I cannot remember if it was one, two or three years ago (and honestly, it is irrelevant since none of those time frames are that long ago!) ... but right now, for the Loyola Ramblers and their Head Coach Porter Moser, that seems like a lifetime ago.
It was a Sunday Missouri Valley Conference afternoon game on Loyola’s Rogers Park campus, and despite the free pizza they were giving away to the students (and the fact they sold beer at this college game), there were still more students in the adjacent Student Union then were in the stands of the Gentile Center.
You could count the number of people in the stands in the matter of 30 seconds, and could sense the almost uncomfortable feeling of people asking the question, “can they ever get it done here?”.
But Coach Porter Moser never wavered.
In their last home game of the year against Illinois State (yep, the same Illinois State that fired him after fours seasons where he had three different Athletic Directors), Loyola sold out the Gentile Center, and his vision of a packed student section was a difference-maker as the game came to fruition.
The place was rocking, and it had a vibe unlike any the Gentile Center has ever had.
Loyola is 28-5, and has now won 10 games in a row, 18 out of their last 20, and finished the season 15-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference (a league no one thought they could compete in when they left the Horizon League), and won the regular season championship and post season tournament championship.
That means they are going to the Dance (NCAA Tournament) for the first time in 33 years!
Yet, it shocks no one in the world of college basketball because they have seen the way Porter has built this program over the course of the last seven years.
(Sorry, I know grammatically I am supposed to be using the last name (Moser) here on out, but he is Porter to me and to his fan base!)
Porter and I were teammates in college at Creighton University where we shocked the Valley by winning both the regular season and the post season tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament. Porter was a huge reason for our success, and not just because of the shots he hit. See, he was there in the beginning of Coach Barone’s program where they struggled, but laid the foundation for a championship program.
Later, Porter and I coached together at Texas A&M, and I got to witness first-hand every day--and I do mean every day--his passion for the game and for the kids. For Porter, to get to this point has been a tireless process, and he has withstood adversity in the business that at times did not make sense.
After being let go at Illinois State, he went to work for Rick Majerus at St. Louis, and intentionally picked one of the greatest basketball minds ever to coach the game.
Then, with the encouragement of Coach Majerus, Porter accepted the Loyola job.
He had a plan.
Porter stuck to the plan despite:
- Poor facilities
- Awful budget to hire a staff, which led to turnover of some of the great assistants he hired
- Lackluster recruiting budget
- One of the lower salaries in the MVC … despite living in Chicago, which has the highest cost of living in the league
- Having to fight tooth and nail to get Chicago public league kids and junior college transfers admitted to school
- Almost zero student body interest when he took over
- Changing leagues from the Horizon league to the Missouri Valley Conference, which is a significant step up
Those challenges are not what he focused on, since overcoming them was going to be a by-product of him doing things the right way.
Instead, he directed his staff’s focus to recruiting kids who were not only talented, but were high-character kids.
He reached out to the student body in every way possible to preach to them how important they were to the men’s basketball programs’ success, and how much fun they could have together (hell, free pizza would have done it for me!).
He scheduled up in the non-conference, never wavered on the core values which the program was built on, and built a culture which has people talking about and writing about all over the country.
I will never forget sitting at Wrigley with Porter this past fall, and I asked him how things were looking for the team. He turned to look at me like he used to when he realized he was about to win a hand at euchre in college -- a look of pure certainty -- and simply said, “I love our culture and where we are at right now.”
With a couple of weeks left in the season, I stopped by practice. It was the day before they were going to play Bradley in Peoria, and one would think it would be a light practice. Even though there was not a ton of live 5-on-5, you could sense the energy and sense of urgency in every drill and each exchange. Players were communicating verbally and non-verbally, the team would self-correct themselves individually and collectively, and every drill was done at game-speed. Freshman big man Cameron Krutwig was struggling to break a bad habit when defending a ball screen and once he did, Porter started yelling, “that is forever!” Meaning, that’s it right there...you did it...now make that a habit.
According to Coach Moser, that is the key to the Rambler’s Culture right there...the process of accumulating habits.
Porter and I connected on the phone this morning, and as we were discussing culture, habits, and the process, you could sense the excitement in his voice about the journey they took to get where they are today.
That is what the great leaders do…..they get excited about creating a culture, which drives the process it will take to get from where they are to where they want to go.
Great leaders do not pay it lip service and treat culture like it is a box to check off.
See, they realize that the success their team and organization is a by-product of putting in the work physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Here are a few characteristics of the LUC Men’s Basketball team that have contribute to this magical season:
If you pay attention to the way they play, you will see that they are in this for each other. There are no superstars. Sure, there are certain players that make big time plays and stand out, but no one is above the team. One of the many things that stand out when watching this team is that they make the extra pass.
Clayton Cluster, the Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year, said, “It’s amazing the way he [Porter] has gotten all of us to believe in his vision for us. The big thing this year is the buy-in to his style of play. We are selfless.”
In the Loyola Basketball locker room, there is a “Wall of Culture” … a collection of individually-painted basketball words and phrases in capital letters that contribute to the high-purpose environment. In James Kerr’s book, Legacy, he points out that a strong culture needs a system of meaning understood by everyone, a language and vocabulary that binds everyone together.
GET OUT OF THE MUD -- After a defensive rebound, the bigs have to win the battle in the first three steps and beat the other big guys down the floor.
THROUGH YOU TO THE RIM -- If a guy picks up his dribble in the post, don’t jump for a shot fake -- he has to go through you to the rim.
The process...the everyday grind of doing the little things, paying attention to detail, caring for each other, growing through adversity, putting in the hours in the gym, weight room and classroom...is driven by the culture. When you have built a culture of accumulating habits, that will drive a process which will produce championship results. When you learn to love the process, you are going to absolutely love what the process produces.
What is your organization’s process, and are you selfless in the process? Is there a shared language that binds you together?
Do you have a culture of caring? Do you share a vision and have a singleness-of-purpose?
These are all solid questions to ask yourself. If you answer “no” to any of those, I would challenge you to do something about it -- regardless of your current level of success! It is no secret that success without a strong culture is unsustainable. A strong culture will allow you to continue to grow, and make you a more resilient organization.
Which is exactly why you can expect making the NCAA Tournament to become the norm for Loyola Basketball!