In the two major sports (football and men’s basketball), firings at Missouri are a rarity. Bob Stull was run out of town after failing to dig Mizzou Football out of a pit in 1993. His successor, Larry Smith, briefly found the surface but fell back into the hole and got let go in 2000. Quin Snyder was eventually fired by Mike Alden (via Gary Link) in 2006, once someone could actually track him down.
For all of the tortuous moments that defined a couple of generations of Mizzou fandom — the Fifth Down, Tyus Edney, the Flea Kicker, etc. — over these last three decades, only three men were asked to hand in their ID badge and leave the premises. On Sunday, that list increased by 33 percent.
My brain seems to treat a firing is like a breakup: When it happens, I immediately start searching back to what went wrong. In this case, that search tends to take me back to the beginning.
Below, with some annotations, is what I wrote on April 28, 2014, right after Anderson was asked to take the job he had lived his entire life to take. In the attempt to figure out how things went wrong, we might as well trace back to when it apparently went wrong.
In essence, everybody's right. The pessimist who points out that Missouri just hired a 58-year old with no Division I experience, the optimist with Mizzou Pride™ for days who hasn't felt this connected to the basketball program in years. We are in unchartered territory here, and in the absence of proof, we're basically all right.
That ceases to be the case when evidence emerges, I guess.
Missouri just hired a 58-year old with no Division I head coaching experience. The last time Kim Anderson was on the sideline for a DI game, Albert White was blowing a layup and Brian Grawer was suffering what felt like his first shooting off-night in months, and Missouri was losing to New Mexico in the 1999 NCAA Tournament in Denver.
Albert White is now approaching 40 years old. Brian Grawer is a pharmaceuticals salesman. Jakeenan Gant was still about two years away from starting kindergarten when this game ended. I was a college sophomore. So many good (2002 Elite Eight, 2009 Elite Eight, 2009 and 2012 Big 12 Tournament runs) and bad things (Ricky Clemons, Athena, the popcorn in St. Louis, Norfolk State) have happened since Kim Anderson last directly represented the University of Missouri. For many of us, our entire Mizzou lives have happened. This whole time, Kim Anderson has been coaching a Division II school. [...]
When we were defending the hire of Quin Snyder over Anderson to angry Norm Truthers on Tigerboard 15 years ago, I distinctly remember The Beef once saying "What, we're going to win with a team of 13 Matt Rowans?" And I was right there with him, jealous that I hadn't come up with that myself. His lack of a recruiting pedigree can be overcome, but there's no guarantee that it will be.
According to Rivals.com, Anderson’s recruiting classes included, with help from Frank Haith’s efforts, six four-star recruits (Teki Gill-Caesar, Namon Wright, Jakeenan Gant, K.J. Walton, Texas transfer Jordan Barnett, 2017 signee C.J. Roberts) and another top-150 guy (Terrence Phillips).
Is that enough talent to threaten for a national title? Not even close. But it’s good enough to threaten .500 records. Recruiting wasn’t great, but recruiting wasn’t the reason the Tigers were this damn bad for Anderson’s entire tenure.
And for all of the praise that Anderson has gotten from Missouri high school coaches this past week, it was Missouri recruiting that seemed to taper off and hurt the most. That people respect Kim Anderson is great; at some point, it will help if they prove that respect by encouraging their star players to give the local school a look. And they might not.
In the 2014-17 classes, the state of Missouri produced one five-star recruit (Jayson Tatum), five four-star recruits (Jordan Barnett, Jimmy Whitt, Landry Shamet, Xavier Sneed, Tyler Cook), and 24 three-star recruits. Missouri signed a total of two of these players: three-stars Kevin Puryear and Cullen VanLeer. In some cases, Anderson and his staff offered the wrong players. In other cases, those players didn’t seriously consider the home-state school. Regardless ... two Missouri signees for the Missouri man.
Meanwhile, average home attendance at Mizzou Arena sank from an already flailing 9,215 in 2013-14 (Frank Haith’s last season) to 8,064 in Anderson’s first year.
To put that another way, hiring a Missouri guy meant jack squat. It didn’t benefit Mizzou in recruiting, and it didn’t bring people to the arena.
Missouri just hired the Truest Son of all. The sap emanating from local writers desperate for a revival of all things 1995 was hard to take, but there's a very good chance that a lot of us either will get sucked into the nostalgia or already have. We can debate how important truly "knowing" Missouri is to doing a good job.
It definitively is not.
Each of the last three hires, with nonexistent Mizzou ties, had good seasons and good runs. Their failings had nothing to do with not knowing Missouri well enough. And while Mike Anderson left for another school without his seat being very hot, Frank Haith left to avoid getting fired. It's not like non-True Sons have ditched Mizzou left and right through the years. Missouri probably could have found someone else who valued this job and wouldn't think about leaving it without resorting to Kim Anderson if it didn't want to.
But it wanted to. Mike Alden had no obligation to do this; in fact, if Kim Anderson succeeds, the "He shoulda been hired in 1999" crowd will get even louder and, frankly, more annoying. (And if Anderson fails, this crowd will just blame Alden for not giving him enough support.) But Alden made the hire anyway, and he did so because he thought Kim Anderson could not only bring Mizzou back to Mizzou, but also win a lot of basketball games.
Missouri just hired an honors student. We'll see how Anderson goes about proving doubters wrong when it comes to his ability to score top-level talent, both within and outside of the Show-Me State. But nobody doubts the man's prowess for coaching the game of basketball, the man's Missouri ties, and the man's class. Mizzou will now be led by one of the best, brightest basketball products the school has ever produced. And for those who belong in the "basketball is basketball" camp, this Mizzou product has 274 career NCAA basketball wins to his name.
Three years later, he had barely hit 300 career wins. Basketball at one level might not be directly correlated to basketball at another.
This could fail. Of course it could. For all the talk of Kim Anderson's acumen and goodguyness and truesonism, this might not work out. Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright jump ship or just don't work out. Year 1 doesn't go incredibly well, and recruiting is as iffy as is feared. Development takes awhile. A flood of in-state two- and three-star recruits end up basically putting up a strong fight, playing hard, making everybody proud, and finishing 17-15 every year.
Even this pessimistic, worst-case scenario was two times too optimistic about the win total.
This could also work. Tim Fuller stays. Gant and Wright stay on board and mix well with a relatively talented sophomore class. Anderson's first or second teams do well, blessed with the offensive talent they brought to Columbia and the defensive tenacity engrained in them by Anderson and his assistants.
Mizzou ranked higher than 165th in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings just once in three season and only once ranked higher than 222nd on offense.
With proof of success and Mizzou Pride overflowing, the next batch of local talent -- the Jayson Tatums of the world -- come aboard, too, and early success begets later success.
Kim Anderson was not my first choice for this hire, and it annoyed me when his name was brought up, presumably by the people who always brought his name up. I thought it was a tease, unfair to both Anderson and the portion of the Mizzou fanbase particularly fond of the Norm Stewart era. But here we are. I was wrong.
The stars aligned for Kim Anderson to get his shot in Columbia. Gregg Marshall is still a year or two away from truly considering leaving Wichita State for a job in a major conference, and Anderson just painted his masterpiece in Warrensburg mere weeks before the Missouri job unexpectedly came open. This may not have been what we all expected, but the Kim Anderson era begins today. And if it works out, it will feel awfully good.
So let's hope for that.
It really would have felt good, even for those of us who started out pessimistic. But Anderson couldn’t hold onto players, dealt with constant turnover as a result (enough to make the Frank Haith years look downright stable from a roster perspective), and didn’t do a good enough job of developing the players who stayed.
Depending on who stays, Anderson leaves his successor a batch of players who have shown flashes of potential. Jordan Barnett is a potential 14 or 15 PPG scorer. Terrence Phillips could post some flashy assist numbers if he has actual jump shooters to pass to occasionally. Kevin Puryear could easily average 10-11 PPG; in fact, he already has. Reed Nikko could be solid and sturdy if/when healthy. K.J. Walton can draw contact on offense and steal the ball on defense. Et cetera. Perhaps change will do this roster good, and perhaps the existing pieces will mesh well with a new coach’s recruiting touches.
Missouri will be good at basketball again. It would have been great if it had happened under Kim Anderson. But now the school looks for someone who can bring the program back to respectability after an unfortunate but — let’s not sugar coat it — truly disastrous three seasons of basketball.