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Welcome to Jimmy Sexton's World, Part II

Forty-eight weeks ago, Mizzou fans suffered through a weekend of fear and the unknown.  Oregon tracked Mike Anderson down at a golf tournament in El Paso and offered him enough money that he had to at least briefly consider the position before turning it down.  His agent, however, told him to keep quiet for a little bit to see if he could squeeze anymore money out of Missouri because of the fear factor.  In the end, he really didn't, and by Sunday Anderson had officially, publicly announced that he was staying with Mizzou.  In response, I wrote one of my favorite Rock M posts: Welcome to Jimmy Sexton's World.  A semi-ridiculous amount of it still rings true almost a year later.

I've seen quite a bit of consternation among Mizzou fans, not necessarily on RMN, but elsewhere, about how Mike Anderson clearly flirted with Oregon, and how he's more about the money than Mizzou fans thought, and that he's almost certainly going to leave soon.  One fan on another site even went so far as to say (paraphrased) "Part of me wants us to fire him so we at least have some control over the process."

As Mizzou fans, we are extremely spoiled in terms of loyalty -- Norm Stewart coached in Columbia for 32 years, and the last coach of a revenue sport we lost to a bigger job was Dan Devine ... who left to replace Vince Lombardi in Green Bay, a move I would think most of us would understand.  But as RPT said on last night's podcast (which I'm sure you ALL listened to ... possibly twice), welcome to big-time college basketball.  It's always been this way to an extent -- big-time coaches are always getting wooed toward bigger-time jobs -- but it is even more the case today.  If we want a big-time coach, we've got to pay up.  If we can't (and we're pretty much maxed out at the moment), we might lose him.

Maybe we'll have enough money to keep Anderson forever (clearly we don't need the most money to keep him, but we at least have to be semi-competitive), or maybe somebody (cough cough Arkansas) will scrounge around and put together just a stupid offer, to the extent that he has to consider it heavily.  But to make the big-time, you probably have to have a big-time coach ... and big-time coaches get big-time money.  Maybe Anderson will continue to turn down the offers coming his way, but they'll never stop coming at him as long as he's successful.

We've known for 12 months -- longer, really -- that there might come a day when Arkansas went after Anderson, and it appears that day came some time in the last week.  Anderson publicly stated that he had no interest in the job as of Thursday night, then disappeared.  He was seen at Otto Porter's state title game on Saturday, then at the JUCO national tournament in Hutchinson, KC, Saturday night, but that's all we know.

In the meantime, our boy Jimmy Sexton has worked his magic once again.

Because I said this on Friday, clearly I believed it when Anderson said it Saturday night.

All that quick conversation did was reaffirm that Missouri is home to us.

"Quick" is the key word there, of course.  Clearly he could just be painting a rosy picture, but I'm pretty sure this really was a pretty simple process for Anderson.  He was tracked down by Pat Kilkenny Thursday night, they met, and he either thanked him for his efforts and turned him down, or he said "I need to talk this over with my wife; can I get back with you in the morning?", talked it over with his wife, and decided to turn them down Friday morning.  We know that Kilkenny was out of town by Friday afternoon, and Anderson wasn't anywhere near him, so it's pretty clear that the decision was made by mid-day Friday.

Mike Alden, Chancellor Deaton and President Forsee were supportive throughout this process, and we plan on taking Tiger basketball to new heights. Oregon is a great university, but Mizzou is a special place for me and my family, and I’m proud to be your basketball coach here at Mizzou.

Standard official statement fare here.  In the end, Anderson politely listened to Oregon, took a moment or two (relatively speaking) to consider the offer on the table, and politely turned them down.  So why are Mizzou fans so annoyed?  Because he waited about 28 hours to make an official statement on the matter.  And why would he do that if he had already made up his mind?

Because of this guy.

Mike Anderson. Frank Beamer. Butch Davis. Jimbo Fisher. Phil Fulmer. Lane Kiffin. Houston Nutt. Bill Parcells. Rex Ryan. Nick Saban. Tommy Tuberville.  These guys (plus Tim Tebow, Michael Oher, DeAngelo Williams, and other players) are all represented by Jimmy Sexton's Athletic Resource Management.  Sexton is the Scott Boras of college coaches, and there is a reason his clients love him -- like Boras, he knows how to play the game.

Chances are, Mike Alden knew exactly what he was getting into when he hired a Sexton client, and chances are, the full weekend story from above went something like this:  He was tracked down by Pat Kilkenny Thursday night, they met, and he either thanked him for his efforts and turned him down, or he said "I need to talk this over with my wife; can I get back with you in the morning?", talked it over with his wife, and decided to turn them down Friday morning.  He talked to Sexton, who said "Don't say a word to anybody. Let me make a few phone calls first."  Sexton then tried to yank a few extra dollars from Mike Alden's molars, because that's what really good, really annoying agents do.

In a perfect world, Anderson would have told Sexton not to bother with the phone calls -- he loves Mizzou and wants to be here, so there's no need for last-second negotiation.  But yearning for a perfect world is the fastest way to become cynical enough that you stop enjoying sports.  When Anderson hired Sexton to do his business, the Sexton Treatment came with it, and we will have to deal with it as long as he is at Missouri.

Right now, there is a good chance that a) Arkansas thinks they're going to land Mike Anderson and b) Missouri thinks they're going to keep him.  Missouri has supposedly been working on an extension with Anderson for quite a while, but with a rumored offer on the table from Arkansas, Sexton has almost certainly been trying to leverage Mike Alden and company into spending a little more.  His main weapon of choice?  Rumors.  Sources.  All the words of the day that have been inescapable over the past few days.  In the world of Twitter, where word can spread with even shadier, shakier "sources" than before, Sexton has had a field day.  It has wreaked havoc, both on the presence of facts (we don't actually even know if an offer is on the table ... we just think there is) and on the psyche of Missouri fans.

When the oft-sleazy-but-oft-correct Sports By Brooks chimed in that Sexton was behind most of this weekend's buzz, I actually relaxed a little.  Let's put it this way: you know who else is a Jimmy Sexton client?  Gus Malzahn.  Maybe you remember how he spent a good portion of December.  Sexton got Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt!, to throw serious money at Malzahn to become their next head coach; it appeared he was signed, sealed and delivered to Vandy until Malzahn backed out at the last second and remained at Auburn (with a raise, naturally).  At this point, we don't know if Malzahn really was sold on Vandy, or if this was nothing but The Sexton Treatment all along; we just know that Sexton is attempting to follow exactly the same script on Missouri, Mike Anderson and Arkansas.

(As The Beef said in an e-mail yesterday ... we all need agents.)

Will it work?  At this point, I'm not convinced.  I woke up yesterday morning about 50 percent convinced that Anderson was going to be Mizzou's head coach next year; today, I woke up about 75 percent convinced.  Where you stand right now depends on a) whether you're an optimist or a pessimist (it's been fascinating watching how both personality types have handled the news of the last day or two), b) whether you believe Arkansas will get a hometown discount of sorts, and c) whether you believe one side or the other will blink (i.e. Arkansas, since Mike Alden almost certainly won't).  Me?  Well, a) I lean toward optimism (but you knew this), b) I've never have thought Anderson would ditch Columbia for Fayetteville without a significant raise, and c) right now, I don't think Arkansas will freak out and add a lot to the deal.  I could be proven wrong on all three counts one minute after this post gets published -- when someone like Sexton is attempting to create the least stable atmosphere possible, you can never be 100% confident in the outcome, and I was almost scared to write about this because of that -- but that's where I currently stand.

If he does leave?  Then it's time to see what Mike Alden, who hasn't made a bad hire in 12 years (Quin Snyder, who seemed like a pretty good hire for quite a while), can do.  With Alden's track record, there is really no reason to believe he won't make another good hire and the Mizzou basketball program won't continue to perform well.  Hopefully we don't have to find this out for sure -- there are no guarantees of success with new hires, which is why firing coaches is the scariest thing in the world besides driving on the Penna Turnpike in the rain, even when you have a good decision-maker in charge -- but all is not lost if Anderson ends up in Fayetteville.

But if he stays?  Then in one way, we face an extremely similar situation to last year.

What does this do for Anderson's long-term prognosis at Mizzou?  Nothing, really.  If he doesn't want to leave, he won't leave -- Phil Fulmer, after all, never left Tennessee (by choice).  Frank Beamer is still in Blacksburg.  If Anderson wants to stay, he'll stay, even if there are a few annoying phone calls and days of silence in the process.

Let's not overstate things here: yes, Friday and Saturday were pretty annoying, and yes, Anderson risked at least some temporary loss of good will through his inaction and Sexton's actions.  Even though it appears he did not really flirt much with Oregon, too much flirtation results in a disenchanted fanbase no matter what the product is on the court.  (In 2004, since we didn't have a Mizzou bowl game to attend, we went to the Liberty Bowl just for fun -- Louisville vs Boise State, and it was glorious -- and it was amazing to see the number of Louisville fans who were enjoying the Cardinals' success but were already fed up with Bobby Petrino's flirtation with seemingly every open job that came about and were ready for him to leave.  Anderson does not want that, and even if he isn't really flirting with anybody, his agent's actions risk him building that reputation.)  But this weekend does not even remotely change the long-term forecast for Mizzou and Anderson.  Maybe Arkansas comes at him guns-blazing, and maybe he leaves.  Maybe people come at him every year, and he retires here after 32 years just like Norm did.  Like a fight with a girlfriend (my analogy from yesterday's podcast), this does temporary damage, but the damage is undone as soon as both sides kiss and make up.  This was an annoying weekend, and now it's over, and it's time to go back to getting starry eyes about the 2010-11 season.  If we have to deal with another two-day fight with the girlfriend next April but things continue wonderfully after that, so be it.

In another way, however, this situation is completely different.  Last year, we knew Arkansas was on the horizon.  After this year, there would be no more "He coached there for decades" schools lingering out there as possibilities.  As our boy SleepyFloyd7 pointed out, "If CMA is the coach at Missouri next year, it is because he signed a LENGTHY contract extension with a MASSIVE buyout clause. He will be here for the long haul."  But will Missouri fans believe that?  How much goodwill has Anderson burned by at least momentarily considering other options of employment for three straight years?  I'm willing to move past this whole thing, simply because a) I'm like that, and b) we knew all along that Arkansas might be an issue.  But if Mizzou has a lot of success next year, some big-time, historical program (take your pick which ... I'm not looking at a specific example) comes calling, and we go through this entire ordeal again?  Let's just say that it will get a little more difficult to mend the fence each March or April.

As of Monday morning at 8:30, Mike Anderson is still the head coach at Missouri.  No actual official at either school has acknowledged that any of this has been more than "rumor and speculation," as Mike Alden called it Sunday evening.  For all we know, the reason Arkansas hasn't hired a coach yet is because they're waiting to go after Marquette's Buzz Williams.  Everything from this past weekend centered around "sources close to the Arkansas program," and you already know what I think about that.

In other words, almost nothing has changed since we all left work or school last Friday evening.  But it sure felt like a lot changed, didn't it?  I'll close with a comment Michael Atchison left in last year's Sexton post.  I can't think of a damn thing to add to it.

One thing the episode reinforced was that the internet slows time. People first heard about this after they got up on Friday, and it was over before they hit the sack on Saturday. That’s a blink of the eye. I’ve spent more time considering which running shoes I’m going to buy next than Mike Anderson spent considering an eight-figure job offer. But when you refresh your browser 300 times, it seems like you’re living through 300 news cycles without getting an update. A suggestion to those without the constitution to handle such a thing: Back away from the computer.

Another thing that it revealed is that people have no idea what “loyalty” means. Lots of folks demanded loyalty, but what they really want is fealty. They want Anderson to accede to their wishes. Mike Anderson spent four years as someone else’s coach before he became Missouri’s coach. If loyalty stood as his core principle, he’d still be at UAB. People also seem to hold him to a standard to which they’d never hold themselves. When powerful people make attractive offers, most folks listen. A fan who is too invested in a successful coach is like a guy involved with a woman who is a little too hot for him. They live in fear that another guy is going to steal her away. You need to have enough self-respect to say “if she goes, she goes” and not treat it as a character flaw when she actually stays.

I’ve also grown dumfounded by people who say what good is having a contract if the coach can leave? Folks, the contract says the coach can leave. The circumstances that govern his departure are memorialized in the buyout section. Welcome to 1978.