Sooner or later, it’s time to go — but there’s a lot of Loyola left in Oklahoma’s Porter Moser
A coach can’t just snap his fingers and replicate the kinds of relationships Moser had — has — in Rogers Park. But he can try.
You know what Porter Moser misses? Hopping on the Red Line after a day’s work and basking in a ballgame at Wrigley Field. Taking in a concert at Ravinia, Wrigley, Millennium Park or Soldier Field. Biting into a Lou Malnati’s pizza. Throwing one back at Bruno’s Lounge on Sheridan Road, a stone’s throw from Gentile Arena.
“Heck, yeah, I miss it,” Moser said. “I miss Chicago. I miss Loyola.”
He called Friday from the same old 312 number, which seemed just kind of perfect. Moser might be coaching big-time basketball at Oklahoma now — and loving it — but a big piece of his heart still lives here. Still beats in Naperville, where he grew up; in Wilmette, where he lived with his wife and four children; and in Rogers Park, where he made a hell of a difference in 10 seasons with the Ramblers.
But what does he miss most of all?
“It’s the relationships,” he said. “For me, it was always about that.”
It’s why he’s still in touch with athletic director Steve Watson. It’s why he talks with successor Drew Valentine every week. It’s why he texts current Ramblers players after big victories and even some season-ticket holders he befriended through the years.
It’s the people, not the places. Moser hired Tino Malnati — Lou’s grandson — to serve as a graduate assistant with the Sooners. And Bruno’s? It’s a sweet little spot, but former Ramblers public-address announcer Pat Schultz mailing a Bruno’s T-shirt to Norman, Oklahoma, as a Christmas present for his pal was even sweeter.
A coach can’t just snap his fingers and replicate those kinds of relationships somewhere else.
“But I hope to replicate it,” Moser said. “I’m in the process of it. I’m trying.”
And what does that look like? Picture a tailgate tent on football Saturdays with Sooners hoopers, recruits and fans milling about and a 53-year-old coach happily passing out hot dogs. Picture Moser pinballing around Lloyd Noble Center court after his own team’s wins, high-fiving students, chest-bumping mascots and amping up the excitement for basketball at a football superpower.
Family is at the center of it all. After Loyola’s run to the Final Four in 2018, the Mosers would talk about Dad possibly leaving for a new job, and the kids all would say, “Whatever’s best.” But when he decided to stay, they rejoiced.
“They were actually like, ‘Thank God!’ ” Moser said. “This time around, they were like, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
Son Jake is a freshman guard with the Sooners. Daughter Jordan, a junior, transferred from Loyola to Oklahoma and plays on the women’s team. Ben and Max are playing high school ball and making new friendships at Norman North. Wife Megan, who grew up in Texas, is digging a whole lot of country music, even if her husband remains more of a classic-rock kind of guy.
And you’ll never guess what’s making it all better: winning. The Sooners (12-4) are doing more of it than most around the Big 12 expected. Despite being picked seventh in the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, they’ve already knocked off three opponents that were ranked in the top 15 in the country. One step at a time, an NCAA Tournament résumé is being built — and Moser knows a thing or two about the good stuff that can happen if you just get a team into the field.
At Loyola, the Ramblers needed to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament or else they could pretty much forget about the Big Dance. One misstep and — just like that — months of fine regular-season work would be disregarded. That part, Moser doesn’t miss one bit.
“But I’ll tell you this,” he said. “Night in and night out, the level of competition here is unbelievable.”
The Sooners just played No. 1 Baylor, No. 8 Iowa State and No. 21 Texas back-to-back-to-back, managing a victory against the Cyclones. Time to exhale? Please. Their next four opponents — TCU, Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia — have a combined record of 52-7.
Lots of luck with all that, buddy.
“But I am lucky,” Moser said. “I am really, really lucky because I loved where I was, and now I love where I’m at.”
Early on, however, there were times it might have seemed Oklahoma’s new coach didn’t know where he was or which way was up. More than one Sooners recruit answered a phone call and was greeted by these words:
“Hi, this is coach Moser at Loyola.”
Oops. Right coach, wrong school.
Sure does have a nice ring to it, though.