Richie Moran, a legendary figure in the Cornell and lacrosse communities who coached the Red for 29 seasons, died on April 24. He was 85.
From 1969 to 1997, Moran led the Red to three national championships and 15 Ivy League championships and established Cornell as one of the premier men’s lacrosse programs in the nation.
Moran compiled a 257-121 record during his illustrious coaching career, including a 42 game win streak from 1978-1979 and a 39 game Ivy League win streak from 1973-1979, both of which remain records.
After retiring from coaching, Moran stayed at Cornell and remained a constant presence in the lives of thousands of athletes, coaches and administrators. His continued involvement helped foster tradition and culture in the lacrosse program.
Moran’s infectious charm and wit, coupled with his deep interest in everyone he met, allowed him to effortlessly form meaningful relationships and establish himself as a larger-than-life figure in the Cornell community.
Moran is considered one of –– if not the –– best lacrosse coaches of all time.
Moran arrived at Cornell in 1969 after leading two Long Island high schools to a combined 96-8 record and leading the Long Island Athletic Club to a U.S. Club Lacrosse Association Title in 1968.
Moran’s players remember him for his exacting standards, his emphasis on fundamentals and his ability to bring out the best in them.
When a player arrived at Cornell, Moran would break down their technique and teach them the proper way to approach the sport’s most fundamental skills, like passing and scooping.
“You never knew there were so many things wrong with your game,” recalls Andy Phillips ’84, who played for Moran and is now the president of the Cornell Lacrosse Association. “It was all about breaking the game down into its constituent parts and building it back up again.”
Moran’s exacting standards put pressure on athletes to keep up, but he encouraged them if they fell behind.
Moran imparted his emphasis on fundamentals and his mastery of offensive concepts like spacing and movement with quirky sayings and traditions. Moran would remind players to “move with movement,” and he would review plays before games by arranging soap bars on the floor of the showers in Schoelkopf.
Moran’s leadership fueled men’s lacrosse to a period of dominance that set Cornell up for continued success. The Red won the first ever national championship in 1971 and won again in 1976 and 1977. The team lost three national championship games, in 1979, 1987 and 1988.
Moran’s teams dominated their Ivy League opponents. Cornell won 15 Ivy championships during Moran’s tenure and put together 10 undefeated Ivy seasons. He led the Red to a 124-50 record against Ivy opponents.
During three decades of coaching Moran’s focus on details and fundamentals never wavered, but he tailored his approach to each of his teams as they earned his trust.
Like most legendary coaches, Moran loved to win and hated to lose, but he was driven most by a focus on the process. He planned practices down to the minute and was ahead of his time in his focus on quality control and attention to detail. Practices that are commonplace today, like having backup pairs of cleats, were first implemented by Moran’s early teams.
Moran was a pioneer in the sport, but the rest of the league caught up to his innovations. His teams won the Ivy League title in 14 of his first 15 seasons, but only once after 1984.
Eventually, Moran retired following consecutive 3-11 seasons in 1996 and 1997. He rounded out his Hall of Fame coaching career by coaching Team Ireland at the World Lacrosse Championships in the 2000s.
Following his retirement from coaching in 1997, Moran stayed at Cornell, taking a position as an associate director of athletics for alumni affairs and development. He was fiercely loyal to Cornell and Ithaca.
Shortly after the end of his coaching career, Moran’s alma mater, the University of Maryland, tried to woo him back to take an administrative position. Moran talked things over with his good friend, Cornell’s Sports Information Director Dave Wohlhueter, and left a note in Wohlhueter’s desktop drawer and told him not to look at it until he made his decision. When Moran announced he was staying at Cornell a few days later, Wohlueter opened the note, which read, “Cornell with Love.”
Moran’s dedication to Cornell benefited thousands of athletes and staff involved in Cornell athletics over decades and even after his retirement. He was a familiar face at home games, and he would hop on the basketball team’s bus to go up to Syracuse with them. Coaches would ask Moran to come speak to their teams about teamwork.
While it is out of the norm for a coach to stay involved with a team after leaving, Moran’s continued presence in the lacrosse program had a lasting impact on the team. Since retiring from coaching, Moran was a consistent figure in the lacrosse program — building the program into a family and fostering tradition and culture.
“He’s built the foundation of most of how this program operates,” said current head coach Connor Buczek ’15. “He’s sewn the fabric of what Cornell lacrosse is. He’s built this family atmosphere, he built the tradition here.”
Every team aims to feel like a family, and Moran has developed a familial bond across generations of lacrosse players at Cornell. At many programs’ alumni weekends, players from each era and generation sit together and reconnect with each other. But, at lacrosse’s alumni gatherings, players from across generations feel like teammates with each other –– in large part it is thanks to Moran’s ability to form bonds and connect to people.
Fostering that family has kept more recent teams in touch with the program’s tradition and culture, which has led to success on the field.
“We’re trying to follow a similar blueprint. The 70’s teams that were national champions and the way we’re trying to build it now are not too dissimilar,” Buczek said. “We’ve got a lot of the same people and it’s created the tradition within our alumni base, and all of that is owed to Richie and the program that he built.”
Moran stayed involved with the current team despite the challenges of two seasons that were disrupted by the pandemic. He took part in senior day last year, would stop by after practices to check in on players, and rarely missed a game even while his health declined.
On Saturday, six days after Moran’s death, the team clinched a share of its 30th Ivy League title with a win over Princeton.
“He made everybody feel like they were special”
Moran was a legendary coach and an instrumental figure in the lacrosse and Cornell communities, but he will be remembered first for how easily he seemed to form relationships and how deeply he cared for those around him.
Moran’s charisma had a way of making people gravitate to him. A sophomore on the current team recalls Moran’s ability to make him feel like an old friend and the most special person in the room, even after just meeting him.
“He was built from the right stuff,” Buczek said. “He was a guy that cared about the right things. The wins and losses were byproducts of his genuine care for the people.”
Friends would meet Moran once and he would never forget their name and would call them a few times a year to check in. He remembered his colleague’s children’s names, as well as what grade they were in and what activities they liked.
“You never walked away from a meeting with him without smiling,” said Julie Greco, who was the sports information director for men’s lacrosse for 14 years.
Moran was a jokester, and he loved to pull off good-hearted practical jokes and pranks, such as sending rookie players and managers to the trainer’s room for a “bucket of steam.”
In 2017, Moran released his autobiography, It’s Great to Be Here. The title comes from a catchphrase he developed as a coach. His team was practicing in brutal weather conditions, with icicles forming on their facemasks. He gathered the team and told them, “It’s great to be here!”
For decades, including after his retirement, Moran would see friends bundled up around Ithaca or on East Hill, give them a whistle and shout, “It’s great to be here!”
Moran is survived by his wife Pat, as well as his three children and numerous grandchildren.
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