Before Paul Moro took over the Marcos de Niza High School football program in Tempe last year, he spent two seasons as the head coach at Poston Butte High School in Florence. His 2014 team went 7-4, but the next year had to be the toughest of his long coaching career after failing to win a single game.
But it pales in comparison to what he is going through this season.
That 2015 season at Poston Butte was plagued with injuries to an already-inexperienced group of players, and the schedule was brutal, peppered with some of the best D-I schools in the state. The result was an 0-10 record.
Any coach would find that hard to take. But Moro isn’t just any coach.
Moro took 16 teams to the state finals and won 13 state championships during 30 years as the head coach at Blue Ridge High School, a small school located in the community of Lakeside in the White Mountains. Before he unexpectedly left to take the job at Poston Butte he had won 319 games against just 52 losses – the stuff of legend.
Last season at Marcos he passed Vern Friedli as the winningest high school football coach in the state of Arizona, as the Padres went 8-4 in his inaugural season. Now he has 335 career wins – a mark that will likely stand for some time to come. Friedli spent 35 years at Amphitheater High School in Tucson before poor health forced him to retire in 2011; he was 80 years old when he passed away in late July.
But now Moro is faced with an even bigger challenge as he fights lung cancer, diagnosed right after the 2017 season opener, a one-point win over Prescott High School. Suffering from a persistent cough, Moro went to the hospital to get some tests. That’s when the cancer, in an advanced stage, was discovered.
Moro was unable to leave the hospital in time for the second game on the schedule, so he missed the 13-6 loss to Cactus High School, a game managed by his assistants in his absence.
He shared the diagnosis with his team and explained how the radiation treatments he would be receiving would impact his ability to function the way he always has.
Moro was back at practice following the Cactus game, but the preparation for the third game wasn’t enough to get back into the win column. The Padres lost last week to Peoria High, 40-21, to run their record to 1-2.
He told Richard Obert at azcentral sports that he plans on continuing on with the program while undergoing treatment. “I’m not going away,” he told the local sports writer. “Until this makes me really sick, I’ll be leading (the players) at practice.”
In recent years, Moro has had to work his way through more than just a disappointing football season. He was just starting his job at Poston Butte when his son, Alex, committed suicide.
And now, once again, the 65-year-old coaching legend is having to dig deep to find that inner strength that will enable him to go forward.
Somehow, football seems almost irrelevant right now.