Every few minutes that Howard Moore spoke on his cell phone Friday night, his voice was interrupted by a momentary pause.
On one side of the phone, it sounded like a pause. On Moore’s side, it was the sound of beeping that indicated someone else was trying to call him. Within a 15-minute span, Moore received nearly a dozen phone calls. Friends, family, colleagues and others from around the Chicago area were all trying to get in touch with him.
They were all calling for the one reason -- they wanted to welcome him home. After growing up only blocks away from the University of Illinois-Chicago on the city’s west side, Moore was named the Flames’ new men’s basketball coach on Friday.
This will be Moore’s first head coaching position. He has spent the last 13 years as an assistant at Wisconsin, Bradley, Chicago and Loyola.
“Man, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” Moore said during an exclusive interview with ESPNChicago.com on Friday night. “It’s a blessing. I’m very humbled by the situation. The thing that really stands out is the fact that I’m a head coach, and I’m coming back to my hometown. Those two things in my first opportunity is a tremendous blessing.”
Moore did have a chance to come home three years ago when he was offered the Chicago State head coaching job, but he turned it down because he didn’t feel it was the right fit. UIC, though, made complete sense to him.
A major reason for Moore’s attraction to the job was the success achieved by previous UIC coach Jimmy Collins. Collins, who recently retired, took the Flames to new heights, including three NCAA Tournament appearances, during his 14 seasons at UIC.
In recent years, though, the program has been on the decline. The Flames won just eight games last year.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to get this thing rolling again,” Moore said. “The facilities are here. The players, they’re hungry. There’s a passion. That’s very ideal for me. I wouldn’t leave a tremendous opportunity like Wisconsin if UIC didn’t have the elements to succeed.
“The biggest thing I want to do is win championships. We want to get back to the point where we’re winning championships again.”
From the outside, Moore did appear to be the ideal candidate for UIC. He was familiar with the Flames and the Horizon League, having been an assistant at Loyola previously. He grew up in the neighborhood. He played at Taft High School in the Chicago Public League. He also has continued to recruit the Chicago area wherever he’s been an assistant.
Recruiting is what Moore is known best for around Chicago. He’s convinced a number of Chicago-area players to commit to Wisconsin in recent years and has developed strong ties with plenty of the area’s high school and AAU coaches.
Moore doesn’t mind being considered a great recruiter, but he doesn’t want that to be all people say about him.
“The biggest thing is, I know the game,” Moore said. “It wasn’t like I was blindfolded on the bench with [Wisconsin] coach [Bo] Ryan. I’ve never liked being labeled a recruiter. My job is way more than that. The program at Wisconsin was one that everyone brought different elements to the table. We wouldn’t have had the success we’ve had if we were all one-dimensional.”
As far as coaching philosophies, Moore said he believed in defense first, but also wanted to allow his players to have fun and create an up-tempo style of offense.
Moore doesn’t plan on his program being a complete mirror to Wisconsin’s, but he could see it having a number of the same attributes that he picked up while on Ryan’s staff.
“You learn how to run a program efficiently, how to trust people and your staff, develop players and student-athletes and improve as players and people,” Moore said. “Some people dream about being a championship program. We thrived at being a championship program year in and year out.”
And then his phone beeped again.
“My phone is beeping like crazy now,” Moore said. “It’s a good feeling. A lot of people are happy. A lot of people are excited for this opportunity for myself and my family.”