It’s official: Mike Anderson is no longer the men’s basketball coach at the University of Missouri. The announcement, which came down early Wednesday evening, ended weeks of wild speculation.
For a few days, the media has bombarded fans with stories based off anonymous sources from both the Missouri and Arkansas sides claiming that the highly coveted coach was preparing to sign with their respective schools. In the end, however, Anderson elected to return to the University of Arkansas, the place where he spent the first 17 years of his career under legendary head coach Nolan Richardson.
"We are extremely excited to welcome home Mike Anderson to the University of Arkansas as our new head men's basketball coach," Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said. "Mike is one of the outstanding head coaches in college basketball. His teams play an exciting brand of basketball that has already proven successful at both UAB and Missouri.” (Source: University of Arkansas Press Release)
Anderson took over as head coach of the Missouri Tigers following the dismissal of Quin Snyder in 2006. The conclusion of Snyder’s career was marred in controversy and left Missouri’s program in complete shambles. Despite the decrepit state of the program Anderson inherited, it took him just two seasons to put Mizzou’s basketball program back on the map.
Utilizing a system that he called “40-Minutes of Hell,” Anderson utilized an up-tempo offense and high-pressure defense to wear down teams. Once he was finally able to start cycling in players that fit his system, including his nephew DeMarre Carroll who transferred in from Vanderbilt, Anderson’s trademark playing style started to hit its stride.
In 2008-2009, Mizzou rode a wave of momentum following their upset win of Kansas in the season finale to their first Big 12 tournament title in school history. With that tournament championship, Anderson had lead Missouri to its first NCAA tournament appearance in five years.
The Tigers’ fast paced offense and high pressure defense caught teams by surprise in the NCAA tournament and allowed them to roll into the Elite Eight. While the team was denied by UConn for its first ever Final Four appearance, it was official: Mike Anderson had put the Missouri Tigers’ basketball program back on the map.
That season would ultimately prove to be the climax in Anderson’s tenure as head coach. Over his next two seasons, the Tigers seemed to fail to reach their full potential bowing out early in both the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA tournament.
Despite the team’s mediocre performances, in the years that followed Mizzou’s epic Elite Eight run, Anderson received offers and seemed to be flirting with Georgia and Oregon, but both times he rejected their offers and reaffirmed his commitment to the University of Missouri.
"It's certainly flattering any time another university notices what your program is accomplishing and when I was approached by Oregon, I decided to listen, but it was simply with my family in mind," Anderson said last year after he rejected an offer from Oregon to remain at Mizzou. "All that quick conversation did was reaffirm that Missouri is home to us. We plan on taking Tiger basketball to new heights. Oregon is a great university, but Mizzou is a special place for me and my family and I'm proud to be your basketball coach here at Mizzou." (Source: ESPN.com)
After dealing with two straight seasons of their head coach flirting with other schools, Missouri finally decided enough was enough and decided to include a clause in Anderson’s contract extension that required him to get explicit permission from the University to discuss job offers from other schools.
Fast forward to Selection Sunday. Mizzou had just closed out its season with an embarrassing loss to the Texas A&M Aggies in the second round of the Big 12 tournament. Captain Kim English had called out the team for quitting following the game, and the Tigers, who entered the season ranked among the top 15 in the nation, found themselves firmly on the bubble.
While the Tigers anxiously awaited their postseason fate, the Arkansas Razorbacks were making headlines with the dismissal of their head coach John Pelphrey. Pelphrey, who went 18-12 (7-9) in his final season with the Razorbacks, oversaw a steady decrease in the performance of the Arkansas program following his first season.
Before continuing, it’s important to understand just how important Razorback athletics are in the state of Arkansas. With no professional sports teams or other major college athletic programs in the entire state, sports fans flock to University of Arkansas football and basketball games to cheer on the Hogs. However, the recent struggles of Arkansas’ basketball team has lead to a steady decrease in attendance (despite this decline in attendance, Arkansas still drew nearly a 1,000 more fans than Mizzou did on average).
Cue reason No. 1 why Anderson left for Arkansas: fanbase. Suffice it to say that Arkansas’ fanbase is a group of die-hard followers. Missouri’s, meanwhile, is fair weathered and inconsistent.
Anderson’s name came up immediately after word came down of the coaching vacancy at Arkansas. It makes sense that Anderson’s was the first name to come up. For starters, his history with the program had the Arkansas faithful fired up. Anderson’s coaching career actually got its start in Arkansas under coaching great Nolan Richardson.
During his 17-year tenure as assistant coach, Anderson and the Razorbacks won three Southwest Conference championships, two Southeastern Conference titles, made three Final Four appearances, a national title appearance in ’95 and a national championship in ’94. Needless to say, he was the fans pick for head coach.
Reason No. 2 why Anderson made for a good fit at Arkansas? The man is a mastermind at rebuilding programs. He did it at UAB—highlight was a Sweet 16 run, and he did it in just two seasons at Mizzou. For whatever reason Mike Anderson has developed a knack for transforming struggling programs into legitimate NCAA contenders.
“Coach Anderson has really turned this program around,” junior Marcus Denmon said. “I’m a Missouri kid. I grew up watching Missouri basketball, and I remember a lot of the time it wasn’t fun to watch, but Coach Anderson came here and left his mark.”
Back to Mizzou, skipping through the recent flurry of speculation and series of conflicting stories that had Anderson coaching at Arkansas without actually leaving the state of Missouri and ahead to Wednesday evening. There had been a significant shift in the stories concerning Anderson. There were fewer and fewer stories about Anderson staying with Missouri and more sources claiming he would be headed south to Arkansas as the day wore on. In fact, these sources were fairly legitimate. During a press conference held at Mizzou Arena Wednesday night, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden explained what had happened earlier in the day.
“At 12:30 today, the chancellor’s office and myself, we visited with Coach Anderson on a conference call and at that time Coach Anderson asked us directly for permission to talk to another institution,” Alden said. “We granted that permission at about 1 o’clock this afternoon…I met with Coach Anderson at 6:45 today in his office and he informed me at that time that he would be resigning his position at the University of Missouri as our head men’s basketball coach.”
By Wednesday evening, it had been all but confirmed that Anderson would be leaving the University of Missouri. After his plane landed, a private meeting was scheduled for Anderson to break the news to his players.
“It was heartfelt,” junior Kim English said of his now-former coach’s speech to the team. “I just embrace the sincerity with which he spoke…You could tell it was hard for him to make this decision, but seeing all that he had here, I understood that Arkansas meant something special to him, and I’m a man and I can swallow that and understand that, that 17 years meant something to him.”
English, the team’s captain, Denmon and Laurence Bowers were selected to represent the team with Alden for the press conference Wednesday night. The three players chosen to represent the team have emerged as the team’s leaders both on and off the court. Tonight, however, you could see the emotion in all three of them. There seemed to be a shift from sadness and remorse to almost a hostility near the end of the press conference.
“I came here to play for Missouri,” Bowers said. “At the time, coach Anderson was here at Missouri, so it was kind of like me playing for both. For coach Anderson to resign and go play for Arkansas, it really hit hard with me. I took it really hard, being that I’ve known him for my whole life. I play for Missouri. You can’t dwell on the past, it happened. Coach has moved on, so hopefully Missouri can move on.”
When asked by Gabe DeArmond of PowerMizzou and InsideSTL how they can reconcile the fact that Anderson went from saying he remained committed to the players just last week to today when he decided to take a job elsewhere, Kim English took one last heart felt jab at his former coach.
“We’ll reconcile it by winning,” English said as he walked away from the podium.
English’s maturity and commitment to the team was on full display Wednesday evening. He mentioned that his primary concern was for his teammates and that he wanted them to understand Anderson’s departure is not the end of the world.
In fact, all three players handled themselves quite well at the podium. Rather than take immature shots at their coach or pout about his departure, they focused on the future, assuring fans that the drive is still there.
“Our senior leadership will carry us to the promised land,” Denmon said. “Coach Anderson used to always stress to us about winning the national championship, well, he installed that in us three and we still plan on winning a national championship even though he’s in Arkansas.”
After the players talked to the media, athletic director Mike Alden addressed the most pressing matter facing this Missouri team, replacing their head coach.
“We don’t want to sacrifice the quality for speed. I think with us certainly identifying who we are, what the characteristics are that we’re looking for, scanning out there—who’s gonna be a good fit for our brand at the University of Missouri?” Alden said. “We have to identify the person that fits our brand the best.”
Alden will not be heading up the search for a head coach by himself. Executive Associate AD Whit Babcock, special assistant Gary Link and deputy chancellor Mike Middleton, who actually assisted in the search that landed Anderson, will be working with Alden in the team’s search for the next head coach.
Alden stressed the importance of finding a coach who would be 100 percent committed to the University of Missouri and that does not have any prior ties to other D-1 schools.
“Our communications with those candidates is going to be you got to be looking at this as like 'the spot.' You have to want to be there,” Alden said. “This isn’t just about this job. This is about wanting to be at Mizzou. This is about wanting to be in Missouri. This is about wanting to be a part of who we are. That’s a tough thing to be able to qualify and shying away from someone who might have connections to some other places, that might be kind of tough.”
No timetable has been set for the selection of a new coach.
Quotes collected from Missouri's press conference with Mike Alden, Marcus Denmon, Kim English, and Lawrence Bowers unless otherwise noted.
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