Anderson, from Sedalia, won Big Eight Player of the Year honors for the Tigers in 1977 and served two stints as an assistant on Norm Stewart’s staff. Becoming the Missouri men’s basketball coach was always Anderson’s dream — but one he’d convinced himself would never happen before receiving that life-changing call.
After three seasons with the Tigers marked by long losing streaks and successive last-place finishes in the Southeastern Conference, Anderson took to the Katy Trail again on Sunday as news broke that he’d been asked by first-year MU athletic director Jim Sterk to step down.
“As I started my career (at Mizzou) on the Katy Trail several years ago, I ended my career yesterday on the Katy Trail,” Anderson joked Monday on the SEC Men’s Basketball Teleconference.
Anderson, 61, who will coach the Tigers in the SEC Tournament beginning Wednesday in Nashville, said he’d actually known since Feb. 24 that he’d be fired.
“Jim and I talked about 10 days ago,” Anderson said. “At that time, he indicated to me that he was going to make a change.”
Later that day, Mizzou traveled to Mississippi, where it dropped an 80-77 decision Feb. 25.
Anderson never let word of his impending demise leak to his team.
“One thing I would never wish on anybody is to try to coach a basketball team after you knew you weren’t going to be coming back,” he said. “It’s hard to concentrate on what you’re doing, but I actually think we did a good job.”
Anderson said “there’s no bitterness for me” and that he’s “at peace” with Sterk’s decision.
Mizzou went 26-67, including an 8-46 record in the Southeastern Conference and 0-30 record in true road games, during Anderson’s three seasons.
The Tigers’ 23 losses in 2014-15 and 2016-17 are a dubious program record, as are a pair of 13-game losing streaks during those seasons.
Three straight 20-loss seasons and three consecutive last-place conference finishes also are program firsts, but Anderson doesn’t sound regretful.
“Everybody has their bucket list and a couple things on my bucket list were to win a national championship and to be the head coach at the University of Missouri,” said Anderson, who led Central Missouri to the 2014 NCAA Division II national title a month before taking the reins at Mizzou. “I would have liked to have done that at the University of Missouri, but I certainly am proud of what we did at Central Missouri and I’ll walk out of here with my head held high because I know that we’ve done some good things here. We just haven’t done enough.”
Anderson said he believes two main goals he was tasked with — “to stabilize the program and bring a culture to this program” — were met and highlighted his roster’s academic success, high character and commitment to community service.
Roster turnover was an issue under Anderson with 14 players leaving or being dismissed after he was hired, but the bigger issue was fan apathy, which Sterk cited in a release announcing his decision.
Mizzou’s estimated actual average attendance this season was 5,996 for 17 home games, which is the lowest since 1978 (5,948).
“I always told my staff that when the people quit coming to games that’s when we won’t be here anymore, and that’s what happened …,” Anderson said. “Missouri is a special place to me and my family, but when you don’t win games, you don’t get to stay and that’s the way it goes. So I understand the decision. Certainly, I would have loved to have another year, but, in the end, it wasn’t my decision and it’s best to accept and move on.”
After joking he wanted to become a sports talk radio host or sportswriter, Anderson said he plans to return to coaching.
“I do want to take some time to step back and catch my breath with (my wife) Melissa and analyze where we’ll go from here, but I certainly want to stay involved in basketball some way and hopefully maybe I would get the opportunity to be a head coach again somewhere else,” Anderson said.