As always with contemporary coaching searches, the vacuum of actual news and a hunger for substance propels speculation cloaked as certainty around the internet.
The reckless can be hard to sift from the responsible, especially since some reports can be right when written but ultimately wrong or wrong at the time and ultimately right.
Determining what’s real isn’t just about what might be technically true. It’s also about trying to sort out what might be posturing or leveraging or just being floated to take temperatures.
So it is with the search for the next University of Missouri’s men’s basketball coach.
The dynamics are encapsulated by alternately extreme perceptions of the prospects of former Tiger Kim Anderson, who suddenly on Monday was cryptically identified by ESPN’s Andy Katz as “one of a few finalists for the opening.”
Since Anderson has been passed over thrice before, and because he coaches at Division II Central Missouri and hiring him now might make it look like athletic director Mike Alden made mistakes by ignoring him in the past, Anderson has been largely viewed as a dark horse.
But there’s also been a groundswell of goodwill trending for Anderson. A Facebook page trumpeting his cause has generated more than 1,000 “likes,” and broadcaster and former coach Fran Fraschilla recently tweeted, “Hey, Mizzou: it’s easy. Hire Kim Anderson Tiger fans would embrace.”
Indeed, as of 6 p.m. Monday, 833 of 2,552 participants in an unscientific online poll by The Star cast their vote for Anderson to replace Frank Haith, who last week left MU for Tulsa in what could only be seen as a preemptive maneuver with the possibility looming of being fired after another dud season.
Still, just what Katz’s words mean is hard to know.
No doubt his source is well-placed. But a lot remains unclear.
In a text message late Monday night, Anderson said he had been in Jefferson City with the team having “a fantastic dinner with Gov and Mrs. Nixon. No comment on any other job. Still coaching the Mules.”
And considering Haith’s abrupt departure came just three days before, isn’t it a little quick for Mizzou to have identified “a few finalists?”
Moreover, why does Katz identify only Anderson publicly? Who are the others in the group?
So the mind wanders: Is this a smokescreen of some sort? A trial balloon? Mizzou’s been known to do that before.
Or could it really be as simple as Anderson is MU’s guy?
Maybe after three straight hires ended unceremoniously, Alden has gotten past his reasons for previously steering clear of Anderson, the most apparent of which might be construed as a grudge against legendary MU coach Norm Stewart, Anderson’s mentor.
(Stewart on Monday declined comment on the coaching search.)
Maybe Alden has finally realized a universally liked and respected MU product, a former Big 8 player of the year who grew up in Sedalia and just coached the Mules to a national title and probably knows the state better than any other potential candidate, might galvanize a disenchanted basketball fan base.
The possibility Anderson is on the inside track seems reinforced by the idea that as of Monday afternoon Mizzou apparently hadn’t made any approach toward the only perceived candidate who had more votes in The Star poll than Anderson: Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, who received 974.
Marshall’s candidacy, or lack thereof, seems another curious element of the confounding process.
What little consensus there had been outside the fog of the search was that Mizzou must seek to speak with Marshall, who whisked his Shockers to the Final Four in 2013 and followed up by guiding them to a No. 1 seed and perfect record entering the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
“No one regarding the Missouri search has talked to either one of us,” Marshall’s agent, Myles Solomon, told The Star’s Tod Palmer. “We haven’t had any sort of contact officially or unofficially.”
Now, the apparent absence of contact could just be a matter of timing or a semantics game when it comes to Marshall, who declined to comment on the MU job Monday.
Almost everything is fluid, and little can be taken at face value in coaching searches, after all.
But even if MU has contacted or does approach Marshall, multiple sources familiar with his thinking suggest it would be an enormous challenge to extract him from Wichita.
For starters, Marshall, 51, may or may not retire at Wichita State, but he is happy, secure and appreciated there.
He’s not inclined to jump at other jobs, and he found the rebuilding phase at Wichita State excruciating.
Now it’s believed he perceives Mizzou as a program that needs rebuilding.
While MU is only a season removed from five straight NCAA appearances, it’s thought that Marshall sees the terrain left by Haith as somewhere between scorched and jumbled and that next year will be painful for whoever is coaching there.
So why would Marshall leave a program he has built into a powerhouse, one that has great potential next season and is paying him $2 million a year, to go try to mend one where he figures to lose for a while?
It would appear MU would need to rustle up the money for a major raise, surely more than $2.5 million a year, and a long-term contract if it even wants an audience with Marshall.
Marshall has earned the chance to be choosy, and it’s believed he has a few programs in mind that he’d be inherently interested in.
Otherwise, it figures to take what one source called “something unbelievable” to pry him away.
Of course, just what’s believable and unbelievable in coaching searches is hard to discern until they’re over which may or may not be imminent.