Eight months removed from his firing at Quinnipiac, Tom Moore has resurfaced on staff at Rhode Island, where he is both grateful for and taking advantage of opportunity to remain relevant with Atlantic 10 favorite Rams. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
BROOKLYN -- One look at Tom Moore's resume reflects his status as one of college basketball's proven winners, even if his time in charge at Quinnipiac may be ultimately; and perhaps wrongfully in the eyes of some, defined by two seasons that were uncharacteristic of his overall body of work.
So it is for the former Jim Calhoun assistant, who was dismissed after a decade with the Bobcats and a career 162-150 record that included four postseason appearances, but ended on the disappointing note of a 19-42 record in his final two campaigns at the helm, prompting athletic director Greg Amodio to seek a change of leadership and hire Baker Dunleavy this past March.
Determined to remain in the inner circle of the game, Moore latched on rather quickly as an assistant coach and did not have to travel very far in doing so, landing a spot on the staff of Dan Hurley and reigning Atlantic 10 Conference champion Rhode Island, a team with Top 25 aspirations that projects to be among the nation's top mid-majors this season. And just two weeks into the year, the transition has been a smooth one, marked by the pure gratitude of just being able to have another chance to educate and develop players.
"The transition's been great," Moore said as he and the Rhode Island program embarks upon two games at Barclays Center this week in the NIT Season Tip-Off, first facing No. 20 Seton Hall Thursday evening before meeting either Vanderbilt or Virginia the following day. "I've really enjoyed it. Danny's given me a great opportunity here, being able to join a program that he's put so much blood, sweat and tears into building. This program is one of the better programs in the Atlantic 10, and also with their performance last year, staking their claim to having a national reputation as well. The timing, for me, couldn't have been better. I feel almost like I felt back in 1994 when I joined UConn at a time when the program was sort of reaching its highest point."
And in his new boss, the qualities he possesses are almost hauntingly similar to Calhoun, under whom Moore served as a lieutenant on staff for 13 years at the University of Connecticut, playing an integral part in the construction of two national championship rosters as the Huskies became part of college basketball's upper crust.
"It's scary," Moore said of the similarities between Hurley and Calhoun, the hallmark intensity being just one shared trait among the two. "I mean that in nothing but the highest compliment. They have very, very similar personalities, and they have a drive and a toughness that can pull a program through tough spots in games, through tough spots of a schedule, through tough spots in practice. There's just a combativeness and a toughness about each of them that, I think, raises the level of everybody associated with the program. Players are the obvious ones that benefit from it, but I think assistant coaches benefit from it as well, and you want to get to a point where you want to be on the same level that they're competing at. It really sort of permeates everybody else in the program, and it's a good feeling working for somebody like that."
It is Hurley's unbridled determination that helped lead Moore to Kingston after ten years in Hamden, and just part of the total package that the 52-year-old has inherited, a situation that he considers himself greatly fortunate to have received so soon after his head coaching career was at a crossroads just eight months ago.
"It's funny, when I had to go in another direction, I had to take stock of, really, what my next move would be," Moore recollected. "I had to do some soul searching. I realized that I didn't want to take a year off. I didn't want to -- as down as I was physically and emotionally after two tough seasons at Quinnipiac -- I felt like I wanted to get back into it."
Enter Hurley, an adversary turned tag team partner with whom Moore's relationship has evolved over the past two decades, beginning when the son of New Jersey high school royalty was the head coach at St. Benedict's Prep and Moore was an assistant to Calhoun, and weaving a new chapter when the pair coached against one another in the Northeast Conference; Moore at Quinnipiac, Hurley at Wagner for two seasons before his meteoric rise took yet another soaring flight.
"When you've been your own boss for ten years, it's a unique challenge to not be a boss anymore," Moore reflected. "I felt if I had to do this, I felt like I wanted to be an assistant for somebody that I really respected and felt I could work with. I reached out to Danny and I reached out to Steve Pikiell. Those were the first two people that I felt like I could work best with, for a bunch of different reasons. There was not an opportunity at Rutgers and there was an opportunity here, so I felt fortunate that the timing was really on my side. I was sure that I did not want to pick just any job for the sake of staying in it. I wanted to work for somebody I had a real familiarity with and a really high respect level for, and that opportunity arose here."
A natural side effect of moving back into the assistant coach's chair is the necessity to prove oneself and start over, in a sense, but Moore has embraced that challenge head-on. His success in developing all-conference forwards the likes of Justin Rutty, Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame was enough for Hurley to have his new deputy cultivate the skill sets of Rhode Island's front line, which must replace Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson this season, but possesses a burgeoning all-league talent in former Patrick School standout Cyril Langevine, now a fortnight into his sophomore season.
"This business is very, very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, so you constantly feel like you have to improve the job you're doing, in whatever job you have," said Moore. "This is a frontcourt here that has great potential, but it's very inexperienced in relation to our backcourt, so I've taken that as a challenge. It's something that has been difficult for me in practice settings and in game settings, shifting my focus from how our team is doing; which I'd been used to doing for ten years and trying to look at the whole every single day, and now trying to sharpen my focus to more of a select group of players and maybe watch them more than watch the whole."
"I've tried to get better at that, and I think this year is allowing me to sharpen my recruiting contacts; and people in the business will understand what I mean, and go back to recruiting like an assistant a little bit more, focusing on a couple of guys and giving them more attention than I was able to give as a head coach. Those are a couple of things that I feel are going to be beneficial to me this year."
Moore admitted that he was disappointed in how it ended at Quinnipiac, as any coach would be when unable to see a vision of long-term success through, conveying his excitement about what the future could have held with Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference All-Rookie for Peter Kiss and Mikey Dixon; the latter of whom was the conference's Rookie of the Year, along with forward Chaise Daniels, had they all remained together. But despite the premature ending, he remains proud of what he and his staff accomplished in building the Bobcats into one of New England's most consistent winners over his decade-long reign; including a swift arrival onto the MAAC landscape, and while he is hopeful that his time on staff at Rhode Island may soon enable him to get a second chance to take over a program of his own, he is simply appreciative of the fortuitous circumstances that have given him the opportunity to be part of a mid-major that is projected by many to have a fruitful postseason run come March.
"To be totally honest with you, I don't really know which way the road will take me right now," he hypothesized. "I'm excited about this role. I know I still have a passion for it, and I think I could do a very good job in a lot of different spots. I think someday if the opportunity were to come around, I'd be excited to lead a program again. But like I said, I couldn't be in a better situation, and I feel real grateful to Danny for this opportunity."