During the Missouri men’s basketball team’s now-finished 13-game losing streak, a common theme developed from opposing coaches game after game.
Almost universally, though with slight variation, there was some remark — usually unsolicited and generally early in their post-game comments — along the lines of “Kim Anderson is doing a great job.”
It’s also been a common refrain on the weekly Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference.
Such compliments don’t often make it into print (or even online), so fans may not be aware of how frequent and widespread such comments are.
Surely, some Tigers fans will roll their eyes. Others will choose to believe it’s a disingenuous throwaway line.
Asked about it Thursday during his weekly news conference, Anderson offered his take on the phenomenon.
“I think it’s tremendous,” he said. “We compete, but we do try to protect each other. And I think that’s a pretty neat deal. I really do. That’s kind of the nature of the business, and I’m sure it’s true in other sports too. … We are a fraternity, and fraternity brothers tend to stick together.”
It’s easy to forget that Anderson, 59, remains a pup in the head coaching ranks.
After his MU and professional playing careers, Anderson returned as an assistant for three seasons under Norm Stewart, went to Baylor for six years then returned again to serve another eight seasons on Stewart’s staff.
Anderson worked a few years for the Big 12 after that before accepting the head coaching position at Central Missouri in 2002, where he went 274-95 in 12 seasons before replacing Frank Haith in his dream job at his alma mater.
Things haven’t gone well for the Tigers in Anderson’s first season.
Missouri, which plays at 11 a.m. Saturday at Georgia, is 8-20 overall and 2-13 in the SEC after Tuesday’s win against Florida, which snapped the longest losing streak in program history at 13 games.
Of course, if anybody understands the difficulty of building a program, of establishing a culture and, in many cases, of enduring a season’s worth of lumps early in that process, it’s another NCAA Division I head coach.
“I’m a relatively young coach that’s older,” Anderson said. “I’m a real young D-I head coach, so the only guys who really know what’s going on are those — and I’ll just use our league — are the other 13 guys that sit in that same chair. They know how challenging it is.”
It shouldn’t be a shock that those fellow coaches, well aware of the rigors of the profession, would feel empathy for the ruts of a struggle-filled season.
Then again, every coach faces his own challenge.
“My challenge is different than John Calipari’s (at Kentucky),” Anderson said. “He’s trying to win every game — and so am I — but his definition of being successful by you guys (the media) is winning the national championship. I know that’s hard; that’s really hard, so I think he’s done a great job. I don’t care what happens. I think he’s done a great job.”
Later, it was insinuated that some of the encouraging words from fellow coaches rang hollow, because Anderson doesn’t have a deep or long-term relationship with all of his SEC colleagues.
“Tricked ’em,” Anderson said with a wry smile and a laugh. “No, but we all follow each other.”
Fact is, coaching isn’t a big world.
During his days at Central Missouri, Anderson monitored Frank Martin at Kansas State and John Calipari at Memphis. He paid attention as Billy Donovan won two national championships with Florida, maybe even met him at the coaches’ convention that takes place every year at the Final Four.
Georgia’s Mark Fox was an assistant at K-State when Anderson worked for the Big 12, so they know each other well.
Anderson often crossed paths with Arkansas’ Mike Anderson on the recruiting trail when the two were assistants under Norm Stewart and Nolan Richardson.
Maybe the other coaches in the league don’t really think Anderson is doing is a great job, though it’s doubtful that’s the case.
Even if it is, why would any of them kick a man when he’s down? Especially in a profession where you’re only as good as your last season or perhaps even the last game.
“A tough year for me at Central Missouri was 18-11, so you can imagine what this is like,” Anderson said.