Jesse Parker held the record for most coaching wins in Arizona high school football. He held that distinction with 309 career wins until August of 2009 when Vern Friedli passed him by wrapping up his career with 331 victories. Last season, Paul Moro passed both of them and went on to finish the season with 336 wins to become the winningest football coach of all time.
Moro passed away Saturday, which means high school football in this state has lost three of the biggest names in coaching in the span of 17 months. Parker and Friedli, in a strange twist, both died on the same day in late July of 2017. (Their stories appeared in earlier editions of Phxfan.)
Together, the legendary trio collected 976 victories during a combined 109 years on the sidelines.
Friedli was 80 years old when he left us, while Parker was 77. But Moro was still a relatively young man at 66 and may have had more wins yet to add to his final career tally.
However, he was slowed in recent years by poor health, which included a bout with cancer and a pair of strokes that ultimately led to his death while at his home in Gilbert. His body finally gave up the fight.
Moro was diagnosed with lung cancer right after the 2017 opener in his second season at Marcos de Niza High School. He had gone to the hospital suffering from a persistent cough, when the cancer was discovered and determined to be in an advanced stage.
He missed the second game on the schedule, but returned to his job before the third game and continued to work while undergoing radiation treatments. Despite the toll it was taking on his body, Moro had been ready to begin preparations for the 2018 season. However, the school wanted him to continue teaching full-time, in addition to his coaching duties.
Moro wasn’t willing to continue with that kind of burden on his health. He retired from teaching, and the school also removed him from his coaching position, saying it wanted a head coach who would be on campus. While the school searched for a new head coach, he stayed on through spring practice to help the players prepare for the next season, eventually turning the program over to Eric Lauer.
Just a couple of days before Christmas, things turned for the worse when Moro suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak or move his right arm. A second stroke hit him last week.
Moro built his reputation at Blue Ridge High School, a small school located in the community of Lakeside in the White Mountains. He spent 30 years building and running that program, winning 13 state championships before he unexpectedly left to take a job in Florence as the head coach at Poston Butte High School. After two years at Poston Butte, he was hired in 2016 at Marco de Niza in Tempe.
While at Blue Ridge, his results were the stuff of legend. Moro won 319 games directing the Yellowjackets program, and lost just 52. His first state championship came in 1987.
“Even as a small-school coach, he’s on par with anybody in the state,” said Harold Slemmer, former executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the state’ governing body for high school sports.
“He is one of the best coaches ever – if not maybe the best.”