Howard Moore could have quietly eased into his second stint as an assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
But that’s not Moore. Coaches coach, and Moore wasn’t about to blend into the background after getting called in from the bullpen last month by interim coach Greg Gard.
When Gard needed to fill out his staff in a hurry after being promoted following Bo Ryan’s retirement on Dec. 15, it was only natural that he’d place a call to Moore. Not only had the two worked together on Ryan’s staff for five seasons, Moore was between coaching jobs and working as an analyst on Big Ten Network.
“Doing BTN was great, it just kind of gave me a different perspective of the profession,” Moore said. “And it’s funny, I went to a lot of practices within the Big Ten. Hopefully, (the other coaches) don’t hold that against me.
“The biggest thing is it kept me engaged in the league. But now it actually gives me the information I need to help and coach and do what I can for my alma mater.”
Moore has jumped in with both feet. He had one practice under his belt when he took his spot on a familiar bench for the Badgers’ non-conference finale against UW-Green Bay on Dec. 23, but it didn’t take long for Moore to get on his feet and bark out advice to players he barely knew.
Meanwhile, Moore has also been trying to do whatever he can to help make Gard’s transition — he’s gone from associate head coach to being the man in charge — as seamless as possible. Moore, who went 49-111 in five seasons at Illinois-Chicago before being dismissed in March, understands what it’s like to be a head coach with a lot on his plate.
“That’s why I think it was such a great fit,” Gard said Thursday as the Badgers (8-6, 0-1 Big Ten) prepared to host Rutgers (6-8, 0-1) on Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center. “I’ve never come around anybody in the 15 years of being here that has more of a passion for this place than what he has.
“You talk about an early Christmas present, that was it because he’s been phenomenal. I couldn’t be happier. He knows exactly how we do things here, how it needs to be done, what’s been successful. He’s been great with the players. He’s been great in terms of understanding what I’m going through.”
Gard gives Moore, along with fellow assistants Gary Close and Lamont Paris, an open forum to speak before and after games and at halftime. He encourages his aides to share ideas and speak their minds.
Moore said he’s “just trying to be a teacher and another set of eyes for coach Gard and help him as much as I can, which is obviously going to help the players. I’m just trying to be another set of eyes.”
After a practice earlier this week, Moore returned to the hotel near campus he’s calling home for the next few months. He split his time watching football as well as some video of Northwestern so he could work ahead on the scouting report he’ll prepare for when the Wildcats host the Badgers on Jan. 12.
The rest of Team Moore — a group that includes wife Jennifer, son Jerrell (9) and daughter Jaidyn (6) — remains at the family’s home in the Chicago suburb of Naperville.
The FaceTime function on Moore’s iPhone has been a very useful tool for the family since he was hired by Gard on Dec. 22.
“I have no complaints,” Moore said, “other than I’m used to hearing chatter and noise in the background from the family.”
Moore played at UW from 1991-95 and brings a unique perspective for these Badgers because he, too, played under an interim coach. Moore was about to begin his senior season when Stan Van Gundy was appointed to take over for Stu Jackson, who left UW for a front-office job in the NBA.
Despite returning several key pieces from a team that ended UW’s 47-year NCAA tournament drought — including Michael Finley and Rashard Griffith — the Badgers struggled during the 1994-95 season. UW went 13-14 and Van Gundy was let go, opening the door for Dick Bennett to take over the program.
“The thing is, the program is so much more stable than what it was then,” Moore said. “When Stan made the transition to a head coach, we were just starting to learn about having some success and winning. The things that have been accomplished at this point are far beyond what anyone would have expected back in ’94.”
Still, Moore told his story to the players after he was hired “from a standpoint of just sharing with them how to approach this change,” he said.
After the Badgers’ 61-55 loss to Purdue in a Big Ten opener on Tuesday night, Moore headed back to the Chicago area to scour for talent at holiday tournaments.
During Moore’s previous stint as an assistant, he played a key role in UW landing key players such as Frank Kaminsky, Ben Brust, Duje Dukan and Ryan Evans.
Nothing is guaranteed for Gard and Co. beyond the 2015-16 season, but that hasn’t stopped them from doing everything they can to make sure the Badgers’ future is in good shape.
“It’s time to get back in the fold,” Moore said of hitting the recruiting trail. “I’ve opened up those lines once again and told some friends that I’m back and I need some players.
“Let’s keep this thing rolling.”