Kelley Moore isn't used to losing football games. Sub-.500 seasons didn't happen under his watch at Glendale Independence.
Mesa High is 0-2 and has won six games in the previous two seasons. The state championship run of 2009 feels like an eternity ago.
"I kind of feel like I’m letting this place down right now," he said this week.
That would be true if you think high school football is only about wins, state championships, getting kids big-time college football scholarships, and winning the "arms" race of facilities and athletic apparel sponsorships.
Tradition, community and a sense of "family" was worth the commute from Independence (he and his wife live next to the school and where she still works); about 45 minutes each way.
Moore learned about Mesa High, which plays its 1,000th football game on Friday night against Gilbert, from when he hired Steve McKane as an assistant at Independence. The McKane family (notably Steve and his father Bill McKane) are Mesa athletics institutions, and Moore was impressed by stories he was told. When the Jackrabbits football job opened in 2007, he sought Bill McKane's input.
He was offered the job and took it because of the area's "family, building-relationship-type atmosphere."
It's the first place he's been where his wife can sit in the home bleachers. Every other stop has been a barrage of foul-mouthed language and yelling from fans directed at Moore's coaching, which left the Mrs. to sit in an endzone or the more anonymous visitor's bleachers.
"This place doesn’t have those kind of issues," he said. "It was a match made in heaven."
That, and more, is what he's created, fostered and upheld: traditions (the pregame Haka dance ritual that dates back to Tongan players years ago), giving new meaning to "Carry On" and the school's history, community service projects and impressing upon kids about using football as a getaway vehicle for the rest of life, which is often rough.
Now in his sixth season - longest among Mesa school district football coaches - the win-loss record is all over the place and, similar to 2010 and 2011, remains largely off the map to begin 2012.
Moore knows competitiveness keeps high school football jobs these days. He knows it would have been easy not to suspend 13 players for the game for skipping practices over Labor Day Weekend while his 0-2 team which needs all the on-field help it can get right now.
Because of the recent losing seasons, he also knows that questions loom about his coaching job security at Mesa.
There are dozens of cases in the past five years that may be better or worse than Veilomani Tonga, a senior lineman who lost his father to a stroke last summer. Poor, his mother moved him and his younger brother from California to Mesa to live with a relative.
But there are dozens of cases like Tonga, and there are dozens of cases where Moore himself has had a hand - sometimes an iron fist when necessary - in keeping kids' grades, self esteem or, literally, their stomachs, satisfied.
Moore said he doesn't worry about it, nor should he. A dozen schools would call him about working for them within 12 hours.
But he's not interested in finding that out, or going elsewhere, and if successfully coaching often-struggling kids to get through life is a coaching criteria, his employment status should never be cause for discussion.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.