It's not that Charlie Moir, Virginia Tech's basketball coach, is tired of winning 20 games a season. At age 51, after 26 years of scribbling Xs and Os on locker room blackboards, he just wants more.
He'd like to compete against the college superpowers with better players. He'd like to stop hearing so much about the Atlantic Coast Conference. He'd like postseason tournament bids every year and, with prodding, he admits he'd like to make a run at a national championship before he retires.
And Saturday night, he'd like nothing better than to beat Virginia in Roanoke.
Virginia has everything Moir and Tech fans, alumni and administration want. The Cavaliers are ranked No. 3 in the country and are highly publicized, with constant national television exposure. They also have Ralph Sampson, a player Moir tried to recruit three years ago.
The Cavaliers dream of a national title this year. Moir will be satisfied with 20 victories, the most that probably could be expected of his current 15-4 team, an assortment of hard-working but limited role players surrounding one truly gifted talent: center-forward Dale Solomon.
Moir (Moy-er), a friendly, low-key man who once won an NCAA Division II title at Roanoke College, has lost six straight games to Virginia, despite his 111-52 record in 5 1/2 years here. No Tech coach has won more games or been to more postseason tournaments (three). But until the school can dominate its own state, Moir knows his accomplishments are hard to sell.
"Our fans expect us to beat Virginia, even if they have a 7-4 center," he said. "They don't understand what problems one man can present. They don't want to hear about it, either."
Last year, the Gobblers were 15-13 and there was some talk about Moir's job being in jeopardy if things didn't improve.
He says he didn't feel any pressure "from people who count." Still, he concluded there had to be changes, even though he had averaged 20 victories a year during his 25 seasons in coaching.
Despite having winning records 25 of the last 26 years, the school has rarely been considered a bonafide top 20 contender. The Gobblers have been ranked only twice, briefly, in the last 15 seasons.
"We had always worked hard, but maybe getting kicked in the rump with that 15-13 record makes you work harder," Moir said. "As a staff, this is the hardest we've ever worked.
"It is foolish for people to think somebody like Louisville (a Metro Conference rival) can bring in five high school all-Americas every year and that I can bring in five mediocre players and that we still can compete with them.
"I decided we had to get better players. You have to have at least a couple of high school all-Americas every year."
The recruiting of Sampson, from Harrisonburg, Va., had consumed the Gobbler staff. When he chose Virginia, Moir was devastated. "I thought we were his early choice," the coach said. "But the longer it lasted, the more we fell off."
The Gobblers also lost in-state players such as Guy Morgan and Mike Helms (to Wake Forest) and Jeff Atkins (to Maryland). Jim Miller, West Virginia's best high school player last year, lives only 65 minutes from Tech but he chose to go to Virginia. Warren Martin, the best center in Virginia last season, went to North Carolina.
"We were in the final four on too many people that we were losing," Moir said. "The result were some poor recruiting years. We need to sign two or three of the state's best eight kids every year. And we weren't doing that."
Last spring, Moir replaced Don Brown, a close friend who also had been his assistant at Roanoke and Tulane, with Tom Abatemarco, who had been on Lefty Driesell's staff at Maryland for two seasons.
Brown, like Moir, is reserved. Abatemarco is outgoing, energetic and, as he puts it, "a bit crazy." He also is a professional recruiter.
Abatemarco's hiring already has paid dividends. In December, the Gobblers received a commitment from Dell Curry, considered one of the top two wing guards in the country. Curry, who lives in Fort Defianace, Va., and was courted heavily by Virginia, is considered the most highly regarded player ever to commit to Tech.
The Gobblers also have commitments from three other players, including 6-10 Bobby Beecher, another top 50 prospect from Danbury, N.C., eight miles from where Moir grew up.
And Moir wants more. He knows he needs a rebounding center, possibly from a junior college, to allow Beecher to play forward. Five of his top eight players are seniors, so the newcomers will play immediately.
"You have to be able to identify the type of kid who will play for Virginia Tech," said Abatemarco, who helped win over Curry by wearing a "Virginia Tech Needs Dell Curry" shirt into the player's home.
"You go after a kid who wants to live in the country, who likes the idea of playing teams like Louisville, Cincinnati and the idea of traveling a lot. If we try to recruit a kid from North Carolina and he says 'ACC', forget him. That's how you finish second too much.
"Charlie's like a father figure to his players," Abatemarco said. "We want kids who want to play in the big time, but who don't want a high pressure atmosphere. He isn't going to yell and scream at them. But he'll win."
The school plays down its rural location, but its isolation hinders recruiting, even though the athletic facilities are excellent and the program has impressive monetary support. And even the presence of Louisville can't compensate for the fact the Gobblers aren't in their preferred conference.
Their bid for ACC membership has been turned down repeatedly. Moir now hopes the Metro will add a school such as West Virginia or South Carolina to provide a natural rival for the Gobblers. Virginia is the only ACC school that will schedule Tech, because Moir insists on home-and-home series with all rivals.
"This is also still a football school," Solomon said.
The current basketball team has attracted only three sellouts to Cassell Coliseum, although the Gobblers have beaten Louisville twice and play a crowd-pleasing, run-and-press game.
The fans who show up are attracted mainly by Solomon, the major reason Moir has been able to keep his program stable the last four years.
"We got lucky," Moir says of Solomon, who has missed Tech's last two games because of a strained left shoulder. He is expected to play Saturday.
He played at Annapolis (Md.) High and developed into a major college prospect at Fork Union Military Academy. That's when North Carolina, Maryland and Kentucky all noticed him. But Tech had been after Solomon since high school, which ultimately swayed him to Blacksburg.
Solomon is averaging about 19 points a game and shooting 64 percent from the field, 86 percent from the foul line; he is exceptionally accurate within 17 feet. He'll probably play forward in the pros, but at Tech, he has spent much of his career playing the pivot against opponents such as Sampson, who has outrebounded him, 40-14, in their previous two meetings.
Moir uses four guards, including Jeff Schneider, a two-time West Virginia high school player of the year, and Reggie Steppe, a hot-dog playmaker who should match up well with Virginia's Othell Wilson. Two freshmen, guard Al Young and forward Perry Young, usually start along with seniors Solomon, Schneider and 6-8 Calvin Oldham, who plays the point on the press.
The Gobblers will try to run with Virginia. They'll press and hope their defensive prowess (156 steals) can offset Sampson's inside domination. But Moir knows a victory would be a major upset.
"We've got to change that," he said. "But before we can beat them consistently on the court, we have to whack them in recruiting. And that's what we are going to do."