Sad, but richly earned: Porter Moser leaving Loyola after 10 years for Oklahoma

by 24USATVApril 3, 2021, 3 a.m. 22
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Porter Moser liked to tell his Loyola players they’d made “lifetime commitments” to one another and to him. Four years? No. Forever.

And he meant it every time. Still does.

Moser, 52, will be the next coach at Oklahoma, sources confirmed to the Sun-Times. He’ll leave Loyola after 10 seasons. That’s too soon for maroon-and-gold-wearing Ramblers lovers, whose spirits may have lifted somewhat amid Friday reports that Moser was still weighing a major counter-offer from the school.

But 10 years is — in a college sports world where coaches and players come and go like the tide — plenty long enough to have earned the opportunity of a lifetime.

It took several years in Rogers Park for the Naperville native to really get things cooking, but he turned Loyola into a Missouri Valley Conference powerhouse and — twice — a national story. The Ramblers reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament as 11 seeds in 2018, one of the great Cinderella runs of all time. They were back in the Sweet 16 this year after a massive second-round upset of No. 1-seeded Illinois.

“I think people see the Loyola name now and think different things about it than they did six, seven, eight years ago,” Moser said after a Sweet 16 loss to Oregon State. “There’s a lot to be proud of.”

Moser is enormously proud of the “wakes of influence,” as he puts it, left by seniors such as Donte Ingram and Ben Richardson in 2018 and Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson in 2021. If there is such a thing as a winning culture, the Ramblers had it. They practiced hard. They elevated each game to the utmost importance. And they came together like iron magnets, a level of closeness that you’d better believe doesn’t exist everywhere.

It’s time for Moser to take his biggest swing, something that couldn’t happen without a sad goodbye. He’ll succeed Lon Kruger, the onetime Illinois coach, who retired after the Sooners were bounced in the second round of this year’s tournament. With a reported six-year deal, Moser dives straight into the deep end in a Big 12 that is loaded with quality — Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech.

The Sooners have been in seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments — and last made the Final Four in 2016 — but they haven’t won the Big 12 regular-season and postseason titles since 2005 and 2003, respectively. It’s far from a sure thing that Moser will be able to update any of those “lasts,” but he’ll be challenged — and paid — like never before as he gives it his best shot.

Moser was coach at Arkansas-Little Rock and Illinois State before arriving at Loyola. He has a career record of 293-241 and a 188-141 mark with the Ramblers. But his career didn’t truly take off until that 2018 run. If Sister Jean could wait until she was nearly 100 to become a rock star, Moser could wait until he was pushing 50.

As this March arrived, he never denied that he was open to new opportunities.

“But the only thing that I was focusing on was giving 110% of my preparation, my energy and my love to these players through this time,” he said when the season came to an end.

Ramblers fans are left with memories they get to keep forever. Of Moser cutting the nets after the MVC tournament title in 2018. Of Ingram hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer to upset Miami in the very next game, igniting the run that changed everything. Of Clayton Custer holding best friend Richardson as they headed up the tunnel, devastated, after falling to Michigan in the Final Four. Of Krutwig — stoic throughout the game — finally allowing himself to go wild as the last seconds counted down against Illinois.

There are so many wonderful memories. Without them, Moser wouldn’t be going anywhere. That’s the tradeoff, and there are no losers.

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