The greatest story in college basketball in the 2017-2018 season was not the ongoing criminal investigation of college coaches, AAU programs, shoe and apparel companies and the role agents played in all of this hot mess. It was not the impact that the “one and done” has had on the college game or the fact that Kansas won its’ 14th Big 12 Championship in a row or that the Power Five conferences continued to suck up too many invites to the Dance. Nor was it the fact that Duke had resorted to playing a 2-3 zone because of their inability to guard people man to man that season. Although, that was a big story!
Hands down the biggest story in college basketball that season was Loyola-Chicago’s run to the Final 4. Some may argue it was Sister Jean and I love Sister Jean! But let’s be honest, without the success of Loyola-Chicago hoops she is still flying under the international radar.
In 1998 the Final Four was also in San Antonio, and I found myself sitting on the Riverwalk settling in with a group of my coaching buddies to watch the semi-finals. I was out of a job as our head coach had just been let go at Texas A&M and I had no idea exactly what I was going to do with my life. I was young, immature, self-centered and failed to see the significance of the crossroads I was facing. One thing I knew is that I loved basketball, but I did not know what to make of the business of college coaching. I thought there was more to life and I needed to get back to Chicago to figure it out.
Also sitting at that table, and unemployed at that time was someone whose name I am sure you recognize. Porter Moser. He was our top assistant at Texas A&M, and we were teammates at Creighton together. There was something comfortable about sitting at the table with him, his wife Megan, some great friends and my Dad. I remember sitting there wondering where we are all going to be in a few weeks, a few months, and a few years. When I looked at Porter though I knew one thing, he would be somewhere. Little did I know that 20 years later he would be the Head Coach of Loyola-Chicago (for all intent and purposes our hometown) and coaching in the Final Four in the same city where he sat unemployed.
It comes as no surprise because the two years we worked together; I saw first-hand his incredible passion for the game. Also, his love for the kids, his authentic leadership, his work ethic, his desire to compete every day, and his ability to communicate a vision and purpose to a group of players in two seasons that were brutally challenging. Porter never wavered that we could always do more and be better. Which is why it comes as no shock that one of the books he credits his success to is Good to Great, by Jim Collins.
I have a lot of people ask me what has made him such a successful coach and how he has been able to do what he has done at Loyola-Chicago. You must know, he is not selling players on playing time, facilities (although they finally moved into a new practice facility) and other attractions that convince them to play for him. What Coach Moser sells the players and their parents on is a first-class education, their development as a person on and off the court and being a part of something special.
Porter is as committed as any coach I have ever met but I want to break down his commitment more to three areas that have driven his success.
The process is something he talks to his team about every day. It is evident that he believes that once you fall in love with the process, you will love what the process produces for you. Porter bought into the process a long time ago. His work ethic is second to none, and he is a constant learner. He credits much of his success to taking a step back after he was fired at Illinois State and becoming an Assistant Coach for Rick Majerus. Many of the things his team does today is a direct result of his time with Coach Majerus. Not only does Porter study the game and great coaches, but he also studies great leaders and what makes them successful.
College basketball is a great game but can be a shitty business and the ones who are successful go all in, all the time in the process. When the lights go out, and the seats are empty, folks do not see the hours that coaches put in. The juggling act of family, film, recruiting, practice, conditioning, public appearances, staff meetings, travel, and fires that pop up all the time when you are responsible for fifteen 18-23 year-olds and being accountable for the actions of everyone who have anything to do with your program. Loyola-Chicago’s success is a direct reflection of everyone, not just the players, buying-in to the process.
In James Kerr’s incredible book, Legacy, he talks about how authentic leadership can result in a high-performing team by creating a culture of honesty, authenticity and safe conflict. In other words, you become a high-performing team by getting everything out in the open and being collectively responsible for your successes AND failures. The team has integrity in that each individual honors their word and does what they say they are going to do, how they are going to do it, and when they say they will. Kerr states, “Though the end result is trust, belief, and respect, these are merely by-products of the fact that when we say something will happen, it actually does happen. This means that others can count on us to deliver. And most importantly, we can count on ourselves.
Kerr also points out that to know how to win, one must know how to lose and to know how to lose you have to know who you are. Gilbert Enoka, the mental skills coach of the All Blacks, states, “ Development of the authentic self is hugely powerful to performance, and it allows us to be resilient, and to stand tall and to keep the faith and stay strong within yourself.”
Coach Moser knows who he is, what he stands for, what types of players he wants to recruit (talented high-character kids who know how to win) and has a powerful vision which is second to none. As Enoka says, “If you marry the self, the environment, the culture, the rituals, the legacy, and you put these together, you actually weave a powerful fabric that’ll actually get you through your journey.”
The thing that separates Coach Moser from the good coaches is that he doesn’t just tell you how to do things, he shows you and does them with you. He shows it in how he takes care of himself physically and mentally, how he prepares, and by the approach and attitude, he brings every day.
This is where it all comes to life as Porter has the ability to connect with everyone involved in his program including the players, their parents/guardians, coaching staff, support staff, boosters and one of his favorite groups….the student-body. Every day he is communicating their shared vision while attaching each individuals’ personal meaning to that vision. The immediate inner-circle, the team, and the coaching staff have a singleness-of-purpose that is unshakeable. This is a direct result of Porter’s commitment to communicating a compelling vision daily.
There is a shared language which is clearly laid out on the ‘Wall of Culture’ in their locker room. A collection of individually painted basketball words and phrases in capital letters 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.
“When I got the job and was writing down all these things I wanted to do philosophically, all these details from notes when I worked for Rick (Majerus), I was like, ‘Let’s just put it up there, so they see it every day and buy in,’” Moser said. “This was just a blank wall when I got here.”
There is a system of meaning understood by everyone that has contributed to the powerful culture.
Do you embrace your process and get buy-in from the team because you are leading authentically and communicating a powerful shared vision which every individual involved can attach a personal meaning?