Max Moss and his family journeyed more than 900 miles from Fort Collins, Colorado to Llano, Texas to surprise his dad Jack Moss and celebrate the coach’s eightieth birthday. After a lifetime of game-planning for high-school football under the intense Friday Night Lights, Jack Moss shuns surprises. So Max’s presence, along with Jack’s other son, Mitch, traveling from Kingwood with his family, met the quota for unexpected weekend events.
Thus, it came to pass that Jack and his boys spent a glorious late October Saturday kicking around Central Texas. On the way to meet the female side of the clan and Jack’s girlfriend Carol in downtown Llano at Jack’s office, Jack thought to himself that life just does not get much better than this. As the truck slowed and swung a wide right onto Main Street, Jack Moss found out how wrong he was.
WEST TEXAS IN HIS BLOOD.
West Texans have a way about them. You will hardly ever meet a man born west of Fort Worth who talks too fast or will not look you in the eye when conversing. Spend a minute or an hour with Jack Moss and see if that maxim holds true. Like so many small-town boys who make good, Jack credits his dad with instilling the work ethic and the humility that keyed his success.
Jack Moss was born in Mineral Wells, Texas as the middle child to a Baptist preacher. Foreshadowing the coach’s life he would eventually adopt, Jack’s dad went wherever he was called. Every two or three years, another Baptist pulpit in another Texas oilfield town was empty. Jack and his brothers would start the process all over. Learning the new school, making new friends, sizing up new teachers all became a routine.
Also like so many small-town boys before him, Jack found that athletics smoothed his way. Decades later, Jack Moss still carries himself like the hoss he was. Broad-shouldered and agile (just agile, not “agile for a man his age”) imagining Jack exploding out of a lineman’s stance does not stretch the imagination. He made All-District as a sophomore at Wolfforth, outside of Lubbock. With most of his teammates returning, Jack was excited about the next season.
When Jack’s dad informed him that the family would soon be relocating to Junction, Texas, for the first time in his life, Jack’s sunny optimism failed him. After a couple of man-to man’s with his dad, however, Jack did what West Texans do. He swallowed the disappointment and made the best of it.
A DIFFERENT SKILLSET.
Junction, Texas at the time was all about football. Two years before Jack’s arrival, the town hosted Bear Bryant and the Texas A & M Aggies for the most famous, or infamous, summer camp of all time. In that atmosphere, Jack Moss fit in, hat-in-glove. Never one to rest on his laurels, Jack debuted a new talent. Whenever the school needed decorations, the organizers turned to Jack for the artwork.
Jack’s dad was a prodigious sketch artist. Whether it was genetics, the time spent together or the drive young men have to be like their idol, Jack soon could draw just about anything. High schools rarely enjoy the dual talent of a student who can draw the Friday night “breakthrough” and then bust through it with his teammates. As the starting left tackle for the Junction Eagles in 1956 and 1957, Jack Moss fit that unique bill. As Jack finished his high school career in Junction, his coaches and his teachers each saw something different in Jack. Yet, they all saw something special in the soft-spoken young man.
A BRUSH WITH THE BIG TIME.
During his senior year, Jack Moss signed his letter of intent to play football for the Hardin Simmons Cowboys. When an interested Junction High School teacher asked Jack what he planned to major in, Jack’s naïve response was that he did not plan on joining the Army, he was going to college to play football. Clearly, the boy who had seen most of West Texas still needed to see the bigger world.
The teacher gently set Jack straight and started discussing career paths with him. Based on Jack’s artistic abilities, the teacher commented that a solid artist had many opportunities in the business world through advertising. That path sounded fine to Jack so he enrolled at Hardin Simmons as a football playing, art major. The Venn diagram of those universes produced a subset of one.
Any college athlete probably has talent and drive that exceeds the normal person’s by a standard deviation. Still, most fans familiar enough with Hardin Simmons’ athletics know that it is a “Division Three” school where student-athletes play for nothing more than the love of the game. A deeper dive into HSU athletics reveals that when Jack Moss played, there was more at stake.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Hardin Simmons played with the big boys. Jack took the field against LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss., Georgia, Arkansas and Baylor. The big crowds, however did not show up just to see the storied programs. Most of the pre-game attention focused on the Hardin Simmons’ sideline, where Slinging Sammy Baugh, one of the biggest stars to ever grace the gridiron, presided as the Cowboys’ head coach.
After a college career in which he guided TCU to two Cotton Bowl victories and finished fourth in the Heisman balloting, the West Texas phenom ended up quarterbacking the Washington Redskins. Baugh revolutionized the game, introducing the forward pass as a weapon of choice instead of an “act of desperation.” How many quarterbacks have led the league in passing more times than Sammy Baugh? That would be zero. Which is the primary reason the Associated Press voted Baugh the third-greatest football player of the 20th century and he was a charter member of the NFL’s Hall of Fame.
The primary reason, but not the only reason. Baugh also led the league in interceptions. Not throwing them, mind you; instead he intercepted other quarterbacks 11 times in one season. As great as his throwing arm was and as talented as he was as an all-around athlete, Baugh’s greatest skill may have been with his foot. In 100 years of NFL football, only Shane Lechler owns a better yard per punt average; no one has yet bested Baugh’s 1940 season average of 51.4 yards per punt.
All to say that Sammy Baugh is as big as it gets in football. Jack remembers that Baugh used to delight fans before the game by sending the Hardin Simmons’ receivers on “post” routes. For the uninitiated, a post route means the team’s swiftest player runs as fast as he can towards the goalposts. Instead of throwing the ball to the streaking receiver, Baugh would punt it to him. More often than not the receiver would catch it without breaking stride.
Jack Moss had a wonderful time playing football at Hardin Simmons under the magnetic Baugh. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, to be sure. Being around that sort of greatness, however was also a subtle reminder. Moss would soon need to make a living and that would not likely happen by playing football.
PATH TO THE SIDELINE.
It did not appear that Jack Moss would be making his way to the Madison Avenue advertising world either. Jack quickly found out that art majors do much more than draw. In fact, drawing was the least of it. After a semester of not drawing, Jack switched to being a physical education major. As an aside, his advice for today’s aspiring coaches is to have a math or science background. The flexibility that comes from being able to fill roles where the supply of teachers is low makes a young coach all that more attractive to school administrators.
After his junior year in college, Jack had taken the biggest step of his young life by marrying his wife, Joanne. Like many good Baptist couples the Mosses met at the famed Baptist summer camp at Alto Frio in Leakey, Texas. After his senior season, Jack knew it was time to start earning a steady paycheck. So every day he checked the campus job office to find out if anyone had posted a job opening suitable for a new football coach/teacher. Far West Texas was soon calling Jack Moss home.
White Deer, Texas had a good football team in the early 1960’s and not much else. The small town outside of Amarillo, may have been sparsely populated, but it was comfortable for Jack and Joanne. Jack started his career coaching the line as well as track and field. During the day he taught middle school science. Jack enjoyed the job immensely and knew he was good at it.
While Jack may be humble, he is also quietly confident. So confident that after he had one-year of coaching under his belt, he started applying for head coaching jobs. As good as White Deer was, there were no takers for the upstart as a head coach. After three years, however, Olton hired Jack as their new top assistant. The move turned out to be a near disaster.
Shortly after Jack started, the existing head coach quit. Rather than promoting Jack, the school board went for more experience and coaxed a local coach out of retirement. That all was fine with Jack; what was not okay was the fact that football was no longer the retired coach’s priority. The high school football season is a high-stress endeavor and Olton ended up without a leader. Jack was miserable and for the only time in his career, thinking about another line of work.
THE BEST FRIEND.
Jack was even more dejected after a trip to San Antonio, where the best offer he could wrangle was coaching sophomores. A sympathetic administrator put Jack in touch with George Kirk, a rising star in the West Texas coaching world, who was then helming the Littlefield team. Kirk agreed to interview the Jack Moss he had heard about.
Jack says that he knew inside of 10 minutes that he would align with Kirk. That interview started a friendship that lasted over 50 years, until Kirk’s death in 2013. The two men were deeply committed to Christianity, family and football and usually in that order. Kirk demanded excellence and Moss never flinched. From Littlefield, the duo moved to Palo Duro High School in Amarillo. Kirk was in demand as was his buddy and top man.
In the spring of 1969, Jack Moss got “the call.” Gatesville High School needed a new head coach and Jack was it. Jack and Joanne left Kirk and Amarillo, probably not understanding how rare head coaches under 30 were in Texas High School football. Jack and George would have a chance to see each other soon enough as Kirk was named offensive coordinator at Baylor University, in nearby Waco, while Jack was in Gatesville.
In the meantime, Jack produced a district championship in his second year. From 1969 until 1991, Jack Moss would be a head coach. After Gatesville, he was at Waxahachie. Then back to West Texas for a stint with Dumas. He opened the football program at the new Kingwood High School outside of Houston. He led Boerne outside of San Antonio and then moved to the writer’s alma mater, San Antonio MacArthur, from 1989-1991.
High school coaching is an all consuming occupation. Every Friday night is judgment day and every dad in the stands can tell you how the coach lost the game. That part is tough enough, put the real stress and the true joy of coaching comes from the relationships. Teen-age boys come in all shapes and sizes, physically and emotionally. Some are like Jack, model children ready to do the job. Others are more troubled or have different obstacles.
In his approximately 30 years as an active coach, Jack Moss stood as a second father (and sometimes as a first father) to more than 1,500 young men. He picked them up when they needed it and put them in their place when they needed that. Like any good West Texas man, he never took his job lightly. He bore responsibility like his dad taught him to. As confident in his skills as he was; as at peace with his own home life and faith as he was, the pressure to both win and do right by his boys was unrelenting. A man needs an outlet.
THE SECOND CALL.
Jack Moss got the second call in Dumas, Texas. Many Texans know Dumas as a pit stop on the way to the ski resorts in New Mexico or Colorado, but Dumas is a pleasant community if you ignore the extreme temperatures and the unrelenting wind. Which Jack did, of course.
Carolyn Stallitz was a Dumas football mom, a role unique to Texas women. Football moms can be the coach’s biggest allies and an alternate motivational route for their sons. Guys will play to please their dads, but they fear their moms.
In any event, Jack learned that Carolyn happened to be a successful wildlife illustrator in addition to her first job of being a football mom. Intrigued, Jack began quizzing Carolyn about how she got to be so good with the brushes. Carolyn returned an opposite answer than what he had heard at Hardin Simmons decades before. Carolyn told Jack to just start drawing.
Carolyn’s advice made sense to Jack. In typical West Texas, point A to point B style, Jack bought a paperback instruction watercolor manual (he still has the book) and jumped in. Jack was past the half-century mark and engaged in a full-time, high stress job. He had not drawn more than a doodle for decades.
None of that mattered after Jack finally got started. Jack loved West Texas in general and ranch life in particular. Sammy Baugh, Jack’s college coach, had given up coaching for ranching and remarked that if he had it to do all over again, he probably would have just skipped the football part. Jack was not ready to go that far, but he found a deep and satisfying connection with the part of the country he loved so much by expressing that life on canvas.
Jack did most of his painting after midnight. Despite the hours, he was prolific and a quick learner. Once again, a combination of natural talent and work ethic began to produce results.
JACK MOSS, PROFESSIONAL PAINTER.
Not long after taking up his new avocation, Jack’s vocation moved him to Kingwood, outside of Houston. Jack coached both his sons, who ended up playing their college ball at nearby Rice University. His job at Kingwood meant starting the program from the ground up, so Jack was busy enough for three men, but he kept at the painting.
Joanne was more than impressed; she was called to action. Soon Joanne made the rounds of Houston galleries. Within a year, Jack Moss paintings began to sell. Inside, Jack must be tempted to check in with the art department at Hardin Simmons to ask them how much art he might have sold had they not detoured him for 30+ years. Instead, Jack kept coaching and painting; Joanne kept selling.
The coaching life moved Jack to Boerne and then San Antonio. In 1991, Jack might have had his best team yet. On the strength of outstanding athletes at the three skill positions-quarterback, receiver and running back-the Brahmas were one of the top ranked teams in the areas. By happenstance, their first opponent of the year was John Marshall, another powerhouse.
The week before the season kicked off, Moss lost all three of his studs; two to injuries and one to a discipline problem. Still the game hung on a razor’s edge, when a mental mistake by a seventeen-year old ended with MacArthur on the wrong end. When Jack finally got home that night he told Joanne that the ups and downs were too much; they were done being an on-the-field coach and wife after that season. And then Jack went to his makeshift studio to paint the loss away.
Jack had hung up his whistle, but he still loved being around the kids. In a “world has come full circle move,” Jack Moss moved into administration by becoming the principal at his alma mater, Junction High School. Soon his even, steady approach had him moving around and up in the school administration world. Back to Houston with Westfield High School and then to Waco as that district’s athletic director. Finally, Jack took a half-time job in which he worked every day beginning at 6:00 a.m. for the powerhouse Lake Travis I.S.D. From his perch, he watched the Cavaliers dominate Texas High School football, producing state champions and college quarterbacks like Ford turned out Model T’s.
Jack and Joanne knew that as much as they loved all their postings, the rolling hills where Central Texas and West Texas merged would be the setting for their golden years. They bought acreage near Llano even while Jack was still working at Lake Travis; he loved the land so much the commute was nothing.
Tragically, however, Joanne was unable to enjoy the fruits of the couple’s travels and labors. Why and when cancer strikes are not something we can answer and Jack has to live with that unfairness. After her death, Jack had only his own children, his school kids and his painting He devoted himself to all three until 2008. After 46 years of coaching and teaching, Jack Moss became a full-time painter.
Jack’s “office” at 112 Main St. in Llano turns out to be a large building that had been in the Dr. Charles Darnell family for close to a century. In addition to serving as a medical office the building had been Llano’s post office. Jack purchased the place and turned it into a first-class gallery; authentic to his his West Texas style. He paints at a stand in the corner, and he entertains in the comfortably appointed showroom.
The walls showcase a remarkable talent, dormant for decades and now in full bloom. Jack Moss described his dad as a “Baptist preacher, strict cowboy and a horse trader.” He laughs softly at the thought, knowing that it took a unique Baptist preacher to succeed as a horse trader, a field where ethics might tend to slow you down.
I was not surprised in the least. Jack Moss’ dad taught Jack to do things the West Texas way. That meant doing it yourself and doing it to the fullest, Dad’s teachings adorn the Gridiron Gallery in Llano, Texas.
Those lessons were even more apparent when Jack Moss showed up to the gallery on the weekend of his 80th birthday this October. That right turn ran Jack Moss smack dab into hundreds of people gathered to celebrate a life lived spectacularly well. Carol Saxenian, a former school administrator herself, had come into Jack’s life three years after Joanne died. She is a bundle of energy and had spearheaded the birthday effort. Carol enjoyed the task, although keeping the whole thing secret among Jack’s wide circle of friends was a huge challenge.
Jack’s two sons and his eight grandchildren are testament to his success as a family man. His players showed up, including those reaching all the way back to the first Gatesville squad he led 50 years prior. Coaching friends from small town Texans to Jackie Sherrill were all on hand. Carol was there to hold his hand when he got choked up. Joanne, George Kirk and Jack’s brothers have gone before, but they were all there in spirit.
It was just about perfect. Jack Moss was so happy and content that he relaxed a bit. The next day, like any good West Texas man, Jack was up early painting. He had a job to do and he was going to do it right.