by Chris Bahn
Posted 3/24/2011 07:00 pm
Updated 7 months ago
ESPN Classic replayed the 1994 NCAA title game between Arkansas and Duke on Wednesday night. There honestly couldn’t have been a more appropriate way to end a day filled with so many nostalgic feelings for Razorback fans.
Former UA assistant Mike Anderson was announced hours earlier as the school’s new head coach. Anderson was on staff during the best run in school history. Arkansas won 389 games, the 1994 national title and went to three Final Fours with him assisting from 1985-2002.
But if the Anderson hire appeals to you only because he was at the school for 17 years, then it’s time to put away the Starter jacket, Ace of Base CD and VHS tapes. You’ve missed out on a lot that Anderson has accomplished since leaving.
Certainly, you can’t totally ignore that Anderson was a former Nolan Richardson player. He was Richardson’s right-hand man on the bench for nearly two decades and learned his craft from a Hall of Fame coach.
Anderson hasn’t shared a bench with Richardson since 2001-02. Richardson’s firing jump-started the head coaching career of Anderson, and he's been damn good.
Overall, Anderson is 200-98 overall as a head coach, not including 1-1 as interim for Arkansas at the end of the 2001-02 season. That’s a winning percentage of 67 percent and drew attention from Georgia and Oregon the past two seasons, though he turned down overtures from both schools.
It’s arguable — when judging solely on record — if what Anderson has done up to this point is worth the $2.2 million he’ll get annually. Anderson now ranks on a list of Top 10 highest-paid coaches, ahead of guys like North Carolina’s Roy Williams and UCLA’s Ben Howland.
There is no reason, however, to look at what Anderson has done at places with far less tradition, fan support and resources and think he isn’t capable of earning his money in Fayetteville. Count on an increase in season ticket sales the first year that will more or less pay Anderson’s salary. Imagine what will happen once he actually starts winning.
Look at what Anderson accomplished in rebuilding a pair of programs at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri. Anderson has six NCAA Tournament appearances in nine years as a head coach. Both programs were struggling when he arrived.
Anderson inherited a 13-17 team at UAB. Within two years, he had them in the Sweet Sixteen. He made the postseason each of his four years there.
Missouri was rife with academic, NCAA and discipline problems when Anderson took over for Quin Snyder at Missouri in 2006-07. Snyder was cited for 17 NCAA violations, and the Tigers were 28-33 the two years prior to Anderson.
Within three years they were in the Elite Eight. Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden said 12 of 15 seniors had graduated under Anderson, who used the “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” to become the fastest Missouri coach to 100 victories.
Anderson evaluated talent well enough at Missouri that he had three players named as Big 12 newcomers of the year. He brought the Tigers a school-record 31 wins in 2008-09 and their only Big 12 Tournament championship in 2008-09. Missouri’s last three years included wins in 72 percent of the Tigers’ games and three NCAA Tournament appearances.
Certainly, Anderson learned from one of the best. But he has succeeded on his own for the last nine years, something former player Blake Eddins sums up like so:
“We’re not going back to a high school reunion. We’re not just trying to relive the past,” Eddins said “We’re taking a great step into the future.”
Throw in Anderson's ties to the Razorbacks, and it is understandable why Jeff Long pursued him. Anderson is a known fit with the program, something that might have taken time to develop if a hot name (like Marquette's Buzz Williams, Purdue's Matt Painter, etc.) had been hired.
Look beyond the tie to the school when assessing the hire, though. Bringing Anderson home is more than an attempt to relive the glory days. If you want to stay in the past, I’ve got a copy of the 1994 Duke-Arkansas NCAA title game on VHS I can loan you, but while you're watching that you just might miss Anderson creating some Razorback history of his own.