Coach Doug Moe: a coach ahead of his time gets recognition

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Every year since the 2008-09 season the National Basketball Association hands the Chuck Daly Life Achievement Award to a longtime NBA Coach. The award distinguishes the coaches “standards of integrity, competitive excellence and tireless promotion” of the game.

The award was named after former NBA Coach Chuck Daly. Mostly known for being the head Coach of the Dream Team that won the Gold Medal of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. So yes, he was the man in charge of coaching Magic, Bird, Barkley, Malone, Pippen and Jordan egos. He was also the Head Coach of the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons team that won two NBA titles: 1989 and 1990. For those achievements and much more Daly is a two-time Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee – 1994 for his coaching career; 2010 (posthumously) as the Dream Team Head Coach.

It’s always fun when NBA releases these awards and suddenly names like Doug Moe, this year’s winner, are under the scrutiny of spotlight and the younger generations go like: Wait, who?

We live in a pick and roll era, where more than ever players have freedom to decide on offense what to do, based on what defences are doing. Pick and roll do that. Pick and roll gives more uncertainty to the game. It allows players to use their brain and basketball IQ’s more than ever. IQ over strength. IQ over height. That’s why smart basketball is winning nowadays. With that being said, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Doug Mou the father of smart basketball but I would definitely call him one of the pioneers of that philosophy.

Ok, so let’s bring Doug Moe into the conversation. A former ABA (Americans Basketball Association) player and champion, in 1969, by the Oakland Oaks, where he played alongside Rick Barry and Larry Brown. His playing days lasted until 1972, the year he accepted to be an assistant coach for no other than Larry Brown, in Carolina Cougars of the ABA. In 1974 Moe’s followed Larry once again as they accept the coaching job of the Denver Nuggets. During the span of two years the Nuggets went 125–43 (.744), going as far as ABA Finals in 1976, losing to the New York Nets in six.

In the 1976 the ABA and NBA merged and Moe moved to the San Antonio Spurs leaving Larry Brown behind, embracing his first head coach job, and only three seasons after, 1979, the Spurs were playing the Conference Finals against the Washington Bullets, which they would eventually lose 4-1. The year after he returned to the Nuggets, this time as a Head Coach. And this is the period when Moe establishes himself in the league. Moe was the face of the Nuggets for the whole 80’s decade. In 11 years in ahead of the Colorado team, the Nuggets went to the post-season 9 times. In the 1987-88 season the Nuggets finished 54-28 and Moe was named Coach of The Year.

During the decade Moe’s teams led the League six times in scoring, twice they finished second and third once. Their teams were gunning. The 1981-82 team averaged 126.5 points per game, which still stands as the NBA highest scoring average in a season.

Fun fact: Moe was the Head Coach of the Nuggets when they lost to the Detroit Pistons 184-186 (!!!). The Pistons Head Coach? Coach Daly.

By now, and if you’re still reading this, you’ve come to the conclusion that Moe was an offense kind of coach, but the reason I called him one of the pioneers of smart basketball before hides behind, obviously his style of play that was ahead of his time in the 80’s and finally today it is… let’s call it “on time” finally.

Moe was never a systems kind of coach and was never a prophet of set plays. He used to give total freedom to his players and he challenged them to read the play and then… play.

Rick Carlisle, Head Coach of the Dallas Mavericks and president of the NBCA (National Basketball Coaches Association), shared few words about Doug during the presentation of the award this Sunday (6/3/18): “In 1970s and 80s, Doug Moe established a pace-and-space game that was decades ahead of its time. Congratulations to a true visionary on this special recognition of innovation and accomplishment.”

Moe called his style of play “the passing game” just because he had to call it something. “Nobody knew what the hell we were doing. Other coaches were diagramming our plays on the blackboard, and we weren’t running any.”, said the man himself, Doug Moe.

“Basically, what we`re trying to do is keep teams off balance, not let them get set. We`re pretty good defensively. We`re not a great shooting team. But we get up more shots than our opponents, which allows us to shoot a little poorer. Our whole philosophy is to attack.”, he added.

According to Moe’s line of thought defences would have more problems trying stop his team if they didn’t know what they were going to do in the first place. Players with the ball on their hands would dictate the outcome of the play. Of course, the rules were different back than, and the league was allowing isolations to take place more than today’s games, and so players like George Gervin and David Thompson blossomed under Moe’s… “system’!

During the acceptance speech Moe told us more about those days: “It was a fun way to play and, after you play it a while, the players don’t want to run plays. If things started going bad, I’d threaten to run plays and they’d always start playing better.”

We hear people all time talking about how this or that player was born during the wrong era and if he would be playing nowadays he would be unstoppable. So maybe, Moe’s winning the Chuck Daly Life Achievement award is the recognition that translates to: Maybe coach lost too much time coaching in the wrong era.

Coach Moe it’s one of those hidden heroes of the game. A great mind, a great character and a pillar of what NBA stands for, and that’s why the award was given to him. A life dedicated to the game of basketball always at the highest level, with integrity, with vision and joy.

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