By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., Shawn Moore has been a counselor, a coach and, in the lower school, the dean of students, all roles in which he formed strong bonds with the boys he helped nurture.
So when Moore had to tell them the other day, during a chapel service, that he was leaving St. Albans, he struggled.
“It was pretty emotional,” he said Wednesday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. “As I was walking out of the National Cathedral, kids were saying, ‘Coach Moore, why do you have to leave?’
“And it just broke my heart. But this is something that I feel like I have to do for the program. I’m excited about it, and hopefully I won’t be looking back.”
Moore, one of the greatest football players in University of Virginia history, is back at his alma mater as an assistant coach on Mike London’s new staff.
“When I think of UVa people, the model, I think of a guy like Shawn who’s a story of life-after-football success,” London said.
The coaching assignments haven’t been finalized, but Moore is likely to work with Virginia’s wide receivers. Wherever he ends up, Moore will excel, his best friend is convinced.
“He’s very meticulous about his craft,” said Chris Slade, another former All-American at UVa.
Moore, 41, and London are longtime friends, and years ago they discussed the possibility of working together.
“And when we talked about it, I knew in my mind that Mike would be a head coach one day,” Moore said. “When reality actually set in, when he was at Richmond, I was thinking, ‘OK, Mike, should be in the line for the Virginia job.’
“Then when he actually got the Virginia job, it hit me. When he made the phone call, I said, ‘Wow!'”
After UVa hired him last month to replace Al Groh, London called Moore to gauge his interest in joining the Wahoos’ staff.
“My initial thought was, this is not something I’d really like to do,” Moore said. “Because I was entrenched in the Washington, D.C., area, I truly love St. Albans, and my son’s a sophomore in high school, so I really wanted to see that through.
“But once I thought about it and started talking to some close family members and friends, and actually discussed it with my son, he actually encouraged it. He said, ‘I think this is something you should do. It’s the next step in coaching. If you enjoy coaching so much at the high school level, why not take the next step?'”
And so Moore is back at Virginia, where he was a three-year starter at quarterback for George Welsh. As a senior in 1990, Moore finished fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
“Great, great pickup for UVa,” Slade said. “My boy’s coming back to coach. Let’s get that scoreboard moving.”
At St. Albans, where he worked with quarterbacks on the varsity, Moore also coached track and basketball in the lower school. He’s never been a college coach, but he’s tutored quarterbacks in the Football University training program.
“I’ve seen some of the top student-athletes in the country come through that organization,” Moore said, “and working with those high-profile athletes has really given me the bug in terms of coaching some of the top quarterbacks and seeing some of the top players in the country.
“Coaching, to me, is not hard. It’s about personalities. How do you establish rapport with kids? How do you get along with kids? If you ask people that are close to me, people from St. Albans, they’ll tell you my relationship with kids is by far one of the best in the school.”
London said: “The biggest thing is, he’s a communicator. I’m building a staff on relationships and on guys that communicate with players, and then we’ll put the schemes together that fit the players. That’s all coaching is anyway. He’ll be surrounded by people that can help in whatever areas that need addressing, but I think he’ll be strong in a lot of areas.”
Moore’s son, Michael, attends DeMatha High School, where he plays football and basketball. The younger Moore, who’s likely to be a major-college prospect in football, plans to remain at DeMatha through the 12th grade.
He can expect to see a lot of his father, and not only in Charlottesville. Shawn Moore will take over for Anthony Poindexter as UVa’s lead recruiter in the D.C. area, where, Moore said, he already knows coaches at many high schools.
Much has been made of London’s desire to recruit the talent-rich Tidewater portion of Virginia, known in football circles as the 7-5-7. Moore can’t wait to recruit the 202 and the 301 and the 240 and the 410 and the 703.
“The great thing about about being up there is that for the last five years I’ve been surrounded by all that talent in that area,” Moore said. “Dex has done a wonderful job with his relationships up there, and I want to lean on him to utilize those same relationships, but also utilize my own, and hopefully get some of these kids here.”
In three of its final four seasons under Groh, the ‘Hoos finished with a losing record — in part, Moore believes, because the talent level in the program dropped dramatically.
“That’s the biggest thing: losing out on so many players,” he said at JPJ. “I come back here today and I look at everything that surrounds me, and I ask myself, ‘How can a kid from Washington, D.C., or the Tidewater area not want to go to school here?’
“You’re going to a great school, you’re going to get a great degree, and you’re going to play a high level of sports. So if that’s hard to sell, then maybe this is not for me. But it doesn’t appear that this is a hard sell. This is a great place to be, and I’m a product of it.”
The 2005 season was the last at UVa for Marques Hagans, who succeeded Matt Schaub as Groh’s starting quarterback. Since then, inconsistent QB play has contributed heavily to UVa’s well-documented woes on offense. If the Cavaliers are to rejoin the ACC’s elite, Moore said, they must improve at the sport’s most critical position.
“Go back to the days when there was consistency in our teams,” he said. “There was always a guy waiting in the wings [at quarterback]. Always. Every year. And it didn’t matter if the guy played. He watched for a year or two to get the system under his belt, so it wasn’t a new thing for them.”
With such players as Moore and Don Majkowski and Scott Secules and Matt Blundin and Bobby Goodman and Mike Groh and Aaron Brooks, Welsh almost always had a productive quarterback during his illustrious tenure at UVa.
“We’ve had some really great signal-callers here,” Moore said, “so we have to get back to that and identify kids that can play that position, that can lead this team. It’s going to be a tough task, but they’re out there. We just gotta get them to come here.”
Slade said Moore will prove to be a natural recruiter.
“He’ll be able to sit in any living room,” Slade said. “He has the charisma to talk to kids. He’s very articulate, he’s very knowledgeable about the University, and he’s very charming.”
He’s also a man who knows his lifestyle is about to change drastically. At St. Albans, Moore had summers off. At UVa, he figures to work at least 80 hours a week most of the year.
Did that make Moore question the wisdom of a move into coaching?
“It did,” he said. “I paused for a minute, but I also thought about the opportunities that this university gave me. This is my turn now to step back in and say, OK, let’s help revive and rejuvenate this program and get it back to where it should be.”