116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Mitch Moore possessed a passion for sports as a youth.
He shared the same desire to compete as his friends, but interests differed slightly. As his pals wanted to imitate the star players, Moore’s focus was fixed on the coaches on the sidelines.
“Everybody always had aspirations of growing up and being Michael Jordan,” Moore said. “I always wanted to be (Chicago Bulls coach) Phil Jackson, (Kansas men’s basketball coach) Roy Williams or (Iowa State football coach) Dan McCarney. I envisioned myself as those guys.”
Coaching was a calling that Moore happily answered. After years as a college football assistant and four seasons as a high school head coach, he led the Little Hawks to a 10-2 record and their first state semifinals appearance since 2010.
Moore rejuvenated the City High program and has been honored as The Gazette’s 2021 area football Coach of the Year.
“I love it,” Moore said about the Little Hawks’ season. “I’m so damned proud of the kids and what we did but it ain’t good enough. We need to win a state title here.”
Moore owns a long resume, which includes coaching stops at NCAA Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater, Southeastern Oklahoma State and Iowa State. He transitioned to high school, starting with two seasons each at Greene County and Des Moines Roosevelt and just finished his first at City High.
One aspect that has been apparent is his strong rapport with his players. Moore has developed such a bond with former players that 15 to 20 former Roosevelt Roughriders attended City High’s playoff games. They continued to support Moore after they were done playing for him.
“The piece that we are so unique at is we never stop building that relationship,” Moore said. “We have to continue to build that, stay involved in their lives and text message these guys. Make sure we know what they’re doing and when so we can have a conversation with them.”
Another component is allowing individuality within the team concept. Different can be good and is even encouraged.
“We don’t have to have everybody be the same from A to Z,” Moore said. “They can all have their own personalities.
“We all wear ‘City High’ across our chest, but we can do it in our own way.”
All-state defender Gable Mitchell recalled more of a strict and by-the-book approach in the past. Players received a little more chances to play free and fast, trusting their instincts at times.
“Players have a lot more freedom this year,” Mitchell said. “We do our technique, but everybody was able to be athletic and make plays.”
Moore’s journey began as a 2002 graduate of Ballard High School. He played for Al Christian, who led the Bombers to four playoff appearances including the 2000 season. Moore admitted he didn’t flourish until his senior season when he earned all-district and all-area honors.
Christian’s diligence and dedication to help players develop made an impact on Moore’s future.
“The guy I always looked up to was my high school coach and how hard he worked and consistent he was,” Moore said. “He had three years of tremendous growth with me as a person. The effect was huge on me to get into coaching.”
Moore played college football at UW Whitewater. An early injury limited his career, but he received a chance to make an impact in two roles. He learned from accomplished Warhawks coaches Bob Berezowitz, Stan Zweifel and Lance Leipold during his time there. The coaching trio contributed to Whitewater’s run of seven straight D-III championship games, winning titles in 2007 and from 2009-2011.
“Being around those coaches was great,” Moore said. “I got hurt when I got there, but instead of kicking me to the curb, they brought me into coaching. I was kind of this player-coach.”
Time as an Iowa State assistant straddled the tenures of former Cyclones Coach Paul Rhoads and current head coach Matt Campbell. He decided to move into the head coaching ranks. He began at Greene County for two seasons before moving to Des Moines Roosevelt.
The Roughriders went 6-4 in 2019. Moore led the Roughriders to their first playoff appearance in 23 seasons.
City High’s position became available and Moore jumped at the opportunity to be the program’s fifth head coach since 1947. City High had all the elements for a winning program. Moore recognized the potential for success with the administrative and community support, rich athletic talent and continuity.
“I don’t think there are a ton of schools all over Iowa that have that, but City High is certainly one of them,” Moore said. “On top of it, the administration believes that sports and education go hand-in-hand. It’s not one before the other. They are both important parts of raising young men, in my situation” through football.
“It really fit my passion.”
Moore made a strong impression and won his players over in the offseason. He made multiple trips from Central Iowa to Iowa City just to attend workouts.
“It started all the way back in early January when we first got to meet him,” Mitchell said. “He started running some workouts. The sacrifices he made — he still lived in Des Moines — and drove two hours every week to come work with us a couple days and drive back home. That was huge. Not many coaches would do that, but it showed how much he cared.”
The Little Hawks’ transformation back into a large-school power was a quick turnaround. They won more games in 2021 than the previous four seasons combined. City High managed two victories per season from 2017-2020. The 10-win total was the most since a 13-1 state runner-up campaign in 2010.
“The energy he brought to practice, the coaches he brought in and their energy, knowledge of the game and the culture they created totally changed things around from last year,” Mitchell said. “The kids wanted to be around him and we did a lot of great things this year.”
City High led Class 5A with 42.5 points per game. The Little Hawks allowed just 11.2 points a contest, giving them a 5A-best 31.3 point differential. City High led the class with 72 touchdowns, including 29 passing. The Little Hawks finished first with 5,860 all-purpose yards, third with 2,379 passing yards and sixth with 2,290 yards rushing.
Moore praised the senior class for their trust and leadership, permitting a new group of coaches to teach them new systems. He said he was fortunate to work with a group that will leave a mark on the program and their future endeavors for many years.
“They laid down the foundation,” Moore said. “They’ve raised the bar. So, we know to get to a state title.”