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Following the coaching career of Hurricane leader Jerome Moss

The life of a coach

Jerome Moss, the PBL Coach of the Year of the Chautauqua Hurricane, has had a long journey throughout New York State, but it has led Moss to eventually call Chautauqua County home. Photo by Ron Szot.

Jerome Moss, the head coach for the Chautauqua Hurricane, was named the Premier Basketball League Coach of the Year earlier this month after the Hurricane got off to the best start in their league, before the rest of the season was ultimately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Hurricane, it was another step in what has been a successful run for the young franchise, but for Moss, it’s another impressive notch in a belt that dates back decades.

Moss has been around basketball for a majority of his life. Originally from Elmira, NY, Moss grew up playing basketball. He’s in his high school’s Hall of Fame for his basketball accomplishments, and after attending community college in Albany for his first two years of college, Moss made his initial trip to Chautauqua County.

A place he would call home for almost the rest of his life.

Moss has been in Western New York for most of his life since transferring to SUNY Fredonia in 1978, and has made plenty of stops along the way. His journey started as a player at SUNY Fredonia — and a good player at that. His first year at Fredonia, his junior year of college, Moss made the all-conference team. When his playing career was over, Moss didn’t want to up and leave the game.

“Basketball was my passion,” Moss said. “I was not ready to give it up, and what better way to stay in the game than to get into coaching?”

Following his graduation from Fredonia, Moss went back to Elmira to be the assistant coach at Elmira College for a few years, which is where he first wet his feet in the coaching pool. But in 1986, Moss returned to Chautauqua County as an employee in the SUNY Fredonia Residence Hall, and as an assistant for the team he once played for, the Fredonia Blue Devils. The transition to coaching from playing was one of the bigger obstacles Moss had to hurdle.

“Playing in college is a whole lot different from coaching,” Moss said. “You have to work with guys and use your skills to teach someone else how to play. I spent a lot of time watching other coaches and learning how to do that, on top of having to go out and recruit.”

Man In Charge

Moss stayed at his alma mater from 1986 until 1995, where he made a big career leap.

Instead of being an assistant, Moss was now in charge.

In 1995, Moss took over the head coaching job at Forestville High School, which posed a whole different set of problems for the rookie head coach.

“When you first start, you have all these ideas, all these plays, all this stuff piled up and ready to go,” Moss said. “Then when you get to your first job and you get in there and see the type of talent you have, see the situation and the attitude of players, you have to see what you have and see if it fits. Most of the time what you think fits, doesn’t fit. You mold what you have into what they can do.”

Being an assistant coach at a college that can recruit players from all over the country is quite a different experience than coaching at a high school where your talent pool is the graduating classes of around 50 kids. But Moss was up for the challenge, and so were his athletes.

Forestville had some down years before Moss took over, which he knew going into the job. He not only tackled the task of being a first-time head coach, but also embraced rebuilding a program at the same time.

“It was one of those programs you had to put back together,” Moss said. “And I was able to do that.”

Moss did that and more. He took a group of kids and made them a team — a team with a passion and hunger to learn the game.

“The passion those guys had was more than I ever would’ve anticipated,” Moss said. “They hadn’t won in a while. When I came in and we got to know each other and trust each other, they took what I was teaching to heart.”

From the way he talks about his years at Forestville, Moss obviously has some fond memories of his time there. And why wouldn’t he? Forestville was where he won his first Coach of the Year award, and while the team never won a high school championship, they still had some other accolades that they worked hard for.

“We won some games and had some great times,” Moss said. “They couldn’t wait until summer for the workouts and they played so hard in game. We even won a summer league at the Salvation Army one summer.”

Most importantly from Forestville, the passion his kids had for the game only fueled the fire inside Moss to continue on. And despite the memories and the great times, Moss did move on.

A New Game

After five years at the helm of the Forestville Hornets, Moss moved onto his next challenge. And while it was a familiar place, it was a different set of faces.

In 2000, Moss returned to Fredonia State as an assistant coach. But this time, as the assistant for the women’s team.

“Getting into the women’s game, I didn’t know how to coach women,” Moss said. “I thought it couldn’t be that much different, but I went into it with the expectation of learning more.”

And as they did in Forestville, the women’s team accepted Moss right away, and in some ways, made his job a little easier.

“The women paid much more attention to detail,” Moss said. “They wanted to learn and I learned right then that there isn’t much difference in coaching. A lot of times men think they know it all. They think they can jump the highest and they think they have more skills. Women seem to be more coachable. They want to learn and are more patient in learning.”

Though Moss was only the women’s assistant at Fredonia from 2000-2002, he quickly parlayed it into his biggest gig. Moss was set to leave Chautauqua County for the first time since 1986. But he didn’t have to go too much further.

The Fredonia job led right into Moss being the women’s head coach at Buffalo State College, where he stayed for four years and had some of his most successful seasons. In his first year, his team went 18-9. He also had his first opportunity to recruit his own team, put together his non-league schedule, and balance his own budget.

His team also took down one of the top ranked teams in the country.

“At the time, in my second or third year, Medaille was ranked eighth in the country, and we beat them at their place,” Moss said.

His team also made it to the SUNYAC semifinals in his first season, before falling to Brockport in ’02-03. He also had one his girls, Jacey Brooks, go on to be the head coach at SUNY Cortland, which is one of the things Moss is most proud of.

“It makes me proud to see her do such a good job,” Moss said.

Returning to the County

When his tenure at Buffalo State ended, Moss found himself out of coaching for a short period. It wasn’t until 2009 that he made his coaching return to Chautauqua County, this time at the helm of the Dunkirk Marauders. While Moss had already made the jump from high school to college, the jump back to high school didn’t pose any challenges for Moss.

“There was no problem getting back to high school,” Moss said. “I had learned more as I went along and continued to learn more about coaching. I was able to use what I learned back at high school, and brought those experiences along with me.”

Moving around as frequently as Moss did, now on his third stop as head coach, he had learned the skills needed to take over a new job.

“It just depends on how you approach teams,” Moss said. “When you come in as new coach, kids want to see how you’re going to coach them. If they accept the way you coach them, there is no problem at all. You have to prove you know what you’re talking about, and show them that you care. The biggest thing of all is showing you care and are there to help them in any way you can.”

It makes sense, given his experience, that Moss would have a seemless time stepping into the job for the Marauders. Dunkirk is where he had his best season ever as a coach.

As in, his team didn’t lose a game.

In 2011, the Marauders ran the table in their regular season schedule, going 19-0 on the season, led by guys like Vinny Bomasuto and Mike Donaldson. Moss called it, “something I’ll never forget.”

After finding success at each of his stops to that point, Moss took on yet another new challenge: Coaching a team that hadn’t won a game in two years.

In 2014, Moss took the Brocton Lady Bulldogs job — as a favor.

“They didn’t have a coach and I wasn’t coaching at the time,” Moss said. “I did it just to stay in coaching, and I ended up having a lot of fun with the ladies.”

And in a way, Moss still succeeded. The Lady Bulldogs won their last game of that season, finally ending the streak. Brocton dropped women’s basketball the following year, as the entirety of his team was seniors. Moss thinks if he had gotten there sooner, more than one win would’ve been manageable.

“I wish I had those girls for longer,” Moss said. “We might have been okay.”

A Storm is Coming

The next year was the biggest leap Moss made as a coach. Moss and Sixto Rosario assembled the Chautauqua Hurricane basketball program from scratch, in time to get them ready for the 2015 season.

“We worked really hard at that,” Moss said. “It had taken a couple years to mold it into the way we wanted, but it’s there now. We’ve had good players come through and it’s been a great experience coaching these guys.”

The Hurricane, as a professional team, is immensely different from the high school or college ranks. Instead of working with students, Moss had the challenge of working with grown men. This heavily changes the philosophy of being the head coach, shifting from molding young minds to getting the best out of guys who already have skills and knowledge.

“It’s a different kind of coaching entirely,” Moss said. “You don’t want one dimensional guys. They’re working on their game to get picked up somewhere else. I try and tell them they’re being recruited and recruiters look at the entire game. I work on all the different things they need, I watch them to see if I can see their flaws, then I try and convince them of what they need.”

“Lots of those adults have decent skills,” Moss continued. “It’s more so showing them the things they don’t do well than helping them work on the things they do well.”

And like everywhere else Moss has been, the team has had success. Two seasons ago, as part of the North American Basketball League, the Hurricane played in the league championship game, though they came up short of winning the championship itself, making it the closest Moss has ever come to winning a championship.

As if coaching one team wasn’t enough, Moss wasn’t done trying to add challenges to his plate. One thing he hadn’t tried yet was being on two staffs at the same time, which is now just another thing Moss has accomplished.

“Two years ago SUNY Fredonia needed an assistant,” Moss said. “I wondered if I could do both and I wanted to go back to the college setting, so that’s what I did. I’m not afraid of the challenges. I love working with kids and wanted to see if I could jump in there and help things at my old alma mater.”

All of that led up to this past season, which was just recently cut short due to COVID-19. The Hurricane looked poised to get Moss, the PBL Coach of the Year, his first career championship before everything came to an end. But while the accolades are nice, but it’s never been about that for Moss. To him, coaching, and basketball, is his passion. A passion he gets a lot out of.

“I love watching the guys and ladies grow and giving them challenges to see if they can meet,” Moss said. “I’ve seen a lot of that happen and I enjoy the game.”

And for everything Moss has done for the game, the game has given back.

Having had three major surgeries in his life, Moss has recovered from those using the skills he gained from his lifetime of coaching, reflecting on how he coaches to use it on himself.

“I know I have to go and get myself ready and rehab,” Moss said. “I just keep going with a positive attitude. I try to teach that to the kids I coach. Life may throw you a hook here and there, but you have to keep pushing.”

What Remains

Through all of his stops, all of his travels, and all of his achievements, Moss has had a few constants. The first of which being the game itself. Despite having coached high schoolers, college athletes and grown men, the game of basketball doesn’t change that much

“Talent-wise, it may be different, but from every level you coach, the fundamentals of basketball are all the same,” Moss said. “You’ve got to dribble, you’ve got to pass and hit a foul shot. You do the same thing at every level, you might have to explain it more at the younger level, but all the way through the pros you have to do those things.”

The second is his house. Ever since he came back to Fredonia in 1986, he hasn’t left the area, driving back and forth to Buffalo each day if he had to. Moving around so frequently isn’t something Moss sought out.

“It just happens,” he said.

The third is his wife, Mary Kay, who he has been married to for 28 years.

“She’s been right there beside me the entire time.”

But despite all the years under his belt, Moss isn’t done. No way. Even with the pandemic currently happening and the future of sports up in the air, Moss still has the passion and fire to keep going.

“At the end of the season, you take your break to get rejuvenated,” Moss said. “But I know I’ll start thinking again. We’ll see what happens, but if there’s basketball, Sixto and I will plan for it. We’ll start talking about players pretty soon.”

Moss has done it all in his career. He’s been a player, a coach, and now even a builder. While the championship still eludes him, the impact Moss has had on Chautauqua County and the greater Western New York region will be felt for years to come.

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