When he was a boy, Dennis Moreno wanted to build things. As a young adult, he wanted even more to be a teacher and a coach
The 44-year-old Nashville native finally has the opportunity to do both — and he has a solid foundation with which to work.
Moreno is the new the head football coach at Hillsboro High School, the reigning Class 4A state champion.
“The expectations are going to be high,” he said. “I think all coaches have high expectations, and I think I’m going to have to find that delicate balance where I do the things I want to do but also change as little as possible.”
He was named Thursday to succeed Scott Blade, who went 37-5 capped by an undefeated season and the 2008 state championship. He left to take the same position at Oak Ridge
Moreno spent the last nine seasons at Hunters Lane High School, most recently as defensive coordinator. Prior to that, he spent eight years at Beech High School and five (including two as a volunteer assistant) at Tennessee State University.
He is a graduate of Stratford High School, where he was a backup running back and a utility performer during the 1980s under legendary coach Jerry Pigue.
“I was a running back wannabe at a time when Stratford was a running back-rich high school,” he said. “They had to find something else for me to do so I played special teams and punted a little bit.”
The only significant amount of time he ever spent outside of Middle Tennessee was the five years he was a college student at the University of Oklahoma. He was led there by his desire to build.
“Originally, I signed up there to be an architect,” he said. “I had a big interest in doing that all through high school.”
Even before he took his first class, though, he decided he wanted to teach and coach. He spoke with OU assistant coach Merv Johnson, who assured Moreno that he could have a role with the football team, which at the time was a national power under coach Barry Switzer.
Moreno worked as a student manager under two different defensive line coaches, earned his degree in Health and Physical Education and then returned to Nashville.
“Although, I didn’t play football in college I felt like I had as much experience as anybody else,” he said.
That’s when he landed a job at TSU as a graduate assistant under Joe Gilliam Sr.
“I really feel like Coach Pigue was my main role model in terms of coaching,” Moreno said. “I still remember a lot of what he taught me and some of the lessons I learned playing for him. And then most of what I know about organization comes from Coach Gilliam.”
He said he hopes to retain some assistants from the previous staff (“Obviously, they know how to win,” he said.) and is scheduled to meet on Friday with principal Rod Manuel to discuss staffing and scheduling.
Yet it was not just his football background that landed him the job.
“I’m just guessing, but it seemed Mr. Manuel and his committee were committed to try to find someone with good character and is a good role model,” Moreno said. “There were a bunch of questions not related to football — questions about situational things, community things and grade things.
“I tried to sell the fact that I try to do all things with good intentions. …I feel like I’m ready.”