Coach’s Chair: Wes Moore, North Carolina State University

Wes Moore gets a hug from Miah Spencer after the Wolfpack upset Notre Dame in December, 2016. Photo courtesy of North Carolina State athletics.
Wes Moore gets a hug from Miah Spencer after the Wolfpack upset Notre Dame in December, 2016. Photo courtesy of North Carolina State athletics.

In five years as North Carolina State University’s head coach, Wes Moore has lead the Wolfpack to three postseason appearances, highlighted by last year’s Sweet 16 run to cap off a 26-win season. In all five years, Moore’s teams have posted winning records, and four with 20-plus wins. He was the 2017 ACC coach of the year.

Before coming to North Carolina State, Moore was the head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for 15 years. He guided the Mocs to 12 regular-season Southern Conference titles, nine conference tournament championships and nine NCAA Tournament berths. He was the conference coach of the year six times.

Moore was head coach at Francis Marion and Maryville College before serving as an assistant coach at North Carolina State, under Kay Yow, from 1993-1995.

What was it like to return to North Carolina State almost 20 years after you left it?

I just feel very blessed. With coach Yow, the legend, giving me an opportunity to be an assistant here in the mid-90’s was was unbelievable. She was an incredible coach and an even better person, and it was an honor to work with her. Now her sister (athletic director Debbie Yow), who I didn’t know at the time, to bring me back – I’m very appreciative of that opportunity. It is great to come to a program with the history and tradition that coach Yow built, and with the level of commitment that Debbie brings to women’s basketball.

I’m sure the facilities have changed since you were there last.

The University spent over 35 million on Reynolds Coliseum. They made that investment for us and a couple of other sports, and it’s made an unbelievable difference in everyone’s attitude coming to work every day, and in coming to practice. It’s a great venue and with our fans, it makes for such a home court advantage.

What did you learn from coach Yow when you were an assistant coach for her?

The way she treated people, and this is very rare to say, but I don’t know if there was a player who didn’t love coach Yow. She was always there, almost like a mother for them. And she wasn’t just a legend at NC State, but in state of North Carolina. She always had time for everyone and went out of her way to help people. That also showed in the way she managed her staff and the people around her.

Coach Yow’s teams were always good in transition, and they liked to push tempo. That’s something we’re continuing to get better at doing.

Do you feel a duty to carry on her legacy with the Wolfpack?

I was fortunate to be here with her and help build the former players and the fan base. That has helped keep everyone united, because it’s not easy when a legend spends 34 years on a campus and leaves. I have to pinch myself and look around and think, ‘what am I doing in this room?’ Every day I see Kay Yow Court and the hall of fame banner. We’ve also had the legends Jim Valvano and Norm Sloan, and I think of all the people who have walked those sidelines. It’s an honor to be here.

Did you play basketball?

I played at a small college that’s now called Johnson University, outside Knoxville, Tennessee, which used to be named Johnson Bible College. I had grown up in Dallas, and at Johnson I was right there in the shadow of Pat Summitt. I started out coaching at Maryville, outside Knoxville. I was able to work coach Summitt’s camps, attend practices and really observe and learn from another legend. Pat made a big impact on my coaching career. I was not a very talented player, but I loved the game and I really enjoyed my college experience getting to play and travel; it was a fun time.

Where we struggle with relating to the present generation is when someone doesn’t play hard or doesn’t compete. Our men’s coach, Kevin Keatts, played Division III ball and had to pay his dues and work his way up. You see that in his coaching.

What is your lens like from the beginning of your coaching career until now? How has the game – and those who play it – changed?

The skill level and the athleticism has got so much better. You look at the high school coaching these kids are getting, or their summer ball experience, and you see how much time they put into their craft. You see kids get up at 5:30 a.m to do workouts before they go to class. They’re putting the time into it to be great. The game has grown so much in its level of interest, the level of exposure, the fan interest. It’s been amazing to watch it grow.

When we grew up you didn’t ask why, and now they want to understand your philosophy. I’m big on character, and I’m not going to take on someone just because they’re a great basketball player. If you stick to your standards, in the long run, you build that culture and will attract more good kids.

What are the foundations of a successful program? How do you maintain that success?

It’s about the people, and it starts with the coaching staff. You want people who are knowledgeable and who have the experience. I want good people as assistants who really care about our kids and who will be there for them on and off the court, preparing them for the rest of their lives. I want people I can trust, and those who will have my back. Player-wise, these kids spend so much time together in practice, traveling, in housing. If you recruit good people, you will be successful in the long haul. I want to be proud of them on the court and in the community.

How do you approach the task of goal-setting?

I’m probably not real good at that. My goal at the end of the year is to be the best we can possibly be. To close that gap between what we should be and what should have been. My goal every year is 20 wins and to get to the NCAA tourney and be playing our best basketball at that time. I want to see great energy and great effort, and I want us to keep getting better.

What is the biggest challenge in coaching? What is the most gratifying aspect?

Recruiting. When you go out in the summer and you’re sitting on a court that has only one legitimate power 5 player out there, and there’s hundreds of coaches sitting around that court, you know how competitive it is to get a good player. Then you have to make the right decision. It’s not an exact science.

When they walk on campus their freshman year until they walk off as as senior, it’s gratifying to see how mature they are and how much they’ve grown. When you see what they’ve accomplished and the confidence they’ve cultivated, and you know their experience at their university has helped them reach that point.

Is there anything you’ve learned from coaching that you hadn’t anticipated?

The biggest thing is that you’ve got to have passion in whatever you do. For me it turned out to be being around young people and helping them do what they want to do. When I blew my knee out at Johnson Bible College, I realized I wouldn’t be an NBA first-round draft pick, but I wanted to be around sports, and its been an unbelievable ride. play at their full potential feels great.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I look at Pat Summitt and Kay Yow and the coaches that trail blazed for the rest of us throughout their careers. Like them I am tough and I’m demanding. The more I expect, the more I demand, and when they walk out of here and reflect, I hope they think that I helped them grow and pushed them to be better people. I’m probably a lot more close to them after they’re done playing, for me. Between basketball and academics, we’re always on them about something. So when I don’t have to be the bad guy, they can understand, “he did care about me.”

Do you have a hidden talent?

I’m a really good eater. I amaze people at how much I can eat and still not be way overweight.