ariz.) coach Jeremy Hathcock, who played for Moro 1987 to 1990 when he won his first three state titles.
Hathcock said his practices with his Jaguars are very similar to the paces Moro puts the Yellow Jackets through.
"The thing he did that stuck with me is being a stickler for details," said Hathcock, whose first coaching job was at Blue Ridge rival Show Low,, where he won a state title in 2003. "He played good cop, bad cop with his assistants better than anyone, but what he did more than anything was develop a team atmosphere that resonated so deep inside of you that you were willing to do anything for him and your teammates.
"We'd warm up in the gym and when we'd step out to the field there were cars pouring in. You didn't want to let them or coach Moro down."
Moro admits getting players to be unselfish is part of his success and that his practices are always about teaching the game instead of just showing it.
"I would say a practice at Blue Ridge is a lot of instruction, a lot going on," he said. "The players are doing what they are supposed to and they are doing it quickly and the way it is supposed to be done.
"Mostly, it is fun. More fun than people can imagine. It's not the same every day. We work but we take time to laugh and enjoy the sunsets."
And it's pretty clear Moro, who has been married to wife Joyce since 1975 and had three children together, isn't walking off into a sunset any time soon.
"Anyone who has been coaching high school for 30 years has to be dumb," he said. "There is much to deal with these days. A lot of it isn't even football related. It's so exhausting, but I love the kids so I guess I will continue to be some kind of dummy."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is an 18-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at email@example.com or 480-272-2449.
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