Missouri is going to make a substantial investment in its men’s basketball program during the coming weeks.
First-year Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk made that clear Wednesday before outgoing coach Kim Anderson’s squad played Auburn on the opening day of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
Anderson made $1.1 million per season on a five-year contract agreed to in April 2014, but Sterk indicated that figure may well double — perhaps even going beyond that — if that’s what it takes to land the preferred candidate for the next Mizzou basketball coach.
“I don’t really have a ceiling per se, but I have been working with Phil Snowden and the (University of Missouri System Board of) Curators and (MU System general counsel) Steve Owens to make sure that we have a plan in place to hire the best coach that we can,” Sterk said.
Sterk previously indicated he expects Mizzou can be competitive with the average SEC men’s basketball salary of roughly $2.4 million.
He also confirmed there’s wiggle room to increase budgets for the men’s basketball assistant coaching pool and recruiting budget, if needed.
So, what’s Sterk looking for in the ideal candidate?
“I’m looking for someone with great experience that has integrity and character but has had success at the Division I level,” Sterk said.
Sterk doesn’t think he’s absolutely necessary to make a splashy hire that immediately will draw crowds back to Mizzou Arena.
“That’s an important criteria but not the only one,” he said. “I want to hire the best coach that I feel, in the long term, is going to be successful at Mizzou. Basketball people hopefully will recognize the person that we hire. We want to hire the best basketball candidate that’s committed, that wants to grow this program and compete for championships.”
Past coaching success and integrity as well as a coach’s stature and reputation among his peers will be “important pieces to the puzzle,” Sterk said.
Sterk expects the program’s history of success, quality facilities and a renewed commitment under his leadership will attract strong candidates, citing the fact Mizzou has been in the postseason six of the last nine seasons.
“That’s pretty good,” Sterk said. “It’s just the last three years that it’s taken a dive.”
Missouri announced Sunday that Anderson had been asked to step down after going 26-67 overall with an 8-46 SEC record during the last three seasons, but Sterk said he liked the grit shown this season despite mounting losses.
“I know that roster needs to be augmented to be competitive and be in the top half of the league and then eventually compete for championships,” Sterk said.
But he is hopeful the turnaround can be quick.
“Basketball coaches think this is a good job, and I think it is too,” Sterk said. “From that respect, I think it’s an easy sell.”
Sterk said he researched Mizzou, the state and its support for the school, before accepting the job as athletic director in August.
“I’m more excited than I was six months ago, so I can portray that,” he said.
Sterk allowed that Mizzou Arena, which is 13 years old, could use “some sprucing up,” but it remains attractive in terms of daily-use space and potential game-day atmosphere.
He also lauded the recruiting base — within driving distance of Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago — as beneficial.
“Coaches kind of salivate at that opportunity, so I think it gets them excited,” Sterk said.
Asked if he’s winnowed a working list to a small handful of candidates yet, Sterk said, “I’m really not going to get into details on the search, but there’s been people I’ve been interested in and we’re making that list and continuing to vet that.”
He doesn’t have a good feel for how long the process will take, but hopes it will be concluded before the month ends.
“It’ll depend on candidates and how far they go in the (NCAA) Tournament,” Sterk said. “This is a busy time, so I can’t predict when it would happen. But I’d rather have it sooner than later.”
Sterk said he’s still waiting for the search-firm contract to be finalized, but multiple sources have told The Star that Parker Executive Search will handle those responsibilities.
He also declined to publicly name anyone on Mizzou’s search committee aside from Foley.
Sterk indicated that outside counsel Mike Glazier — an Overland Park-based college sports attorney, who Missouri hired to assist with an academic fraud investigation launched in November after former tutor Yolanda Kumar admitted to allegedly performing classwork for athletes — will be available to answer questions for candidates if any arise about the program’s status.
Those ongoing NCAA entanglements could weigh into Sterk’s decision, especially for potential candidates like Houston’s Kelvin Sampson and East Tennessee State’s Steve Forbes with show-cause penalties in their background.
“We’ll take everything into consideration, so that will be taken into consideration,” Sterk said.
Asked if was especially important given the program’s probationary status and the specter of an academic-fraud investigation hanging over the athletic department’s head, Sterk said, “I think it is. It’s important no matter what, but even now where we are that’s very important from that respect.”
Despite the highly publicized football team protest from 18 months ago, Sterk did not believe it was essential to target a minority candidate, but he also didn’t rule it out.