Former CEO Joe Moglia proving coaching chops at Coastal Carolina
The Old Ball Coach swears that when his 11th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks host the Football Championship Subdivision Coastal Carolina Chanticleers on Saturday, the in-state game really means something. "This is a huge game, counts the same as the Clemson game on our record," Steve Spurrier told The State.
Yes, of course, he's right. Spurrier, 68, has to prepare his team and guard against a catastrophic meltdown. But in reality, unless Coastal Carolina pulls off the upset of all upsets, this game is merely a tune-up for next week's Clemson game, a chance to play some backups, a gimme game where Coastal gets the beat-down and some solace in the form of a sacrificial-lamb appearance fee.
But the real story on Saturday will be on the Coastal Carolina sidelines. That's where a man who is just four years younger than Spurrier is getting his chance to live a dream that he'd given up on 30 years ago. That man is Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia, who just happens to be the former CEO of TD Ameritrade.
I wrote a book about Moglia's remarkable return to coaching, called 4th And Goal: One Man's Quest to Recapture His Dream. Here's the thumbnail sketch of his story:
Joe Moglia grew up in a working-class family in New York City (his father owned a tiny fruit stand) and had one dream since his high school days: To become a college football head coach. He was well on his way to achieving that goal in the early 1980s, having worked his way up the assistant coaching ranks to the position of defensive coordinator at Dartmouth. After the 1983 season he was offered a position as a defensive assistant coach at the University of Miami, the defending national champions. But Moglia turned down the job. His family had come apart -- his wife had divorced him -- and he didn't believe that he could support her and their four children on a salary of $33,000 a year.
So he quit football. He decided, somewhat improbably, to go to Wall Street (he was 34 years old and had no experience in finance). The man who hired him for an entry-level position at Merrill Lynch said that Moglia was "a complete lunatic. But his intensity was incredible."
Moglia quickly became the top salesman at Merrill, and eventually worked his way up the corporate ladder to just a few rungs from the very top. In 2001 he made a risky jump, becoming the CEO of what was then known as Ameritrade, the online trader that looked, at the time, like a crisp cinder falling back to earth after the fireworks of the dot-com bubble bust. What later became known as TD Ameritrade grew from a $700 million company to one worth $10 billion in just seven years under Moglia's leadership. Perhaps most impressively, Moglia -- despite much pressure from investors -- refused to deal in subprime mortgages, which caused the bubble that nearly led the world off the financial cliff. In those dark days in 2008, when competitor E-Trade lost $1.3 billion and Moglia's former employer, Merrill Lynch, lost $28 billion, TD Ameritrade actually made a profit of $800 million.
And then, at age 60 and at the very apex of his financial career, Moglia walked away. He wanted to become a college football head coach. To him, there was little difference between being a CEO and a head coach. It was all about leadership and executing a game plan, and about the core message he'd preached for most of his life: "Stand on your own two feet, accept responsibility for yourself and be a man." (He remains the chairman of TD Ameritrade.)
The problem was that his impressive resume impressed no one in the football world. Terry Holland, then the athletic director at East Carolina University, said that Moglia's candidacy raised more questions than it answered. Moglia had been away from the game for too long. The money he'd made (he is worth a few hundred million dollars) worked against him: He was viewed as some rich kook looking for a diversion. Moglia spent two seasons as an unpaid "shadow" coach at the University of Nebraska, catching up on the game and beefing up his resume. Still, no one bit.
In 2011 Moglia finally did get a job offer, but not the one he had in mind. He became the head coach of the Omaha Nighthawks in the now-defunct United Football League. Though the UFL was a second-rate professional league, the coaching was of some quality. Moglia lost games to Marty Schottenheimer and Jim Fassel. He beat Dennis Green.
When that season ended, Moglia figured he'd give college coaching one more try. By that point he was entering his fourth hiring cycle. "As much as I wanted to spend the rest of my life coaching, I did not want to spend the rest of my life looking for a job," he said at the time. In the late fall of 2011, Fordham University and Florida Atlantic University expressed interest in Moglia, but both ended up hiring others.
That meant everything came down to one job: Coastal Carolina, the 9,300-student school located in Conway, S.C., just a few miles inland from Myrtle Beach. (The school was once affiliated with the University of South Carolina, thus its unusual mascot: The Chanticleer was a clever rooster in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). The fact that there was an opening at the school was a bit of a surprise. David Bennett had been the coach at Coastal since the football program's beginning in 2003 and had a record of 63-39. But earlier in 2011 he'd become better known for his wacky "We need more dogs!" video that went viral. To the president of the university, David DeCenzo, it was just another sign of a program that had gone adrift. He'd had enough.
A few days before Christmas in 2011, DeCenzo hired Moglia as the school's football coach, with a five-year contract that paid him $175,000 a year. Fans and alumni were apoplectic, accusing DeCenzo of losing his mind, and accusing Moglia of buying the job. An agent for former Coastal Carolina players now in the NFL called the hiring "an insult to the entire coaching profession." The national media said it was bad for the school and bad for college football in general. DeCenzo was well aware of the risk he'd taken. "This is either the smartest or dumbest decision I've ever made," he said.
Moglia started his first season 2-4, including an embarrassing 55-14 defeat to Appalachian State. The doubters -- and all of those athletic directors who had passed him over -- seemed right. But then something clicked. Moglia's Chanticleers won their last five games of the 2012 season by an average of 30 points. They won the Big South Conference title and made it to the second round of the FCS playoffs. Moglia was named the Big South Conference's Coach of the Year.
That momentum rolled into this season. Coastal Carolina is 10-1 -- the school's best record ever -- and is now ranked No. 7 in the FCS coaches poll. The offense averages 45.5 points a game, led by running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, a Moglia recruit who has rushed for 1,466 yards and scored 24 touchdowns this season. Moglia has a shot at his second consecutive Big South title, and the Chanticleers are a near-lock to make the FCS playoffs again. As he did in his business career, Moglia has surrounded himself with talented people, like offensive coordinator, David Patenaude, an up-tempo guru. And he's laid out a clear message which, starting midway through last year, his team has bought into. "Everything else has fallen into place," says Moglia.
And now he heads to Williams-Brice Stadium to face Spurrier and the Gamecocks, who are still in the hunt for a spot in the SEC title game. Rumors hover over Spurrier: Is this his last year? There are also rumors about Moglia, talk of interest from FBS programs. But he'd rather not dwell on the "what-ifs," and instead heaps praise on his opposing coach. "Spurrier has had success wherever he's been and he's one of the finest play-callers in the history of the game," he says. "Everybody knows his history."
Not everyone knows about Moglia's history and his unlikely realization of a dream deferred so many years ago. But it's remarkable in its own way.
Monte Burke is a staff writer at Forbes and the author of "4th And Goal: One Man's Quest to Recapture His Dream" (Grand Central Publishing), the story of Joe Moglia's return to college coaching. Purchase a copy here.