Rambling to the Final Four: One word defines Porter’s path from fired to the Final Four

Porter Moser walks off the floor, saluting the fans during the team's Final Four celebration at Gentile Arena on March 25th.

CHICAGO – Often the phrase is said around this time of the year if a College Basketball team is still playing.

“I can’t believe I or we’re here.”

It’s expected. Some of the best coaches or players never even get the chance to take part in a Final Four. It’s a pipe dream for a number of people who are in the sport, and those who get there join a special fraternity.

Some might assume that Porter Moser was saying this on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and the rest of the this week in San Antonio. The coach has guided an 11th seed to the National Semifinals, doing so a decade after his career took a major hit with a firing at a mid-major school. As he gets ready to lead the Ramblers against Michigan Saturday at the Alamodome, Moser is looked at as one of the great turnaround stories in all of coaching.

So naturally questions about his strategy and attitude have surfaced this week as inquiring minds wonder how he overcame a firing at Illinois State in 2007 to reach the top stage in Division I basketball with Loyola. Naturally, there was a buzzword for the coach  Рone that he credits with his ability to bounce back.

Reinvention.

“You’ve got to get competitive in being reinvented,” said Moser. “The reinvent process is part of adversity in life. What I love and what I’ve talked to a lot of people, whether it’s coaching or life, adversity happens. You don’t have to let it define you in a negative way,” said Moser. “I got competitive with my reinvention. It was about learning, it was about moving forward.”

That was a tough thing to do for Moser after an unceremonious exit at Illinois State. While early years showed promise, the coach was never able to get a true turnaround season and never finished higher than sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference. After a 15-16 season in 2006-2007, Moser was fired and would find his way to St. Louis for four years as an assistant.

It wasn’t exactly the happiest times to start for Moser at Loyola, whose first team lost 23 of the 30 games they played. He remarked early in the week that he was a part-time promoter for the program as well as the coach considering the program’s lack of success since the mid-1980s.

There was a minor breakthrough in 2014-2015 with the Ramblers winning 24 games and winning a CBI title. A slip to 15-17 didn’t deter Moser, who brought the team back to 18 wins then next year before a breakthrough the last six months. From the upset of No. 5 Florida to the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament championship to four wins in the NCAA Tournament, its’ been a storybook season.

Moser’s been the front man for the group, continuing to stress to himself the need to reinvent and get better with each season.

“I was blessed to go with Rick Majerus and then I was blessed to get this job. No matter what happens – if I had that stumbling block or not – if you’re not better every year, in anything you do,¬† if you’re not competitive, you’re not successful,” said Moser of his attitude over the past 11 seasons. “We told our guys after nine games in the conference and we were in first place, ‘you can’t stay the same, you’ve got to get better’ – and I’ve always felt that way about coaching and I feel that way right now.”

Two more wins and the turnaround will reach epic proportions. A loss to Michigan, and Moser might be the biggest name on the coaching market over the next few weeks. It’s a win-win for a coach that’s truly come full circle in the sport, but he vows the attitude in the spring of 2018 will be that of the Spring of 2007.

“Next year, I’m sure this offseason, there’s going to be huge areas where I’m going to improve on,” said Moser of this offseason, whenever it starts. “The reinvention is a message I send to coaches. There’s so many of us that circumstances, the business side of us, gets it. You’ve just got to move forward, stay positive, have a great family, faith and I have those.”

Now he has another chapter in his career like no other.