As Missouri men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson pondered a question Wednesday about the difference in perspective from the last year of his life, he glanced down at his watch as if to consider the precise difference in time.
Then he seemed to wistfully drift back there.
Last year at this time, after all, he had just coached Central Missouri to a NCAA Division II championship.
“And I was on the Katy Trail riding my bicycle between Calhoun and Windsor,” he said.
Everything was so much simpler then, just before Anderson, then 59, at last was offered the alleged dream job of coaching his alma mater.
Back in the day, he could disappear on long bike rides in the offseason and enjoy listening to sports talk radio without having to think he’d be a subject at all, let alone one of derision.
He wouldn’t involuntarily lose 17 pounds to stress and look pale and strained weeks after the season ended.
And he was soon to look forward to his first season as Mizzou’s true son surfing a tidal wave of goodwill.
Now, when he finally tried to sneak a bike break from the endless demands of recruiting and hiring a new assistant coach and tweaking his overall approach, Anderson found himself in terrain “so muddy you wouldn’t believe it.”
Now, after suffering through the woe and indignity of guiding Mizzou’s worst season, 9-23, in nearly two generations, Anderson is contending both with the anguish of what came to pass last year and the nerve-wracking matter of solving it.
“I never had a year like this,” Anderson said.
He quickly amended himself to note he had … but as a mere assistant coach at Baylor, where he joked that his name tag likely was misspelled and it didn’t matter who he was, anyway.
Smile as he did, Anderson seemed to mist up some as he spoke of this, and if you know his heart and mind a bit that wouldn’t surprise you.
“You know why it’s hard? It’s hard because this is my school. And you don’t ever want to let anybody down,” he said at a news conference to wrap up the season and look ahead. “But while it’s hard, I think it makes you more determined.”
He’ll need to be, of course, for a lot of reasons.
For one thing, he’s about to have a new boss, Mack Rhoades, who will take over for athletic director Mike Alden on April 27.
Anderson has met with Rhoades several times, including a dinner with Rhoades and Alden in Indianapolis last week, and Anderson believes Rhoades understands the mess he inherited.
But here’s the sticky thing about all that flux and inexperience:
Any reasonable person would give Anderson a mulligan for that season and cut him some slack for next season.
Reason and patience, though, aren’t the coin of the realm in college athletics or about anywhere these days.
And fairly or not considering what he’s having to dig out from, all of this and more makes this a new phase of Anderson’s tenure: ownership.
Never mind that Anderson’s personal connection and the aesthetics of this job made it so irresistible that he didn’t care that there might be a leaky basement, a bad roof or corroded plumbing as he went all-in.
The papers all are signed over in his name now, and all that precipitated this no longer really matters.
All that counts is solutions, and that starts with understanding what went awry last season.
Asked what he learned, Anderson paused and said: “This job requires an inordinate amount of problem solving and time management and (dependence) on your staff,” adding that he will delegate more to his staff while trying to take on more of the game-day preparation himself.
Read into it what you will, but Anderson declined to answer why MU parted ways with assistant Tim Fuller, a Frank Haith hold-over.
He also declined to answer what was at play in the departures of Johnathan Williams III, MU’s leading scorer and rebounder, and reserve Deuce Bello.
He did, though, volunteer that there had been a chemistry and leadership issue that only worsened under duress with so many young players.
One man’s reason is another’s excuse, of course, as Anderson reminded when he referred repeatedly to an anonymous letter-writer who squawked about Anderson constantly referring to the youth of his team.
With a laugh, Anderson reckoned he’s got about a year more on that before “you guys won’t let me use that anymore.”
“Sorry to the guy but I’m still going to be talking about that,” he said. “We’re still young; I’m going to ride that pony as far as we can.”
But he’s going to have a bucking bronc to contend with, as much inside himself as on the court, if things don’t look substantially better by then.
That’s still a long time away, of course, ample time for Anderson to further establish the culture he’s trying to create and weave in his second class with his first and apply all he’s learned.
In a perfect world, it would all be as simple as this:
When he “rode in here last year on that white horse” and emphasized playing defense, well, he got a generally serviceable defensive team.
“And then we couldn’t score,” he said. “I know I’m not very smart. (But) I’ve got two degrees from the university; I think we’re going to work more on offense this summer.”
When he’s not working on a million other things he didn’t have to worry about a year ago.
“You don’t sleep a lot,” he said, “you know?”