Long before Loyola men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser was celebrating a Final Four appearance and posing for pictures with Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, BVM, he was wiping up spilled beer and chatting with bar patrons.
Moser said he wanted to coach so badly, he volunteered to coach at his alma mater, Creighton University, without pay while working as a bartender to offset the cost.
Despite his commitment, the Naperville native said he hadn’t thought much about coaching before his junior year of college. He was studying business and marketing to one day go into his family business in lumber — none of his family members had ever coached before.
“A lot of guys have illusions and grandeur that they’re going to be in the NBA,” Moser said. “I was no different when I was younger, but my reality happened quicker than most.”
In 1989, as a guard at Creighton, Moser helped his team to a Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance. It wasn’t until the summer after he realized his passion for coaching.
He said his two coaches at the time — head coach Tony Barone and assistant coach Dick Vick — made such an impression on him that he wanted to do the same to other athletes one day.
“I wanted to have an impact on young guys [to] stay competitive,” Moser said. “I loved competing. When we won the Missouri Valley, the taste in mouth of winning and getting to the NCAA Tournament … this was what I knew I wanted to do.”
Immediately after graduation, he spent a year volunteering at Creighton. Once that season ended, Barone announced he would be going to coach at Texas A&M University. Barone took only one coach from Creighton with him — Moser.
Moser, 51, said he learned a lot under Barone’s tutelage and it has influenced a lot of his coaching today.
“I learned that you can be tough on players and demand a lot if they know you love them,” Moser said. “That’s the problem that some coaches get into. They’re so hard on them … there’s no relationship. My thing is that every guy in the locker room knows how much I care about them.”
He said he had the “unique” opportunity of getting to coach with someone he played under. Moser and Barone worked together for 11 years.
The next five years were spent assistant coaching at other universities such as University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and University of Arkansas at Little Rock before landing his first head coaching job at Little Rock.
After spending three years there, he made his way to Illinois State University in the MVC. He spent multiple seasons trying to build the program. Despite an improvement to 15-16 in 2006-07 season, Illinois State lost in the first round of the MVC Tournament for the third consecutive season. Moser was fired because Illinois State said it was seeking a change because of the “lack of progress,” according to an ESPN article.
“Best thing that ever happened to me,” Moser said about being fired.
He found himself at Saint Louis University, back as an assistant coach under Rick Majerus — another coach who strongly influenced Moser’s coaching today.
“[He] had an impact on me with just basketball knowledge,” Moser said. “His knowledge of the game was just off the charts. … But also how he too could push a player then pull him back. I loved how he did that.”
He spent four years learning under Majerus before accepting the head coach job at Loyola in 2011. After a couple bad seasons and a switch to a new conference, he was able to bring the team to a MVC title and a run the NCAA Tournament Final Four, which came full circle for him.
“At Loyola, they wanted me to not bend on the academic reputation, not bend on the type of kids we brought here,” Moser said. “You combine that with ‘I’m home.’ I’ve enjoyed a lot of places I’ve coached, but I’m home.”
His impact at Loyola supersedes just the basketball team. He’s been influential in student life in more ways than one. Loyola Dean of Admissions Erin Moriarty told The Phoenix in August 2018 the 4.2 percent increase of student enrollment from 2017-18 was partially due to the “Flutie Effect,” which refers to the success of a college sports team translating to an increase of exposure of a university.
Additionally, he’s rented transportation out of his own pocket to bus students to Valparaiso University so the students could attend the game, despite the match being away.
Moser has been a coach for more than 20 years and said from the very beginning, his favorite things about coaching are relationships and competition.
Former Loyola men’s basketball player Clayton Custer said his relationship with Moser has evolved over the years.
“He’s taught me a lot about basketball, but I think that’s the least important thing of what he’s done,” Custer said. “[There are] certain phrases and things he’s taught me about life. A lot of things he teaches aren’t necessarily about basketball.”
Custer mentioned phrases such as, “How you think is how you feel, how you feel is how you act and how you act defines you,” and, “If you’re going to put your name on something, smash it,” as being two that have really stuck with him and defined his character.
Current Loyola junior guard Lucas Williamson said what he’s learned from Moser goes further than just the basketball court.
“Yes, he has taught me how to play at the collegiate level and many techniques I will use forever,” Williamson said. “But more important, I’ve learned the power of a positive mind and positive energy.”
Moser has also had influences on assistant coaches who’ve been by his side. Matt “Flash” Gordon has worked with Moser at Loyola since 2011 — he also worked with him at Illinois State — it’s a “special” experience to work with Moser, according to Gordon.
“His energy level … you just know that every day he’s going to bring it,” Gordon said. “You know how much effort and energy he puts into this program.”
Whether it’s student-athletes, assistant coaches, former teammates or anyone else, Moser said he cherishes every relationship he’s made. He said it’s one of the main reasons he loves coaching as much as he does.
“Just being able to have those relationships and impact people,” Moser said. “To influence, that’s one of the biggest reasons I was asked why I stayed here. How awesome is it to have a job where you can influence and have a purpose. I get chills thinking about it.”