OU men's basketball: How Porter Moser's shortcomings shaped his path to Oklahoma

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Joe Buettner, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
·4 min read
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Apr. 7—Standing at the center of Lloyd Noble Center's hardwood floor, Porter Moser wasn't afraid to be himself.

The 52-year-old coach, who guided Loyola Chicago to the 2018 Final Four and a Sweet 16 run just weeks ago in Indianapolis, was introduced as the Sooners' 15th men's basketball coach Wednesday morning by athletics director Joe Castiglione.

Moser's hands and arms waved with excitement as he spoke at length of his vision and culture he hopes to establish at one of college basketball's most winningest programs.

He was also candid about his journey to Norman.

The Naperville, Illinois, native became Illinois State's head coach in 2003 after landing his first head coaching gig at Arkansas-Little Rock.

The Redbirds signed Moser to a seven-year deal, but he was fired after his fourth season, which marked his third losing record at the helm of the program.

"One thing I've learned through my faith, through my journey, is you learn more through adversity than you do successes," Moser said. "... That has been a blessing that God laid on me more than anything in my life because you learn more in those situations.

"I'm not shy to talk about it. I don't back away. I don't hang my head over a down part of my life. I raise my head up and am thankful for that time."

His exit from Illinois State led Moser to St. Louis, where he served as an assistant coach under Rick Majerus. Four years later, Majerus was telling Moser he had to leave but to be a head coach again.

Moser regards Majerus, who died of heart failure in 2012, as one of the best basketball minds he's been around. He soaked in all he could about skill development and providing attention to detail during his four years with the Billikens.

Loyola Chicago, which at the time hadn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1985, came calling for Moser, offering him a second chance at leading a program.

"You have to go," Moser recalls Majerus saying as he put his arm around him. "That job is perfect for you. Go build a program."

Moser delivered, leading the Ramblers to a 188-140 record and two Missouri Valley Conference tournament championships over 10 seasons.

His next task isn't to rebuild OU, which has enjoyed plenty of success under Lon Kruger, who retired from coaching after spending 10 seasons as the Sooners' head man.

Moser's goal is to extend Kruger's, and all the coaches before him, work.

"I'm not coming in here and using the word rebuild," Moser said. "I want to use the word enhance. I want to enhance the brand. I want to enhance the Oklahoma basketball brand. I want to enhance the traditions that have gone on here and add my energy and add my personal touch to what has been years and decades of excellence here."

To get to the stage, adorned with balloons and mannequins dressed in OU basketball uniforms, he stood on Wednesday, Moser had to be humbled in his coaching path.

He's taken his shortcomings in stride, affectionately recalling his days working under Majerus.

Majerus' values on treating his peers and how to run a program have stuck with Moser as he ascended to coaching stardom in his home state.

It's similar values to what Castiglione presented him and why Moser, who's had plenty of opportunity to leave Loyola the past three years, chose to take the next step of his career in Norman.

"When I started talking to Joe and really digging in, everything that he was saying was about the right way — the building, that experience, that culture for the student-athletes, and it just blew me away and to be able to be a part of that in the Big 12 Conference," Moser said.

"It's just a perfect alignment for me to be at the highest level, to compete in that league doing it the right way at a place that's culture-driven, family-driven, success-driven the right way. All those drives align with my drive."

He will have to replenish a roster, which loses five players that combined for 97 starts this past season.

He will have to combat a Big 12 that sent seven of its 10 teams to this year's NCAA Tournament and doesn't appear to be slowing down.

He will also need to re-engage a fanbase to fill the south Norman venue where his voice echoed to the rafters where OU's retired jerseys and championship banners hang.

"It means everything to fill this up," Moser said. "It's a home-court advantage. I know when I'm going to Allen Fieldhouse and I'm going to these other places, it's going to be full. We're gonna give that same kind of welcome, and I look forward to trying to build that where every seat is filled here."

Joe Buettner

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jbuettner@normantranscript.com