WINONA LAKE – He looked comfortable, he looked humble, he looked at home. Scott Moore didn’t seem daunted by the expectations soon to be put on him. The smile on his face said, ‘Let’s go!’
At the retirement announcement for legendary men’s basketball Hall of Famer Jim Kessler, there was the obvious sentiment for a coach who has been the proverbial face of an institution for 42 years. His name is written on the floor of the most visible facility on the campus. Grace College has had a steward in Kessler that will last the test of time, his name synonymous with the class and dignity Kessler has represented.
But, as is always the case, the next in line following a legend – whether loved or hated – the shoes are always a tough one to fill. Moore knows that. He’s prepared for it. He knows about, and laughs in sympathy, with mentions of a Mike Davis at Indiana, of a Bob Davie at Notre Dame, of a Gene Bartow at UCLA. Even on a local level, son Ryne Lightfoot having to keep up the expectations of what his dad, Mike, set for the Bethel Pilot basketball program or how Doug Ogle, in all his success at Warsaw, is still compared to Al Rhodes and the prior generations still wearing the 1984 state champion T-shirts.
“How do I identify what I want to immediately impact is a question I can’t answer right now, but I know I have a lot of people in my past that I’m bringing with me in my philosophy,” Moore said in a sitdown interview back in February after Kessler’s retirement announcement. “It’s a big responsibility being part of Grace and I love the challenge. I love the idea that I can be someone that people look up to. I tried to live that way even when I was a student here at Grace. When I was a basketball player, you are a little more known than others on campus just because of the platform. I remember that as a player and realize that is more magnified now.”
Where Moore has an advantage is not having to start over fresh. In the coaching carousel, keeping ones eyes open on a national level for that next jump, that next chance to make a mark, can have a coach, and often behind the curtain – his family – having to pack up overnight and find footing in another area code. Not Moore, who served under Kessler for seven years, this season as the associate head coach. As is the case at many small colleges, Moore also holds a role on campus as well, helping oversee the Gordon Rec Center, which has him amongst the Lancers both in uniform and in street clothes.
Not having to move, not having to change his stripes. It was a win-win proposition when Kessler’s final decision was made.
“Anytime you get a new coach, a new staff, a new system, you have to consider the guys haven’t had that person as their coach,” noted Moore. “We may change what we do offensively or defensively, the Xs and Os are the easy thing to change. The culture that sometimes needs to be fixed when you have to overhaul as a brand new person. I don’t have to overhaul anything here. I just need to continue the culture. That’s a big benefit, already being around the guys. That’s a benefit Coach K has done this, it should be a seamless transition.
“He said the last thing I hadn’t done yet was take the boys to France on a mission trip. It was just me. So me with our 12 guys and our chaplain, that was like the last handing of the baton. That was the last thing I think he wanted me to do before I took over the basketball program.”
Moore has been adamant in making the Lancer men’s basketball program his own. When 42 years of tradition is existent, as many are aware still happening in Bloomington, it’s hard to break old habits of expectation no matter who comes in to coach. Moore plans to institute his own philosophy of play, and feels that transition should be easier considering he knows the players already, and has already been scouting and recruiting for Grace. That may be the biggest blessing in transformation.
But there is still one order of business, and that’s to send Coach K out on a high note in the team’s final tournament of the season, starting this week at the NCCAAs.
“He’s going to hate me for saying this, but there is that ‘win one for the Gipper’ type feel with this,” Moore said with a laugh. “We’ve had an up and down type season, we’ve had injuries. But the boys never stopped competing. I think there will be a little difference in how we play these final few games. Maybe that’s not good, maybe that’s bad. But guessing by the way these guys are built, they are going to play a little harder knowing what’s at stake and how it could go down.”