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Why Porter Moser couldn’t say no to Oklahoma

It was never going to be easy to leave Loyola, but so many of the aspects of the OU coaching job ideally lined up for Moser.

Former Loyola basketball coach Porter Moser reacts after a play against Oregon State in this season’s NCAA Tournament.
Former Loyola basketball coach Porter Moser reacts after a play against Oregon State in this season’s NCAA Tournament.
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

While talking with Porter Moser last Wednesday night, there was clearly something different in our conversation. Maybe he didn’t notice or recognize it with all that was going on in his rollercoaster moment, but it was different.

And it went beyond Moser taking a phone call roughly every six minutes and then pacing back and forth while he talked, similar to what you see on the sideline during Loyola games.

Over the years we have talked hours and hours about basketball coaching jobs and, at times, even potential ones for him. That’s just inevitable. It’s the nature of the business in the college basketball world, and it’s especially true when he has elevated Loyola into relevancy and a national storyline since leading the Ramblers to the 2018 Final Four.

Loyola, of course, followed that up with another NCAA Tournament run last month, which included a monumental win over No. 1 seed Illinois to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Moser’s name was mentioned or linked with virtually every job opening in the country.

But in my eyes, last Wednesday night’s colloquy with Moser was different than other conversations we’ve had about any job. While he didn’t divulge at that time if the job was his to take or not, there was certainly intrigue and interest in all things OU.

Talks with Oklahoma had begun earlier in the week. Those talks progressed to the point where Oklahoma’s director of athletics Joe Castiglione flew to Chicago on Thursday to meet with Moser.

The get-to-know-you talks and negotiations continued and by last Friday afternoon an agreement had been made with news breaking that Moser would be headed to Norman.

When it comes to coaching searches and jumping into the coaching carousel, Moser is a little more out of the ordinary than his colleagues. Who doesn’t immediately try and parlay a Final Four run into the next job? History has told us this. The job-hopping and money-grab opportunities each spring for college coaches is the norm. But it clearly hasn’t been for the 52-year-old Moser.

Moser has had opportunities to take other jobs. In other instances he listened to overtures but simply didn’t dive in. He was particular about any opportunity that arose. He was never going to take just any job that was considered a step up from Loyola and the Missouri Valley Conference.

In my 25 years of dealing with college coaches, talking with them every day and building relationships and even great friendships, I would like to think my BS-meter is strong in an industry where BS is pretty much routine. When Moser talked Loyola, there was no BS involved.

The guy truly loved his job at Loyola, and it wasn’t just coaching-rubbish and bunk he spewed. This was the place — and the people in charge — that allowed him to flourish on his time and provided him that time to establish his culture and winning ways.

Moser constantly talked about the people at Loyola, the players he’s coached and building a legacy in the city he proudly has so much affection for and a connection to.

Those closest to him would always wonder if he would ever leave Loyola and Chicago?

This program was something that he truly built, raising Loyola basketball into a legitimate mid-major power while moving up to the Missouri Valley Conference after just two years in the Horizon League.

It’s very rare any mid-major can establish any type of a brand. But Loyola did that. That meant something to Moser, who gave everything to the job for 10 years. Who would have ever imagined Loyola would ever be on the national basketball map?

When it came to the push-pull theory — factors that ultimately determine if you move or stay somewhere — Loyola, his players and the city of Chicago were always pulling Moser back.

There was a time or two in past talks where Moser would break down a potential landing spot. It’s no secret he’s had opportunities to leave Loyola, particularly following his Final Four run a few years back. But leading up to massive decision-making time, there was always hesitancy in his voice.

Even with the positives of any potential move, there were always “buts” and “I don’t knows” and “what about this?” in the conversation about the job.

Simply put, there was never convincing excitement in his voice. In the end, nothing ever made as much sense to him as staying put at the place where he was happy — at Loyola, continuing to believe in what was transpiring there and all the comfort that came with it.

But you never know what might come your way next. And recent talks about Oklahoma with Moser were different.

That may sound odd to some in Chicago, but it’s what it was with Porter Moser. And that’s all that really matters. There wasn’t a hesitancy. When talking about the job and all that it had to offer, there was more emotion. Again, there needed to be something that blew Porter Moser away.

It was never going to be easy to leave Loyola, but so many of the areas of the OU coaching job ideally lined up for Moser.

Anyone close with Moser knows his mind is always pushing forward. He will analyze to the Nth degree. But that’s part of what has led to his success. There would always be certain criteria a job would have to meet for Moser to make the jump and actually pull the trigger and leave Loyola.

And if you look closely and really examine the Oklahoma basketball job, it met so many of them. Those factors are what should help Loyola fans and college basketball fans across Chicago understand Moser’s move.

▪︎ Athletic success and program stability.

Athletic Director Joe Castiglione is one of the most highly respected leaders in his profession. Castiglione, who has been at Oklahoma since 1998, has built an athletic powerhouse at OU that stretches across so many sports.

The Sooners have won 18 national championships since his arrival. That’s the exact type of winning culture, stable foundation and tradition any coach would want heading into a new job.

There is no doubt the presence of the impressive Castiglione played a part in Moser feeling comfort in leaving Loyola. That type of coach-AD relationship and mutual respect are hard to find. Moser had it at Loyola with Steve Watson, and he wanted it again if he were ever to move.

▪︎ Basketball success and history

Very quietly and somewhat overlooked, Oklahoma basketball has had a ton of success since Billy Tubbs arrived in the 1980s. There have been three different coaches — Tubbs, Kelvin Sampson and Lon Kruger — who have led the Sooners to the Final Four during that time.

Overall, there are only four schools that have had more than four coaches take teams to the Final Four: Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. Oklahoma is next, tied with Michigan, with a total of four coaches.

In this century alone, now 21 seasons in, Oklahoma has reached the Elite Eight four times and played in two Final Fours. And in that time they’ve had three consensus All-Americans in Blake Griffin, Buddy Hield and Trae Young.

▪︎ Resources

Playing in a major power conference and having a football power among the top handful in the country, Oklahoma’s resources are tremendous and obviously dwarf anything Loyola can offer.

According to official NCAA finances, Oklahoma athletics brought in $163,126,695 in 2018-19. That was eighth among all public university athletic programs in Division I. As a comparison, Southern Illinois — like Loyola, another Missouri Valley Conference program — generated $22,507,927.

As a result, the Oklahoma athletic budget ranks among the highest in college athletics. That leads to large recruiting budgets, the ability to pay top assistant coaches and support staff while also providing life-changing money for its head coach.

▪︎ Facilities

With the type of resources at Oklahoma’s disposal, Sooners basketball, thanks to a large donation from NBA star and former Sooner Blake Griffin, has been able to recently open the 18,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Griffin Family Performance Center.

This facility, in addition to the OU practice gym, meets the needs of strength performance for its basketball players at an extremely elite level. The facility is a game-changer in recruiting and for the basketball student-athlete.

Oklahoma players wait to start a closed Final Four practice session in 2016.
Oklahoma players wait to start a closed Final Four practice session in 2016.
David J. Phillip/AP

▪︎ Chance to regularly play in NCAA Tournament

As good as Loyola has been over the past four years, the truth of the matter is the Missouri Valley Conference is more or less a one-bid league when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately in most years one slip up in the MVC Tournament can derail any NCAA Tournament hopes for the league champ.

Coaches are inherently ultra-competitive with what is a healthy professional ego. When they get a taste of what the NCAA Tournament is like and experience a tournament run, it’s something they want to regularly do.

A team finishes among the top five or six in the Big 12 Conference and chances are they are likely playing in the NCAA Tournament in March. And Oklahoma is considered to be among the top three or four jobs in the Big 12.

In the last 38 years, Oklahoma has gone to the NCAA Tournament an impressive 29 times.

▪︎ Less pressure than other high-major jobs

Oklahoma wants to win. And they want to win big. The aforementioned high-level success warrants that.

However, this job isn’t one that instantly ruins one’s quality of life as so many over-the-top, high-pressured head coaching jobs with outlandish expectations can do.

The OU basketball coach will never, ever be the BMOC. Porter Moser will never rival Sooners football coach Lincoln Riley. But he will also never feel the type of heat Riley will receive if things take the slightest dip.

Simply put, Oklahoma has a bit of a lethargic fan base. Fans and boosters care more about football recruiting than the actual basketball season. That may seem like a negative, but in the basketball coaching world it can often be a sense of relief.

In the last 45 years Oklahoma has fired just one basketball coach — Jeff Capel. And that came after a NCAA investigation led to a lack of recruiting prowess and left the program in limbo.

As one head coach recently said to me, “What’s nice about Oklahoma basketball is that there aren’t a bunch of different cooks in the kitchen.” Which means everyone knows their place and the head coach is in complete control.

▪︎ The Jordan Brand

Oklahoma is a Jordan Brand school. Yes, it may seem trivial. But the iconic brand is a boon to any college basketball program. It’s a huge basketball recruiting tool.

▪︎ Strike when its hot

For Moser, he undoubtedly should feel fortunate that a perfect match for him did pop up when he was arguably the hottest name on the coaching market. Oklahoma was the match for him. Timing is everything.