DOUG MOE : Nuggets Coach Not Comfortable With Attention
Doug Moe knows he sometimes acts like he should be trading eye pokes with Larry and Curly, so he isn’t surprised when he finds himself in the spotlight.
“It gets kind of embarrassing,” said the Denver Nuggets coach. “I certainly understand it with the way I act. It makes it inevitable.”
Moe’s colorful quotes and wardrobe demand attention. During close games, he flails his arms, and his bellowing voice, littered with obscenities, can be heard anywhere in the arena.
But Moe, the National Basketball Association’s reigning Coach of the Year, doesn’t like all the attention, nor does he bask in the praise that comes his way.
“Some people are more comfortable with things like that,” he said. “I like kidding around and I like publicity for the team, but I’m not thrilled with publicity for myself. It’s something that’s nice, but I’m just more comfortable without things like that.”
Moe should be accustomed to the attention by now, having won over 560 NBA games, which ranks him 11th on the all-time list.
Since taking over as head coach 31 games into the 1980-81 season, his Nuggets have been in post-season play the last seven years and have won Midwest Division titles twice, including last year.
While Moe’s record conforms to NBA success standards, his iconoclastic style does not.
His unorthodox approach to the game -- like using a lineup of four guards and a small forward -- has made basketball purists wince. His irreverent courtside manner has angered league coaches and officials.
In a game against the Portland Trail Blazers a few years ago, Moe ordered his team to stop playing defense for the last two minutes. According to Moe, it was a small order since his team never showed up defensively.
Against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1987 playoffs, he angered L.A. coach Pat Riley by saying before the first game that his Nuggets had no chance to win against the eventual world champions.
Although the Nuggets have three centers, Moe often uses 6-foot-7 defensive specialist Bill Hanzlik to guard the opposing pivot man. He occasionally utilizes three or four guards on the court at the same time to break patterns.
When ball-handlers Fat Lever and Michael Adams are unable to play, Moe won’t hesitate to use rookie forward Jerome Lane -- drafted last year for his rebounding prowess -- as the team’s point guard.
“You don’t just put any little guy on a big guy,” Moe explained. “He’s got to be good. It frustrates (the opponent), plus it gives you a different look on the other end. Those things are just feelings you get during the game.”
His offense has been described by some as “organized chaos.” Constant movement by both ball and player is essential. Success depends on “players who are dedicated to the passing game,” he said. “It’s a good offense.”
The Nuggets have led the league in scoring average six times since Moe’s arrival and are currently in line to take the top scoring honors this season.
Before joining the Nuggets, Moe employed the same offense at San Antonio for four years, and the Spurs led the league in scoring twice and finished second once.
Moe detests rookies and mistakes, which he believes are synonymous, and loudly berates any player for “stinking up the joint.”
During games, he stalks the sideline like a crazed man, screaming at his players, nervously pulling up his pants like Rodney Dangerfield tugging at his tie, and uses four-letter words with the frequency of a street-tough Brooklyn kid -- which he was.
But after the game, Moe hands out compliments for good work and then charms the media with sarcastic impressions of the game, answering questions with questions.
All the while, his popularity with the Denver fans remains high. He rivals Broncos quarterback John Elway as the city’s top sports figure.
“We’re all gonna die,” he said. “So enjoy yourself. Have a good time, within reason, without hurting anybody else. Enjoy life.”
Moe was born 50 years ago in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City and spent his early life playing baseball and basketball, and watching the Dodgers at Ebbets Field.
He went on to a successful collegiate career at the University of North Carolina, where coach Frank McGuire helped influence his coaching style.
After college, Moe played in Italy for two years. He joined New Orleans of the American Basketball Association in 1967, averaging over 24 points a game that year, and he finished his playing career in 1972.
“It was my knee. And I was 33, so it wasn’t a crying blow to me,” Moe said. “The transition was such that I went from a hospital bed getting operated on to an assistant coach.”
Name calling is another Moe trait. He calls his wife “Big Jane” for “no particular reason,” and labels his players “stiffs.”
According to Moe, “a ‘stiff’ can be a variety of things. You have good ones and you have bad ones. Hanzlik is a good one.”
Hanzlik, who’s received his share of Moe’s crows since coming to Denver in 1982, responds inkind.
“The man’s vocabulary is extremely limited,” Hanzlik said, tongue-in-cheek. “His weight problem is obvious to anyone who looks in his direction.”
The utility forward from Notre Dame said it took him more than a year to get used to Moe’s antics.
“Some people still haven’t adapted to him,” Hanzlik said.
Veteran guard Walter Davis, who signed on with the Nuggets during the off-season last summer, had played 10 years in the league and thought he’d seen it all, until he encountered Moe’s wrath.
“I was scared about Doug Moe yelling at me,” the quiet Davis recalled. “Since I’ve been around basketball, I’ve never had a coach who is a yeller. But when he finally yelled at me, it was the best thing to happen to me. It loosened up all the fears.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Davis said. “You realize he yells at everyone. Now I actually like it. Plus, it gives fans behind the bench something to laugh about.”
Strange game strategies and relentless verbal abuse of his players and referees aren’t the only things that separate Moe from some of his successful counterparts. In terms of wardrobe, Moe is the antithesis of chic LA coach Riley and dapper Detroit Pistons leader Chuck Daly.
He wears a jacket, often maroon, because of league rules. But since policy allows it, Moe rarely accompanies his jacket with a tie, creating a half-dressed look.
“I dress reasonable well for a casual appearance. I always look pretty nice,” Moe said, although he admits to not being a fashion plate.
Hanzlik calls him “Ol’ Tubbo.”
“I wear a tie once in a while, but I don’t see any purpose to it,” Moe said. “I like to feel comfortable and when your coachin’ and sweatin’ and it’s hot and you’re emotionally into it, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be wearing a tie.
“I’m a nice casual dresser. I just don’t ever dress up,” he said.
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