right choice — even if there will be plenty of squawking accompanying the cheers.
MU basketball has a proud tradition forged by Anderson’s mentor, Norm Stewart, but it was adrift as it sought its third coach in four years after the last two abandoned it: Mike Anderson at least in part left go to “home” to Arkansas, followed by Frank Haith’s skedaddling at least in part out of concern for his job security.
Coaches shouldn’t be leaving MU for other jobs. But they are.
MU basketball has become rudderless because two of its last three coaches ran afoul of the NCAA (though Haith’s transgressions were at Miami), and that has made fans as cynical about the program as Haith sounded when NCAA investigators quoted him as saying, “Let’s don’t be naïve … our business is corrupt.”
MU basketball has become generic because it has lost all continuity. It has changed styles of play over and over in the last few years, and it has seen a revolving door of players transferring in and out and assistant coaches leaving after short terms.
And after a riveting first season under Haith with players inherited from Mike Anderson, defensive play has been eroding even as the offense was losing cohesion.
Even with Haith-recruited stars such as Jabari Brown, MU was a drag to watch last season.
So Mizzou is in an identity crisis, and there surely are plenty of people who could do something about that.
One of them is Kim Anderson, who stands for a lot of things. And it’s not as simplistic as sentimentality and nostalgia for the days of Stewart, for whom Anderson starred and coached.
Anderson, 58, stands for integrity and decency and humility as a person. He stands for fundamental soundness and defense as a coach.
All of that is why he’s been able to coach Central Missouri to three Division II Final Fours since 2003 and why his Mules won the national title last month.
All of that is why nearly the instant Haith’s departure for Tulsa became known, I got a text about Anderson from one longtime Big Eight/Big 12 administrator with a keen perspective on basketball:
“God is at work. Stars are aligned … Perfect timing.”
There are some who think otherwise, some who think Mizzou needs a blockbuster name or at least a resume that includes Division I distinctions. Ben Howland, who took UCLA to three-straight Final Fours and doesn’t have a job, would fit the criteria.
There are those who don’t think Anderson can recruit at this level, which is code for he’s too nice a guy. If so, the issue is the game, not Anderson.
Alas, recruiting is treacherous, and it’s a reasonable question because you can’t win without players.
But why should it be assumed that Anderson’s way and values wouldn’t appeal to recruits?
And while there probably aren’t enough players in the state to stock the program properly, here’s a tidbit to consider.
Tyler Hansbrough of Poplar Bluff, Mo., wanted to go to Missouri but ended up at North Carolina in part because of concerns about the chaotic program being run by Quin Snyder … who had plenty of flash.
Hansbrough went on to a sterling collegiate career and helped the Tar Heels win the 2009 national title.
His father, Gene, has known Anderson for years, and when I called him Saturday he said he’d be “proud to call Anderson a friend” and expects he’d be great for MU.
He was uncomfortable being asked a hypothetical question about whether Tyler (and later his son, Ben) would have gone to Mizzou if Anderson had been the coach, but I believe they would have.
That’s only one example, and it’s hard to say what it proves about Anderson’s ability to attract out-of-state recruits.
But it does say that the Sedalia native would connect in the state in ways that many others can’t.
Maybe that would have made a difference with Scott County Central’s Otto Porter, who ended up at Georgetown, and other transformative, foundational type players in the state.
There are no guarantees, of course, but the pedigrees of Snyder, Mike Anderson and Haith didn’t add up to enough in the end for Mizzou.
MU has been there, done that, with others and snubbed Anderson three times along the way.
That might make some think twice about wanting to work there now, but Anderson is such a “true son” he probably even knows the words to that fight song. He’ll want to be here for keeps, and I believed he’d earn it.
Missouri football has adopted the slogan “Mizzou Made.” Basketball could do well to return to that, something athletic director Mike Alden inadvertently pointed out as he described the job before the last coaching search.
“This is the face of basketball in the state of Missouri,” he said in 2011. “Frankly, this is one of the more visible folks in the entire state. It has to be someone who embraces that, doesn’t shy away from it.”
If so, MU could do a lot worse than Kim Anderson.