The Grass is Greener On The Gridiron

Coastal Carolina head football coach Joe Moglia leads his team onto the field against North Carolina A&T on Saturday, September 1, 2012, at Brooks Stadium in Conway, South Carolina. Coastal won, 29-13, giving Moglia his first win as a college head coach. Charles Slate/Myrtle Beach Sun

Two years ago, Joe Moglia, then 62, encountered an obstacle very few former Fortune 500 CEOs with a net worth on the fat side of nine figures ever face: a glass ceiling.

Moglia, the former CEO of TD Ameritrade, coveted a position as the head coach of a college football team, but who would hire him? True, he had once been the defensive coordinator at Dartmouth, but that was 29 years and at least three stock market crashes ago. How many schools would hire a sexagenarian who had never been a head coach at the university level, much less anyone who had worked in another field for the better part of the past three decades?

As it turns out, just one. And they're pretty happy they did. Coastal Carolina University, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) institution located in Conway, S.C., is 9-0 in Moglia's second season. The Chanticleers are 17-5 since hiring him, have won 15 of their past 16 games, and are one of only three remaining undefeated teams (out of 126) at the FCS level. The Chanticleers also lead the nation in scoring offense, averaging 47.7 points per game.

Moglia is not surprised, but he may be the only one. "Last year I was a little iffy," says senior running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, whose 139-yards-per-game rushing average is third-best in the FCS. "[I thought], Is this guy just doing this to do it?

"But the way he carries himself, he prepares us for life."

The football offices and locker room at Coastal Carolina are peppered with the word "BAM," an acronym for "Be A Man" - Moglia's mantra for being accountable and maintaining personal integrity. As someone who became a father and a husband at 19, his background resonates with his players - even if they erroneously believe that he is a billionaire. (He's close.)

Moglia is a great American success story on the verge of becoming another great American success story. The son of Italian immigrants, he was born and raised in the Inwood section of upper Manhattan, an area where "you either become a cop or a criminal," he says. Needing to support his family while still a teenager, Moglia attended Fordham while working at his father's fruit stand at 181st Street.

He began coaching while enrolled at Fordham and spent 15 years working his way up the coaching ranks, first in high school and then college. It was a path not unlike the one Vince Lombardi, another native New Yorker, Italian-American and Fordham alum, walked.

"Vince Lombardi is my hero," says Moglia. "I have a signed lithograph of him on my desk."

Whereas Lombardi landed a job with the NFL's New York Giants after 17 years, Moglia opted out of the game at the age of 34, while earning $33,000 a year as Dartmouth's defensive coordinator. Armed with nothing more than a bachelor's degree in economics, he tackled Wall Street.

Moglia wore pinstriped pants and a checkered jacket to his interview when the uniform of the day was Brooks Brothers. The Merrill Lynch executive who interviewed Moglia thought his resume was a little barren, but admired his passion and leadership traits.

"He thought, This guy is crazy, but I'm going to give him a shot," says Monte Burke, who tracked Moglia's odyssey in his book, 4th and Goal: One Man's Quest to Recapture His Dream. "Two years later Joe Moglia was setting sales records at Merrill."

After 17 years at Merrill Lynch, Moglia became the CEO of Ameritrade (now TD Ameritrade) in 2001. In seven years, he took the Omaha-based financial services firm from a market capitalization of $700 million to $12 billion. Perhaps more impressive, he steered his company clear of the sub-prime mortgage loan quagmire.

In 2010, after a year observing the Nebraska Cornhusker football program - "I wanted to see if I still had the passion and the skill sets," Moglia says - he got his shot as the head coach of the Omaha Nighthawks, a semi-pro football team. Moglia's quarterback was former Cornhusker Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, and he brokered a meeting between his tailback, ex-Ohio State star (and ex-con) Maurice Clarett, and billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Flying into Las Vegas for a game, Moglia warned his players of the perils of Sin City, advising them to set a limit of how much they'd be willing to lose. From the back of the fuselage a voice asked, "Coach, what's your limit?"

"Twenty-five million," replied Moglia. "And not a penny more."

Moglia's quixotic quest appeared over after a 1-4 season with the Nighthawks. Three years later, however, he is one of only 10 Division I head coaches with an undefeated team.

And on November 23, less than a month before Moglia's 65th birthday, he could be leading an undefeated Coastal Carolina team against FBS Goliath South Carolina, whose coach Steve Spurrier, has won the Heisman Trophy as a player and a national championship as a coach.

"I'm having the time of my life," says Moglia, who organizes LAF ("Life After Football") seminars for his players every Thursday night. "I love the game from both a strategic and an intellectual standpoint, but I also love that I can have an impact on someone else's life."

"His story is tremendous," says Taliaferro. "And we can tell that Coach loves his job. I think he would do it for free."

Would? Joe Moglia could. But even at his current $175,000 salary, the former CEO is a bargain as a football coach.