By Eric Banford
After a stellar career both on and off the lacrosse field, former Cornell coach Richie Moran is offering up a book that retells many of the tales that make up his legacy – an autobiography.
The book, titled “It’s Great To Be Here!,” is out just in time for Moran’s 80th birthday; a public celebration and book signing will take place from 1-6 p.m. Saturday, January 28, at Cornell’s Moakley Field House on Warren Road.
The book unfolds in a casual question-and-answer format, with co-author Steve Lawrence providing the prompts, and Moran weaving stories and lessons learned into each answer. He has an incredible memory for details, recalling names and details throughout his career, and the stories frequently circle back to the heart of the matter: Young men need mentors in this world, and Richie Moran is a great mentor.
The book starts with Richie’s upbringing and touches on the circumstances that shaped him. His parents emigrated separately from Ireland in 1915 and 1916, married in New York City and had eight children together; Richie was the youngest. Moran was born during the Great Depression, and father was drafted in World War I and his brothers were called away during World War II, one of them dying during his service. During WWII, Moran’s father was also away working in a ship building yard, leaving Richie as the only male at home.
“I wanted to be responsible, and do the things my dad would do if he was there,” he recalled in the book.
In high school, Moran started out playing football and baseball on Long Island, but once he got a taste of lacrosse he was hooked. He won a national lacrosse championship as a college player at Maryland, where he also met his wife of 55 years, Patricia “Pat” Jean Smith.
Sitting with both Richie and Steve for an interview, it became immediately obvious that they had a great rapport. When asked how they met, Lawrence quipped, “In prison,” to which Moran segued right into a story about being Steve’s bail bondsmen.
Actually, Moran and Lawrence first met in the 1980s when Richie was coaching lacrosse and Steve was working with Cornell’s athletics. Once Lawrence started writing a sports column for the Ithaca Times, he had frequent opportunities to write about Moran and the Cornell lacrosse program. When Moran contacted Lawrence and asked about collaborating on his book project, Lawrence felt honored and accepted.
“I really felt great admiration for the way Steve handled people,” said Moran. “His compassion, his understanding, his ability to answer unusual questions with ease and grace. We became really close at Cornell, so when I started writing this book, the first person I thought about was Steve Lawrence.”
The two of them met regularly for six months at the Ithaca Yacht Club, a quiet, scenic spot.
“We started to transcribe what I thought was going to be a brief book, and when we got to 350 pages we had to pull the reins in,” said Moran.
He has always known that the important life lessons lived beyond the playing field and were reflected in how his players led their lives after graduation.
“Right now in their communities, they give so much, they care so much,” he said. “They care a great deal about their Cornell University life as an alumnus. And to me that’s a beautiful picture.
“I don’t know if Rembrandt can paint a greater picture than that. It contains happiness, accomplishment, success, togetherness, and a love for one another, great pride, and teamwork,” he added. “All of those components to me are essential for a young man to be involved with when he competes in college.”
Lawrence noted that Moran brought out leaders in his players.
“A lots of Richie’s players had a good foundation of being a good student, and a good foundation of being a good athlete,” he said, “but when they got to Cornell and started interacting with Richie, that’s when they learned to be leaders.”
Moran said he is “delighted” so many of his players are “very successful in many, many fields.”
“One young man, General John ‘Jay’ Paxton, is a four-star general in the Marine Corps,” Richie said. “And believe it or not he never played lacrosse until he came to Cornell, and he played on our 1971 championship team.
“These are the type of individuals that I talk about throughout this book,” Moran added. “They not only had an impact on their teammates, but also had an impact on the sport, and on the university.”
Despite Moran’s accomplishments – or perhaps because of them – he admits to a dark period in his life where depression gripped his days, making it difficult to even get out of bed.
“I thought it was coach’s disease, because of the hours you’re putting in, you’re not eating properly, you’re traveling,” he said. “I know that lots of coaches at high levels have gone through this, and I realized that I had to seek help.”
Moran was able to get the counseling and medication he needed. Years later he decided to start discussing his struggles during public speaking opportunities, and unsurprisingly he had a lot of people come up to him afterwards and share similar stories and their appreciation for his bravery in sharing.
“I thought maybe we all should have spoken out sooner to let people know that they’re not alone with the disorder of this type, and they should seek help immediately,” he shared in the book.
ESPN’s Emmy Award-winning sports reporter Jeremy Schaap wrote in the book’s forward: “Anyone who has spent time with Richie has felt that unique magnetism, that energy, that enthusiasm, how Richie wraps you in his embrace and makes you feel better about everything, especially yourself. That’s what I remember about meeting Richie for the first time – and it’s still the way I feel whenever I think about him. Richie happens to be one of the all-time greats based strictly on his record, but more important no coach at any level has cared more about his players or has been more invested in their success, beyond the game, and in their lives.”
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More information on the book can be found at richiemoran.com.