During his last couple seasons at Ohio State, while watching video of Big Ten opponents his Buckeye offense was preparing to play, Kevin Wilson found himself perking up when those defenses were facing Michigan.
The Michigan offensive coordinator, after all, was Sherrone Moore.
Back in the mid-90s, Moore was an offensive lineman at OU, and the offensive coordinator who recruited and then coached him was Wilson.
Any time Moore’s Wolverines would do something big while Wilson was watching game film, he would lean over to one of his assistants.
“You know that guy played for me,” Wilson would say.
As Michigan prepares to play Washington in the national championship game Monday, the pride about Moore and his ties to OU extends well beyond Wilson. Talk to former teammates about Moore’s rise to Wolverines’ play-caller and interim head coach when Jim Harbaugh was suspended, and you’ll hear nothing but excitement about the Sooner alum.
“Michigan’s been my team since OU was kind of out of play” for the College Football Playoff, said Paul Thompson, who quarterbacked the 2006 Sooners during Moore’s first season at OU. “Obviously, those three games (late in the season) when he stepped in and was the man, I was like, ‘Look at you.’
“I was so happy for him.”
What Moore, 37, had accomplished heading into this season made him a hot name in coaching circles. But leading Michigan down the stretch and beating Ohio State while still calling plays and coaching the offensive line? Now, Moore is in line for a big job.
If Harbaugh takes an NFL job as many expect, Moore might be the next head coach at Michigan.
Former Sooner teammates and coaches say Moore’s ascent is not surprising.
“He was just always a cool dude, just busting his tail,” said Curtis Lofton, a standout linebacker in the mid-2000s. “For me watching him now, it’s like a no-brainer to see that the same thing that made him a good college football player is making him a great college football coach.”
‘Everything about him was always positive’
Kevin Wilson was in desperate need of offensive linemen.
In 2006, he’d lost Jamaal Brown, Davin Joseph, Chris Chester, Vince Carter and Wes Sims. In those pre-transfer-portal days, Wilson went looking for older players who could play right away in the only place a major college program could get them.
“We got Phil Loadholt late out of Garden City,” said Wilson, now the head coach at Tulsa. “There was a guy named Brandon Walker out of Coffeyville who started. And then it was Sherrone.”
Moore had spent two years at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas.
“And it was a really cool experience,” he told reporters before the national semifinal against Alabama.
Moore, who grew up in Derby, Kansas, just outside Wichita, had 18 teammates at Butler who went on to play Division-I football. Among them was Zac Taylor, the Norman native who quarterbacked the Nebraska Cornhuskers and is now the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Got to see what happens when you don’t have a lot with a lot of talented guys and how you can grow camaraderie in a group in that setting,” Moore said. “Really shaped me from a cultural standpoint but also from a football standpoint around some really good players.”
Even though Moore arrived at OU as a successful junior college player, he didn’t land a starting spot. He played as a back-up. Appeared in less than half of the Sooners’ games in 2006.
He could’ve bolted.
At the very least, Moore could’ve sulked.
“He went to practice every day, practiced well every day,” Wilson said. “Every day you were getting a good attitude, a good worker showing up, busting his butt, doing a good job.”
Coaches weren’t the only ones who noticed. Carter Whitson was a walk-on wide receiver from Shawnee who recognized a kindred spirit.
“Neither of us were stars,” Whitson said with a chuckle. “He was the guy that was fighting for a role at any point in time on the offensive line. He needed to know all five spots. He was trying to fight for special-teams time.”
Whitson, now the head coach at Edmond North High School, remembers thinking that showed Moore’s tenacity as well as his intelligence. He was gathering as much information as possible, as much insight, as much know-how.
And Whitson was always impressed by Moore’s demeanor.
“He was always a good teammate and always a happy guy to be around,” Whitson said.
Bob Stoops, the OU head coach when Moore was a Sooner, said, “A really good team guy. Was a really good guy to be around. … Everything about him was always positive.”
Which is a good thing because his rise through the coaching ranks was not easy.
‘He’s a fabulous coach’
Even though Sherrone Moore was widely liked and respected at OU, he wasn’t able to land an entry-level coaching spot in Norman. In those days, teams were allowed two graduate assistants, and the abundance of analysts and quality-control coaches we see today had yet to take hold.
So, Moore took a job as a grad assistant at Louisville.
He was in that position for three (long) years before Charlie Strong hired him in 2012 to coach Cardinals tight end. A year later, Strong was named head coach at Texas and took a couple of his assistants to Austin.
Moore wasn’t one of them.
“Sometimes, that’s like a gut punch,” Wilson said. “You’re like, ‘Geez.’ … He was doing very well. I know those guys like him.
“But sometimes, no matter who you are, how good you are, maybe it just doesn’t fit.”
Moore landed at Central Michigan, coaching tight ends and working for Dan Enos, a long-respected offensive mind in college football.
Four years later in 2018, Moore moved to Michigan to coach tight ends and work for Harbaugh, a long-respected offensive mind in college football.
Now coaching an offensive line that twice won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best unit and coordinating the offense, Moore has become one of the most respected offensive minds in college football.
His former OU coaches relish his rise.
“This is going to lead to a head coaching job at some point,” Stoops said. “And he’s more than earned that.
“When I was with Fox the one year (as an analyst), going to games I was able to bump into him a couple times on the field ahead of games. At the Wisconsin game. A Big Ten championship game against Iowa. I was able to bump into him, say hello and congratulate him. Always gives me a big hug. So just happy for him. What a great career he’s got going.”
Wilson says he’s seen Moore transition from a tremendous position coach to a true offensive leader.
And what he did the final three games of the season as the interim head coach?
“It means you’re doing a head coaching job, a coordinator job and an O-line job, and those are three hard jobs by themselves,” Wilson said. “Very, very intellectual, cerebral guy. Very calm. Very even-keeled. That’s how he was as a young man, as a player, and as he’s matured into a coach, he’s taken those skills … and he’s enhanced those skills.
“He’s a fabulous coach, and he’s done a great job.”
Wilson, by the way, is thrilled to be able to say such things publicly now.
As the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, Wilson knew there was essentially an unwritten rule prohibiting saying anything nice about Moore because he was at Michigan. Such is the nature of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
“I couldn’t do it in public,” Wilson said. “I had to send him a private text — ‘Man, good job. You guys are kicking butt. You look great. Proud of you.’
“But then, it’s almost like, ‘Don’t tell nobody.’”
It’s no longer a secret. Everyone can already see how big-time Sherrone Moore is.