Steve Watson was nervous. It was mid-April of 2019 and his rising star coach was off to New York City, interviewing with the city’s lone high-major program.
St. John’s was a real threat. Loyola Chicago was in danger of losing Porter Moser the year after he led the Ramblers to a Cinderella Final Four run.
“I’m quite sure that he was very serious about it,” Watson, the Loyola Chicago athletic director told The Post in a phone interview, as eighth-seeded Loyola Chicago is in the midst of another big March run, preparing for Saturday’s Sweet 16 against No. 12 Oregon State in Indianapolis. “He wouldn’t have gone out there if he wasn’t serious. He wouldn’t have any conversations. He’s not that kind of guy.”
Watson said on his plane trip back home, Moser wrote two letters to the school’s alums and fan base — one with him taking the St. John’s job and another with him passing on it. He read them over several times. The 52-year-old Moser, a source said, had even reached out to assistant coaches with local ties about potentially joining his staff. But by the time he landed, he was set on returning to Loyola Chicago.
Moser walked into Watson’s office and told him: “I’m all in.”
“I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous,” Watson said. “I was definitely nervous.”
On Wednesday, when asked about St. John’s, Moser said: “It was nothing against anybody, it was just a personal decision,” noting his comfort level at Loyola Chicago and the bright future he envisioned there.
St. John’s ended up hiring former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who was named the Big East Coach of the Year this season after guiding the Johnnies to a fourth-place finish despite being picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll. Anderson and his staff have done well, recruiting and developing two young Brooklyn stars, sophomore Julian Champagnie and freshman Posh Alexander.
There were reports at the time that St. John’s made Moser an eight-year offer worth over $2 million per year — reports athletic director Mike Cragg told The Post were not factual. Cragg said St. John’s was never singularly focused on one candidate until getting into deep discussions with Anderson, and declined to speculate on how far along its talks with Moser got. He wouldn’t say whether St. John’s offered Moser a contract.
“It’s not as black and white as that,” he said. “It’s an exploratory process. He was exploring us and we were exploring him.”
Moser was attractive to Cragg for the same reasons St. John’s hired Anderson. He is a coach who has been able to create sustainable success, emphasizes defense, player development and creating strong relationships with his players, leading Loyola Chicago to five 20 win-seasons the last seven years.
“I think it’s clear he’s an outstanding coach and a program-builder,” Cragg said. “All I know is I watch and see what he’s doing at Loyola Chicago, and that’s a heck of an accomplishment.”
Cragg insisted he hasn’t thought much about what might have been with Moser, even in the last week, as he has Loyola back in the spotlight, in the Sweet 16 with a shot at a second Final Four trip in three years. St. John’s, he said, talked to countless candidates, more than is publicly known. It wound up with the right person, the athletic director believes.
“I love everything about our result,” Cragg said. “We could not be more thrilled with the head coach we have.”
It’s worked out for both parties. Moser may reach another Final Four and St. John’s feel it is trending in the right direction under Anderson’s lead, finally having stability and an identity.