Commentary by Darren Hellwege
New Missouri men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson answers questions at his announcement ceremony on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at the Reynolds Alumni Center in Columbia, Mo. Anderson replaces Frank Haith who took the head coaching position at Tulsa. Photo by Mike Losch.
The University of Missouri’s hire of Kim Anderson to be the next head coach of the Tigers men’s basketball team has raised a fascinating reaction within the diverse…some might say schizophrenic…Mizzou fan base. There are those weeping black and gold tears of joy. There are those on the verge of riot. A decision meant to assuage part of the Missouri fan base that has been among Mike Alden’s prime critics could seriously damage his future at the school if it doesn’t work out.
What do we actually know? Very little. We know Kim Anderson went to school at MU, played for Norm Stewart, is from the state, and really really really loves the Tigers. We know he’s never been a head coach at the Division I level and had last been an assistant at this level 15 years ago. But there’s more to this. Let’s explore some of the main questions.
Q: Why Kim Anderson?
A: First and foremost, he’s a winner. It doesn’t matter if you’re at East Tumbleweed State, a career record of 274-95 in his years at University of Central Missouri, three final fours and a national championship says this guy knows how to coach. He’s recruited excellent basketball players, taught them the game to make them better, and managed them to victory on game day. He was an assistant in the Big 8 for 11 seasons, was on the bench for two league championships including a team that made the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
Q: But, why didn’t you mention that he’s Mizzou Made? He played for Norm Stewart! He bleeds black and gold!
A: This doesn’t hurt, I suppose. It’s good to reconnect with former Tiger greats from the Norm Stewart years who’ve felt left out since Quin Snyder came to town. There will be some major donors who’ll come back to Ole Mizzou, and bring their big fat wallets with them. It’ll probably help ticket sales a bit.
But of all the things Kim Anderson brings to the table, that this is his alma mater is way, way down on the list. I’ve seen schools that put a big emphasis on hiring “true sons” and it rarely works out. It’s more likely to lead to mediocrity and an incestuous athletic department in which people are afraid to fire bad coaches because they’ve been friends for 30 years. As a result, good enough becomes good enough. Mizzou fans won’t tolerate mediocrity.
I said before this hire that Mizzou needed to bring in the best coach, and it didn’t matter if they couldn’t find Columbia on a map if you spotted them Jefferson City. The advantages of hiring a Mizzou Made coach is contingent upon one thing—he’s still gotta win. MU fans don’t pine for the days of Norm Stewart because of his sparkling personality or handsome face or because he’d played in Brewer Fieldhouse for Sparky Stalcup. Fans liked Norm mostly for one reason. Norm won.
Q: Who else was considered, and why didn’t they come?
A: It’s hard to say. Mike Alden was burned last time around when word got out that the University wanted Matt Painter of Purdue. Rumors flew around like mad that Painter was coming to Mizzou, and when he decided to stay in West Lafayette, everyone looked like idiots. Then, when Frank Haith was hired, the comparisons were obvious and not especially flattering. So, this latest hiring was done with secrecy worthy of a CIA investigation.
It was widely reported that among the finalists was Ben Howland, who was dismissed by UCLA a year ago after taking the Bruins to three Final Fours. He has 607 wins, including 340 at what some would call the most prestigious job in all of college hoops. But Howland’s final years in Westwood were full of controversy. Players got into trouble, there were reports of in-fighting on the team, and while an NCAA investigation into recruiting irregularities exonerated Howland, this is not a time when Mike Alden needs a men’s basketball coach with the words “NCAA investigation into recruiting violations” in his past.
Let’s be blunt — this program is troubled. Guys are being arrested, getting booted off the team, transferring away, and fighting with one another at an embarrassing rate. Even though the violations occurred over 1,300 miles away in Coral Gables, the taint of Frank Haith’s troubles at Miami was a big problem for Mizzou. The Tigers have hired four coaches since 1999 and people are still raising hell in Tiger Country about Quin Snyder even though he left eight years ago. There were problems with Snyder’s firing, and both Mike Anderson and Frank Haith appeared to sneak out the back door (OK, OK, Anderson really DID sneak out the back door) looking for a better gig.
Ben Howland is a great basketball coach, but his history is the last thing Mike Alden needed right now. Kim Anderson isn’t just a great coach with a shiny new national championship ring. Everyone is in agreement—Kim Anderson’s a good guy. He ran a squeaky clean program in Warrensburg. The academic success rates for UCM published by the NCAA are pretty solid, with UCM ranked third among 14 teams in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association in the most recent report. For a troubled program, Anderson’s reputation of doing great things, and doing them the right way, is a breath of fresh air.
The other coach supposedly in the mix was Gregg Marshall, who’s had tremendous success in recent years at Wichita State. Marshall reportedly said yesterday he was contacted by Mizzou, but chose to remain at WSU. He’s the king in Wichita, is paid extremely well, and has a rabidly loyal fan base. Hard to argue with his decision.
Q: Why did Missouri spend $42,000 for a search firm to land a coach who went to the school and lives an hour down the highway?
A: Pardon my French, but who the hell cares? I’ve heard several people ask this, and I’m serious. Who cares? Their job was to bring in the best coach for Missouri’s needs, athletically and otherwise. If the best coach is in a tent in the back parking lot at Mizzou Arena or in Argentina, who cares? If they got the best coach, they got the best coach. Where he was before is meaningless.
Q: How hot is the seat under Mike Alden?
A: Not hot, but warming. If Kim Anderson falls flat, if this program continues to hemorrhage players, if there are more cases of knuckleheads assaulting teammates or even getting busted for blowing a doobie, it’s bad news. If Anderson doesn’t win, it’s worse. There’s a small margin of error at this point, and unfair though it may be to Anderson, the level of patience won’t be great. If there is a season or two more of NIT basketball in Columbia, the next time we’re camped outside a closed meeting of the Board of Curators, it may be for a much more important job — that of the Director of Athletics.