Norm Stewart retired as the Missouri head coach in 1999 finishing 32 years as the one and the only True Son turned head coach and reformer and builder of what many fans still think of when they think of Mizzou Hoops.
Since Norm, the program has been scrambling a bit, and they’ve hired five coaches with only Quin Snyder lasting past a 5th season at the helm. Missouri fans, meanwhile, are always searching for the next Norm. But finding the next Norm has proven really difficult to accomplish.
The connection to Norm was two-fold. Clearly the success he had, but also a Missouri native and graduate of the University leading to that success. Norm was born in tiny Shelbyville, MO and went to Mizzou as a high level two-sport athlete in the mid 1950s. He played both baseball and basketball, and returned to Mizzou as the head coach in 1967. After 5 years he had the program in the NIT, and in the 9th year they were in the NCAA Tournament (keeping in mind that it was far more difficult to make the tournament until it expanded in the 80s). Once they made the tournament they would proceed to make the tournament in 16 of the next 24 seasons before Norm retired. But from 1980 through 1995 he would make the tournament 13 times, the NIT once, and the program had just two seasons without postseason play (one of them was a probation season). Needless to say, Norm was really, really good at Missouri.
But where Norm wasn’t good is building a tree with deep roots. The list of players who played under Norm, or coached with Norm, and went on to bigger better jobs is very light. The list is basically Bob Sundvold (who’s doing well at UMSL right now), Rich Grawer (who was only with Norm for one season), Larry Drew (who’s been in the NBA his entire career), and ** ahem ** Kim Anderson.
The want and need for the next Norm is so great that fans will inevitably bring up Larry Drew each time there’s a coaching position open. Drew has shown little to no interest in returning to his roots, however.
Eventually, Missouri fans will have to turn the page on Norm. But I doubt they’ll ever turn the page on wanting one of their own to lead the program back to the land of the elite.
Enter Kim English.
While Norm resonates more with older fans, most everyone remembers Kim for his time at Missouri.
Kim was a freshman on the Mike Anderson team which revived the Mizzou brand with a run to the Elite 8 in 2009. He was a senior on the Frank Haith team which captured hearts and minds as they raced to 30 wins and a Big 12 Tournament Title in the school’s swan song in the Big 12. In short, Kim English was a part of — and played a significant role in — the best four year stretch of Mizzou Basketball since Norm left.
After a brief playing career, English zagged where most former players have zigged over the years. Kim knew he wanted to coach, so he went and got into coaching. He accepted a job in 2015 at Tulsa with Haith. He was on the bench the only season Haith led the Golden Hurricane to the NCAA tournament. He then went to Colorado where he helped Tad Boyle put together the roster which would land the Buffaloes a 5-seed in last year’s tournament. Then finally he went to Tennessee so he could work under Rick Barnes. With Tennessee he helped assemble two top 10 recruiting classes, including helping land Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, and Kennedy Chandler.
After a couple seasons behind Rick Barnes, Kim took the George Mason job. It was a homecoming of sorts as he grew up in the Baltimore area, and George Mason is just about an hour south of his hometown of Randallstown, MD.
George Mason was the perfect first step for Kim. The Atlantic 10 is a very good league, but there’s some relief at the bottom. The DC-Maryland-Virginia area is a fertile recruiting ground which Kim knows well. And it didn’t take him long to find players, landing a 4-star wing from IMG Academy, and a 3-star point guard with plenty of high major suitors.
While the off the court stuff has been good, the on court results have been mixed. GMU started 4-0, including a win over Maryland (something which had never happened). The win at Maryland might’ve made Mark Turgeon quit. But the Patriots would lose their next five games and stumbled to a 14-16 record. Now 9 of those losses were within 5 points or less, so it’s easy to see why George Mason had their best KenPom rating since 2012, while also having just the second losing record since Dave Paulson’s first year in 2016.
So the first year in his head coaching career wasn’t exactly great. But it also wasn’t as bad as the record says it was.
This isn’t anything like the last time we hired a “True Son” named Kim. The first time, Anderson had not done anything to warrant earning the head job at Missouri. English has been strategic in his approach and plan to be a high-major basketball coach since his time as a player. He cultivated relationships with donors and media. He took positions on three different benches with coaches who have three different philosophies. He had opportunities to get a head coaching job before George Mason, but held off. He took the George Mason job because it’s a good job, and it’s a good job that helps him get to the next job. The job he wants.
What we know is Kim is a really smart and well thought of in industry circles. He’s shown he can recruit as an assistant and as a head coach. He’s been pinned as a fast rising up-and-coming coaching talent to watch by a lot of people. So this is much more than the “He’s one of ours” narrative might suggest. He IS one of ours, but he’s mapped this out.
The problem is... it’s early.
Ideally, Cuonzo Martin could have been able to push this decision out a few more years. But he didn’t, and now you have a choice. Kim has a chance to be a star in coaching. Do you move on English too early, and risk that he’s not ready? Or do you go elsewhere and risk it being too late?
For the first time in 60 years Missouri has one of their own in a position to be the guy for a long time. And the timing may not be right.
Regardless, if Kim English is the hire this is not a pity hire or a dumb move. It’s a small gamble, but a gamble on the upside. English is legitimately on other hot boards. It is a bit early, and you’d like to see him have a little more time to cook at George Mason. But here’s what I think, at worst Kim would upgrade the talent on the roster. At worst he should have teams good enough to keep you out of the Wednesday play in game in the SEC Tournament. At best, you could have your next Norm Stewart.