The Wimp Sanderson coaching tree, not talked about in the same terms as Dean Smith’s, perhaps, but certainly representative of Sanderson’s long run of college success, has made it back to the Final Four.
Porter Moser, the head coach at Loyola-Chicago, was an assistant under Sanderson from 1997 through 1999, not in Tuscaloosa but at Arkansas-Little Rock. He’s now headed to San Antonio after the long, circuitous route that college basketball coaches sometimes take, only to find himself the first Final Four coach in history who is less recognizable in public than his own team chaplain.
“Barry (Sanderson, Wimp’s son and also a basketball coach) was the one who talked me into hiring him, and he did a good job for us,” Sanderson said. “He’d been at Texas A&M with Tony Barone. We had a good run at Little Rock.”
Ultimately, Sanderson retired and UALR brought in Arkansas legend Sidney Moncrief. That’s “playing legend,” not “coaching legend,” unfortunately for the Trojans. Moncrief lasted one disastrous 4-24 year and Moser, who had remained on the staff, was promoted to head coach to restore the program to Sanderson levels. That started the trek of mid-major head coaching. Moser won 18 games a year for three straight years at UALR. He went from there to Illinois State, where he was fired after four years. The ISU athletic director who fired him, Sheahon Zenger, is now the AD at Kansas, which might make for an awkward reunion at the Final Four. From there, Moser went to work as an assistant under his mentor, the late Rick Majerus, at St. Louis and it was Majerus who helped him land the job at Loyola. After seven seasons (admirable administrative patience in these times), he led the 2018 Ramblers into the NCAA Tournament — and history.
He’s not the first Sanderson assistant to reach the Final Four. In fact, he had to squeak past another to make it to San Antonio.
“He had to get past Rick Barnes,” Sanderson said.
Barnes, an assistant at Alabama under Sanderson in the 1980s, had been to the Final Four as Texas’ head coach and had a strong chance with Tennessee this year — until Loyola came along.
“I watched the game,” Sanderson said. “The shot that Loyola made to beat (Tennessee) was just one of those things. It bounced off the rim, straight up in the air and fell through. I used to hate buzzer-beaters like that. The same thing happened to our best team in Little Rock. A guy from New Orleans made a buzzer-beater in the conference tournament finals to beat us — in our gym. Knocked us out of the NCAA.
“I thought Rick did a great job with Tennessee this year,” Sanderson said. “In the preseason, I thought they’d be awful. I told Barry, ‘They’re not going to win any games,’ and then they won 26.”
In addition to Barnes and Moser, Sanderson also had one of his former UA players, Mike Davis (also a Final Four coach), make the tournament and lead Texas Southern to its first NCAA win in school history. Another, Mark Gottfried, will try to make it from a new spot next year, having just taken the job at Cal State-Northridge.
“I still watch the games,” Sanderson said on Monday. “I watched Duke and Kansas last night. I think it will be a good Final Four.”
For the third time, it will be one with at least a drop of Sanderson influence.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.