Even when expanding the field to include assistants, the fraternity of college coaches operates in a relatively small world.
So it’s not surprising that Porter Moser, head coach of “Cinderella” Loyola of Chicago, which no one expected to crash the Final Four, has some connection to the coaches of the three “Blue Blood” programs — Kansas, Michigan, and Villanova — that are also going to San Antonio this week.
Moser’s relationship with Kansas coach Bill Self dates to the mid-1990s when he was an assistant at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Self was the head coach at rival Oral Roberts in the old Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
As a head and assistant coach in the Midwest, Moser has made a few trips to Michigan to play against the Wolverines of coach John Beilein. He even visited Beilein at the Final Four in 2013.
As for Villanova coach Jay Wright, Moser said, “I don’t know Jay personally, but we’ve got a mutual friend.”
Back in 1993, Moser was an assistant at Texas A&M under Tony Barone and Wright was an assistant to Rollie Massimino at Nevada-Las Vegas when the schools played.
“Two guys like Rollie Massimino and Tony Barone, of course, their staffs are going to go for a big Italian dinner,” Moser said. “Rollie had a huge spread in Vegas when we went there.”
The next season, Moser continued, UNLV “went to College Station, and Tony tried to have as big [an Italian dinner] as you possibly could have in College Station, Texas, but it paled in comparison to what Rollie had for us in Vegas.”
During his tenure as an assistant to Massimino, first at Villanova and then at UNLV, Wright had so many Italian dinners with so many coaches that he couldn’t possibly remember them all.
“Wow, I did not until now,” Wright said when asked if he recalled his first meeting with Moser. “I do, now. Wow.
“Yeah, that’s incredible. I know Porter and we’ve crossed paths just coaching, but not a lot. I kept thinking, you know, I know him from somewhere else. I wasn’t thinking of him as Tony Barone’s [assistant] and that’s where I first met him. I hadn’t thought about that, man. That’s amazing.”
If Villanova beats Kansas and Loyola defeats Michigan on Saturday, Wright and Porter will face off in the NCAA championship game Monday.
Moser said he has been asking other coaches how to deal with being in the Final Four for the first time. Wright said he would definitely offer Porter some tips if the Ramblers coach were to ask him.
“The first year I went, I did that same thing,” said Wright, who is in his third Final Four. “There’s a lot. Man, where do you start?
“First, it’s understanding the enormity of it, that when you get there, it’s going to blow you away. And I would even give more advice now in that when we went in , it blew us away, right, so I knew to expect that.
“But when we went in , the difference in seven years, what they had done to the Final Four and all of the trappings and the murals on the side of buildings of your players, everything had grown so much, I was shocked, still shocked, even though we had been there before.”
Wright’s advice to Moser is to “just understand and don’t feel like you’re not worth it when you get there and you’re blown away. It happens to everybody. Just try to concentrate on the basketball part of it.”
If the two coaches decide to talk in more detail in San Antonio, they might want to go out for “Tex-Mex” instead of Italian.