During the postgame handshakes after New Orleans won, Towe slapped Moser’s hand away. In seconds, all the players and the assistant coaches joined in the fracas. The slap gave way to shoves. There was almost certainly more profane language.
“It got a little heated,” recalled Chris Peterson, the former athletic director at Arkansas-Little Rock and Moser’s boss at the time.
Credit Bill Haber/Associated Press
Order was eventually restored, but the hard feelings lingered.
The next season, New Orleans traveled to Little Rock, where the local news media whipped up fans by retelling the story about Towe and the previous year’s incident. At some point late in the first half, Towe noticed that his black sports coat, which he had draped over the back of his chair as he usually did during games, was missing.
“Apparently, with no part on my part, he had taken off his sport jacket and put it on his thing, all he had was a T-shirt,” Moser said, “and somebody walked by, grabbed it, took it.”
Just before the second half began, and with the jacket still nowhere in sight, Towe approached Peterson in the stands and told him, in a stern tone, that someone had stolen his sport coat.
According to Towe, Peterson was not overly sympathetic. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, just coach your team,’” Towe said.
A little over an hour later, the Privateers packed up to head back to New Orleans — without a win, and without Towe’s jacket. Once they got back on campus, Towe and his staff quickly set to work scanning a videotape of the game, not so much to see who missed their box-out assignments, but to find evidence of what happened to the missing sport coat.
A man sitting behind the New Orleans bench quickly raised their suspicions. Sure enough, on one sequence up the court the jacket was on Towe’s chair. But when the ball came back the other way and the camera scanned the bench, it was gone. “We never saw the guy actually take it,” Towe said, laughing at the memory, “but what we saw later confirmed our suspicions.”
What they saw, Towe said, was that when the game ended, Moser went straight over to the prime suspect behind Towe’s seat and shook his hand. The man had opportunity and motive, and in the New Orleans basketball offices, that handshake proved Moser’s complicity.
Towe called Peterson. “Not only did it happen,” he told Moser’s boss, “we have it on tape.”
Moser has his own theory. On Thursday, he said a radio station that had stirred up the fans ahead of the New Orleans game had been behind the theft — “The radio station was trying to auction off ‘I got Monte Towe’s sports jacket.’”
Peterson appeased Towe by promising an investigation, and he quickly solved the caper. But it got worse: somehow the jacket had ended up in a Little Rock fraternity house, where the members had urinated on it. “The frat boys apparently had a good time with that jacket,” Peterson said.
Peterson recovered the defiled jacket, had it dry cleaned and sent it back to Towe along with an apology and a $150 gift certificate to a New Orleans restaurant. The commissioner of the Sun Belt conference even intervened, ordering both coaches to write emails promising to end it there. According to Peterson, the emails were exceedingly brief, but the peace held.
Moser left Little Rock after the season (not because of the incident, Peterson said) to coach at Illinois State and then went to St. Louis as an assistant before moving to Loyola. The Ramblers play Michigan in a national semifinal on Saturday. “Moser did a great job there and he’s doing a great job now,” Towe said. “I hope they win.”
Towe coached at New Orleans until 2006, then worked as an assistant at his alma mater, North Carolina State, and Middle Tennessee State before retiring. These days he plays a lot of tennis and golf and serves as a coach at Oak Hall High School in Gainesville, Fla.
He remembered taking his wife for a nice dinner to the Palace Café, on Peterson’s dime. But whatever happened to Exhibit A?
“I wore it the next game,” Towe said. “They have good dry cleaners in Little Rock.”