Bob Lutz: Can (and will) Missouri dig deep enough to get Gregg Marshall?

04/18/2014 4:59 PM

04/18/2014 4:59 PM

I wrote earlier this week that if the Missouri basketball job came open (which it has), the Tigers would definitely have interest in Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall (duh) and that the Mizzou job might be a fit.

I stand by that, although I’m surprised Frank Haith left Missouri on Friday to take the vacant Tulsa job. I figured Haith would have stayed one more season in Columbia, get fired, and then the Tigers would pursue Marshall.

The timing of Haith’s departure probably hurts Missouri’s chances of luring Marshall, who has an outstanding team returning in 2014-15 and whose son, Kellen, is a little more than a year away from graduating high school.

Former Tigers assistant and player Kim Anderson, who led Central Missouri to the NCAA Division II championship this season, seems to be the pick of many Missouri fans. Anderson played and coached for the legendary Norm Stewart, and Missouri loves it some Norm Stewart.

Anderson, 58, has been Central Missouri’s coach since 2002 and is from Sedalia, an hour from Columbia.

Missouri just gave its football coach, Gary Pinkel, a raise. He’s making $3.1 million with a contract that runs through 2020. So what would the Tigers be willing to pay a basketball coach? Well, consider that Pinkel has been at Mizzou since 2001. He’s built a strong program, although we’re still waiting for the Tigers to play in a BCS bowl game. Missouri did win the SEC East last season, no small accomplishment, before losing to Auburn in the conference championship game.

Missouri football was 5-7 in 2012, its first season in the SEC, so Pinkel needed a quick turnaround. And he was rewarded for making one happen. To lure a coach of Marshall’s stature to the basketball program would take a big chunk of money. Is Missouri willing to pay a new basketball coach close or equal to what it’s paying its 61-year-old football coach who has been around for 13 seasons? That’s probably what it would take to potentially interest Marshall.

The bottom line is this: How deep is Missouri willing to dig for basketball success? It has a great facility and a hungry fan base, although crowds at Mizzou Arena have suffered since the Tigers departed the Big 12 for the SEC. Basketball’s popularity seems to have diminished in Columbia now that the Tigers are in a devout football conference. But Missouri hasn’t gotten basketball right since Stewart retired. There were flashes under Quin Snyder, Mike Anderson and even Haith, who led Missouri to 30 wins in his first season three years ago. But success has not been sustained.

Marshall would be a transformative hire for athletic director Mike Alden, who’s hired MU’s last three coaches. Marshall’s that good. He would win, no doubt about it. The questions then become: How much is Missouri willing to pay in salary and number of guaranteed years? And could Marshall, who is sleeping in a warm and cozy bed at Wichita State, be enticed enough to leave for Missouri? Or anywhere else?

Missouri isn’t the best basketball job in the country, but it’s a good one. And Marshall fits the Tigers’ fan base, which is exhausted by being reminded that the school they love rarely wins anything big. Gregg Marshall has one more Final Four than the Tigers.

Missouri should win big. For years and years, people have talked about Missouri being a gold mine in athletics. Yet riches are not consistently being produced. Missouri has been good, rarely great.

Marshall’s chip-on-the-shoulder style would be a huge hit with Missouri’s fans. Marshall is colorful, like Stewart. He’s cantankerous, like Stewart. He’s disarming, like Stewart. And he has one of the best basketball minds in the country. Stewart’s shadow swallowed up Snyder, Anderson and Haith. Marshall would not be swallowed.

Something else to consider is to what lengths Wichita State would go to keep Marshall if Missouri or Tennessee goes bonkers trying to hire him? Is there a ceiling? There has to be, right? Revenues at a school like WSU pale in comparison to those at the big-time SEC schools and all of their BCS dollars. Unquestionably, Marshall has done wonders for Wichita State’s exposure. And Wichita’s exposure, for that matter. He’s a big man not just on campus, but in the community. But are there financial limits for Wichita State?

Missouri could appease many in its fan base by hiring Anderson. His connection to the Stewart era and his success at Central Missouri are pluses. But it is Central Missouri, remember. Hiring Anderson would be a safe hire for Alden, much as hiring Randy Smithson was a safe hire for then-Wichita State athletic director Bill Belknap in 1996. You saw how that eventually worked out.

Or Missouri could go the other way and make a huge offer to Marshall. It’ll be fascinating to see what the Tigers do and whether Marshall becomes a target. I suspect at the very least, Alden will talk to the Wichita State coach. Whether it goes anywhere from there, who knows?

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