Aug. 24, 2007, legendary men’s basketball head coach Rick Majerus was hired at Saint Louis University (SLU). His first hire was Porter Moser as an assistant coach, who was let go as head coach at Illinois State University (ISU) that year.
Now, 10 years later, Moser is in his seventh season as head coach at Loyola. Majerus died of congestive heart failure in 2012, but he left a lasting impact on Moser and influenced the building of the Loyola men’s basketball program.
Majerus is considered one of the greatest coaches in NCAA history. From 1989-2004, he was head coach at the University of Utah, where he led the Utes to 10 NCAA tournaments. In 1998, the team finished runner up in the tournament. His 517 wins ranks No. 55 all-time among NCAA Division I coaches. He worked at SLU from 2007 until his death in 2012.
Moser worked as an assistant coach at SLU from 2007-08 and was promoted to associate head coach from 2008-11. He said he cherished his time at SLU and learned strategies from Majerus’ coaching style.
“To get an opportunity to work with a guy like [Majerus], for someone who values … learning in the profession, it was unbelievable,” Moser said. “He had a genius type of mind … the game slowed down in his mind, and he really saw things [in slow motion]. On his preparation for the game … I’ve never seen anything like it. It was just such a huge influence, on my life, preparing game plans for games.”
Moser said Majerus taught him how to pay closer attention to detail. Moser stops practice often to make sure the players know what they’re doing wrong on a certain play, no matter how small the error, and the players carry that knowledge with them after graduation.
Majerus also taught Moser how to develop a program. Since Loyola is a mid-major program, it’s hard for coaches to land nationally-ranked recruits. To make up for that, coaches such as Moser use the four years with each player to develop them — something he learned from Majerus.
“I learned so much [from] him about teaching and development,” Moser said. “We, at Loyola, have to be a program of development. We’re not going to sign McDonald’s All-Americans [and] we’re not going to sign one-and-dones. We’ve got to pride ourselves on development and the little things of the game. Coach Majerus had a great line: ‘It’s more important for me to teach you how to play than to teach you plays.’”
Loyola assistant coach Matt Gordon has been by Moser’s side for most of the time since Moser was at ISU; he was a manager under Moser at ISU. Gordon was the director of operations at SLU from 2008-11 and followed Moser to Loyola.
Gordon said he’s noticed a change in Moser’s coaching style from their days at ISU to today at Loyola. While at SLU, the Billikens defeated Dayton University — a nationally ranked team — four out of six times, including a victory on Dayton’s senior night in 2010. Dayton played the University of North Carolina in the NIT — a tournament for teams who don’t make the NCAA tournament — championship game that season, and SLU players were texting the SLU coaches about the flaws in Dayton’s coaching strategy.
Gordon said that happens at Loyola, as players who come through the program pick up on details they hadn’t picked up on before and text the coaches from time to time about the coaching strategies of opposing teams. Gordon also said no matter what strategies the players knew going in, Majerus would get them to look at the game from his point of view.
“They were all seeing the game through coach Majerus’ eyes,” Gordon said. “They were baffled that a high-major team could play the game of basketball not the way Coach was teaching it.”
Gordon also said Moser’s time at SLU helped with developing a program, as it gave him insight as to how to go about it.
“A lot of [building Loyola’s program] has been groomed from what he’s been able to see through coach [Majerus] and the talent he builds,” Gordon said. “I think [Moser has] grown in everything as a coach, but he’s got the program built the way he wants it. He’s taken no shortcut to get to this point. To get his kind of guys and his kind of culture in here, it wasn’t an overnight fix.”
Moser said he has a journal of nearly 150 pages of stories from his time with Majerus, despite never keeping a journal before. He said he’s considering publishing it under the title “Working for Majerus” someday. One story he told was when Majerus wanted to go for one of his regular dinners with the coaching staff. Majerus asked a 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound bellhop where to eat, and the manager of the hotel interrupted to welcome him. Moser said Majerus’ response is one of his favorite memories of working with him.
“Rick walks up to the bellhop and he asks the guy ‘Can you tell me your favorite barbeque restaurant in Richmond?’” Moser said. “Right when he got done with the question, the lady says ‘Excuse me, coach Majerus, how are you? Welcome to the Marriott. My name is so-and-so.’ Rick put his hand up in her face and he said ‘No [disrespect], ma’am. But if I want a recommendation for a restaurant, I want it from a guy that looks like him, not you.’ That’s what he said to her. He goes ‘He’s like me. He’ll know where [the] best restaurant is in town.’”
When Moser was offered the head coaching position at Loyola, he said he went to Majerus to talk about it. Moser had turned down one other head coaching job during his time at SLU, and Majerus told him not to pass up on the Loyola job. At that point, Moser said no one knew Majerus’ health was failing, but Majerus told him to take the job. Looking back, Moser said he has no regrets despite Majerus’ death the next season.
“At the time, we thought [he] could have [coached] five or six more years and … the following year, he got sick,” Moser said. “Nobody knew he was going to get sick. [But] I don’t regret it for a minute. This has been the biggest blessing of my life. This journey to bring this into a basketball program has been something that is such a quest for me and I believe it’s a perfect fit like Rick and I said 10 years ago.”
Majerus’ impact on Moser, Gordon and the rest of the Loyola program is felt as the program emerges as a contender in the Missouri Valley Conference. The program started 8-1 for the first time since the 1965-66 season, a season in which Loyola earned an NCAA tournament berth.