For living proof that even an agonizing end can be a portal to a new beginning, meet the new men’s basketball coach for Pittsburg State.
“Welcome to the jungle,” Kim Anderson says with a smile as he greets a visitor into the home of the Gorillas.
As he began a mini-tour of the gleaming $14 million athletic facility, the most striking visual actually was seeing the color back in Anderson’s face and weight put back on since being liberated from the debacle that theoretically was a dream job at the University of Missouri, his alma mater.
“People say I look better now than I have in a long time; I don’t know if they just say that,” Anderson said, smiling and adding, “I think I mentally might have been worn down.”
With a laugh, he added, “Or beat down. That might be a better word.”
In some ways, his decompression was helped along by arriving in Pittsburg, which Anderson also likes to just call “America.”
After some time exhaling at his Lake of the Ozarks home, he stayed for most of two months at Himmel House Bed & Breakfast, where innkeepers Jeff and Sherri Stephens helped his transition to a new life.
Under much less of a microscope for Anderson, their hospitality included night-time talks on the porch, leaving him M&M snacks and convincing him to get in on a breakfast rotation of waffles, French toast or pancakes.
Meanwhile, this summer, out among the cows in the countryside, he resumed riding — on a new bicycle that maybe carried some symbolism in itself:
As he was preparing to leave Columbia, Anderson found a neglected gift certificate to Walt’s Bike Shop that his wife, Melissa, had given him soon after they went to MU in 2014.
Amid a never-ending set of headaches at MU, he had forgotten about it.
Turned out it was still valid — and also held greater value than Anderson had expected.
That dynamic perhaps speaks to his fresh start after MU.
The Division II job in itself is fresh and invigorating, especially because he believes it represents a return to the essence of what the work is.
“I really didn’t want to be a Division I head coach (again),” said Anderson, who was hired by Pittsburg State about two weeks after his last Mizzou game. “I intended to coach, because, quite frankly, the last three years I really hadn’t been coaching. …
“We used to kid around the office, ‘We’re firemen. We’re putting out fires all the time.’ And I knew (from coaching Central Missouri for 12 years) at this level that there is more coaching and less being a CEO.”
For that matter, Anderson remembers frequently being asked if he was having fun coaching his alma mater and thinking, “No, I wasn’t.”
“I don’t regret it,” he said, “but I didn’t enjoy it.”
Don’t get Anderson wrong. He’s no martyr, and he’ll always be grateful for the chance at an opportunity that was on his bucket list. He knows he stabilized a mess behind the scenes.
He knows the bottom line is the bottom line, both in terms of his record (27-68) and the revenue lost in fan apathy and dwindling crowds at Mizzou Arena.
“There’s no bitterness … Absolutely, I deserved to lose my job, because we didn’t win,” said Anderson, who was 274-95 with a national championship at Central, an MIAA rival of Pitt State. “You don’t win games, they give you your ball and they say, ‘Go find another gym.’”
So he has, and he sees no real point in dwelling on what led him here.
He sincerely wishes successor Cuonzo Martin well in the job but called MU “a distant memory for me right now” from about the time he cleaned out his office hours after returning to Columbia from Nashville after his Mizzou finale.
“They weren’t telling me I had to (get out right away), but I knew that it was time to go,” he said, noting the support staff he came to feel was family helped him load up. “We had a little packing party, and it was hard.”
But even as he looks forward instead of back and focuses on reviving the Gorillas from a 5-22 season, Anderson can’t help but still feel some occasional wistful what-ifs.
After the disciplinary and APR issues and NCAA investigation and roster upheaval he inherited, topics he doesn’t bring up, by the end Anderson had players he believed in.
“Maybe we would have done better if we had more time,” he said. “But who knows? Maybe we wouldn’t have.”
Asked what he had meant when he said after his MU tenure ended with a loss to Mississippi in the Southeastern Conference tournament that he knew he’d be fired on the day he took the job, Anderson declined to elaborate other than to say he instantly learned of challenges he had never imagined.
And, no, it wasn’t an active NCAA investigation no one had bothered to tell him about when he was interviewing.
“I mean, I didn’t know about that, either,” he said, laughing.
When it was over at MU, some wondered if Anderson might retire.
Technically, he did soon thereafter, filling out retirement paperwork for MU and Central Missouri timed with turning 62 in May.
That makes for a fine supplement to his buyout from Mizzou: $650,000 plus $300,000 in earned annuity payments under the terms of their announced separation agreement.
But truly retiring never entered Anderson’s mind.
Neither did taking time off to … do what, exactly?
All he needed was to start over and find a good fit like, say, a regional Division II school.
Enter Pitt State athletic director Jim Johnson, the former MIAA commissioner and neighbor of Anderson’s in Warrensburg.
Johnson hated replacing Kevin Muff at Pitt State, on Tuesday in his office calling Muff one of the “best guys on the planet.”
But after the decision was made and the news of Anderson’s firing became known, Johnson texted Anderson and said he’d love to talk when MU’s season ended.
“I really didn’t know what he would want to do at all,” Johnson said.
That discovery process began a day later than anticipated, after MU had one last hurrah for Anderson with a dramatic victory in the SEC tournament opener against Auburn.
The victory was “a gift from the Basketball God,” he said, to give him one more day with his team and staff.
Less of a gift was Anderson getting caught on camera afterward releasing pent-up anguish with a profanity.
“I shouldn’t have done it, obviously,” said Anderson, laughing and suggesting he didn’t really even know who he was saying it about or to.
Then again, invoking his words at a postgame news conference that night, he said, “What are they going to do, fire me?”
If those of us who think highly of Anderson worried that his firing might be the sort of thing that would scar him, Anderson shrugs that off.
It hurt, of course, mostly to feel he let people down and because he worried about what would become of his staff.
But each of them has landed good jobs, and Anderson has enough grounding and sense of perspective that succeeding at Mizzou wasn’t the thing he wanted most in the world.
“I don’t know what it is that I wanted the most,” he said, “but there’s more to life than basketball coaching.”
Still, he wasn’t ready to leave coaching — really coaching. Not that way. Not if he could find what felt like a good fit.
“This is a level that maybe fits me better,” he said. “So I guess in a way it’s kind of going back to your roots.”
There still will be pressure and stress, of course, starting with an exhibition opener at Kansas on Halloween.
But if he has learned anything through all this, it’s to have more appreciation for his family and true friends — and that the end can be a new beginning.
“You move on: I move on, people move on,” he said in an upbeat tone. “Life goes on.”