Insider: Old-school Moore behind Colts' new-age offense
Nov. 17, 2004
By Pete Prisco
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- When Tom Moore walked into a side room at the Indianapolis Colts practice facility for an interview, it was hard not to think the obvious.
This is the offensive mastermind of the Colts, the man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Ahs? Did somebody send the team plumber instead?
At 65, Moore is an old man in a younger man's profession, his graying hair and worn face showing the signs of someone who has been coaching in the NFL for 27 years. If Central Casting wanted the stereotypical throwback coach, Moore would be it.
You almost expect him to pull out a whistle during the interview and tell you to speed up the questioning.
He doesn't have the look NFL owners want to trot out when they hire a coach, not in this era where image sells and when, sadly, how a man looks can be a detriment to his getting a job. Age will almost certainly keep Tom Moore from ever becoming an NFL head coach, and that's a kind of discrimination nobody ever talks about or fights to overcome.
"I don't worry about it," Moore said. "My job is offensive coordinator. My job is to be the best I can be at whatever I'm doing. Everything else takes care of itself. Everybody has aspirations. But I don't feel cheated. I've been very, very lucky. I've worked with great head coaches, great assistants and great players. I'm 65, and nobody's had more fun than me."
There is no letup in Moore. He works the same hours as all the younger coaches, maybe even more. So how much longer can he go?
"Forever," Moore said. "Why not? How many people can say they're doing what they want to do for as long as I've done it. I like what I do. Why would I walk away?"
What's not to like? Moore is the best offensive coordinator in football, the man who makes Peyton Manning and the Colts offense go. He pulls the strings for an offensive attack run by the best quarterback in the game, a man on pace to shatter some of the biggest passing records in history.
Want a reason? OK, aside from having Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison.
How many other coordinators would open a game with 22 consecutive passes, as Moore did against Green Bay earlier this year? How many would give their quarterback the freedom at the line of scrimmage that Moore gives Manning? Sure, it's much easier to do with a player like that, but it's still progressive stuff.
"You can't play scared," Moore said.
There lies the secret to his success. In a league full of convention, he isn't conventional. If you play tight and blitz, he'll throw for an entire quarter if he has to do so. Play off, and he'll run it down your throat. Just ask the Patriots, who got a dose of that in the season opener.
Run, run, pass on third down is not the Colts way. It's not the Moore way.
"I don't ever want to be labeled conservative or predictable," Moore said. "That's two things I don't want. I don't believe in playing that way. That's not Tom Moore. Tom Moore has to be Tom Moore. You have to be aggressive. You have to take your shots. No guts, no blue chips."
No guts, no blue chips.
That's a Tom Moore-ism. He is full of them, and he often passes them down to his quarterback, one- or two-sentence phrases to help keep him on top of things.
"He always gives me those," Manning said. "It's one of his old coaching tricks."
"Just things I've collected over the years," Moore said.
He has also collected the wisdom of plenty of good coaches. A former quarterback at Iowa -- would you expect anything else from the way he calls plays? -- Moore began his career as a college coach, working his way up to offensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota, where his quarterback for a year was none other than Colts coach Tony Dungy.
Moore came into the NFL as an offensive assistant and coordinator under Chuck Noll for the Pittsburgh Steelers, staying from 1977-1989, winning two Super Bowl rings. After that, he went to the Vikings as coordinator and then to the Detroit Lions from 1994-96. It was there that he worked a major miracle.
Moore made Scott Mitchell a 4,000-yard passer in 1995 when the Lions led the league in offense. Scott Mitchell?
That 1995 team was a hint of things to come. Brett Perriman and Herman Moore each had more than 100 catches, the first tandem in league history to accomplish that feat, and Barry Sanders' presence in the backfield makes that even more amazing. But Moore doesn't make a big deal about it.
"We did some pretty good things that year," he said.
After a year with the New Orleans Saints in 1997, Moore joined the Colts as coordinator for Jim Mora. Manning came on board in 1998, and the two worked through Peyton's tough rookie year.
"He stuck by me, though," Manning said. "He never held me back. That's one thing about Tom. He wasn't going to restrict me. He let me work through a lot of things. That helped as I got older."
Mora was fired after the 2001 season, and Moore was in limbo. That's when his former player Dungy took over as coach of the Colts. Dungy did the smart thing and kept Moore on as coordinator.
Dungy and Ron Meeks run the defense. The offense is all Moore.
His play-calling and offensive system might be modern, but he coaches with a style that is definitely retro. Ask any Colts player to describe Moore, and they'll all talk about his in-your-face approach.
"Tom's direct," running back Edgerrin James said. "He'll get on you. That can bother some guys. But I'm more laid-back. I'll tell you one thing, he knows everything there is to know about football. He's got a million stories. And he knows how to put points on the board. I know that. He's a bad mother------."
"I don't think I'm jumping on them," Moore said. "I want them to do it right. That's my job. I like to call it constructive criticism."
Whatever it is, it works. The Colts lead the league in scoring at 33.1 points per game, a pace that will give them 530 for the season. If they improve that some in the final seven games, they have a chance to take down the record, 556 by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
Manning has thrown 31 touchdown passes, putting him on pace to shatter Dan Marino's season record of 48. Manning has thrown 25 or more touchdown passes in six consecutive seasons, the first man to accomplish that. He has also thrown for 4,000 or more yards in each of the past five years and is on pace to do so again, which would be another league record.
"Tom tells me if I don't get 4,000 yards, it's a bad season," Manning said.
Just blunt and to the point, which is the Moore way.
Moore credits the players and his assistants for his success. He's not one of those to stand up and bask in the numbers his offense is putting up, not at the expense of others. There is no politicking to get a head-coaching job.
He is a reluctant interview subject, but once he sits down he changes. Talking football apparently coming quite easy, the coach in him seeping through at all times. Maybe that's because he says football is all he knows.
"I need to get a life," Moore said. "This is my life, always has been since I was a kid."
Walking away won't be easy. Not after all the years, all the success, all the memories. But it's bound to happen, sooner rather than later.
"When I can't fulfill my responsibility, then I'll retire," Moore said. "As long as I enjoy it. As long as I have the get up and go and as long as I have the energy do to my job, I'll be coaching. I'm not going to hang on, though, I'll tell you that. And I think I will know when that time has come."
Then, and only then, will the man behind the curtain walk away from the game he so loves.
It will be a shame if it happens without getting the recognition he truly deserves.