Successful D-II coach Kim Anderson finally gets chance to rescue Missouri basketball

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

Overlooking the fact that Missouri paid a search firm a reported $42,500 to "discover" an alum and former staffer from 90 minutes away who would have camped out on a billboard for a month to get the school's basketball coaching job, this may work out OK.

Kim Anderson has been compared to Bo Ryan often during Mizzou's cloak-and-dagger, 11-day coaching search. He fits the Ryan archetype: a big winner on a lower level in the state, and a guy with ties to the school. He bided his time. He's been around. He is the kind of familiar name the locals crave.

Now all the 58-year-old Anderson has to do is win like Ryan has at Wisconsin. Or, OK, win at least 75 percent as much as Ryan has at Wisconsin.

Athletic director Mike Alden is banking heavily that the coach who just won a Division II national title at Central Missouri will do just that.

Alden hit a home run with Gary Pinkel, who is at least in the discussion of being the best football coach in school history. But Alden has taken heat for his basketball hiring record: Quin Snyder was considered a coup but became a calamity; Mike Anderson had some very good seasons but left a disorganized program when he bolted to Arkansas; and Frank Haith was a panicky fallback hire when the very public courtship of Purdue's Matt Painter blew up in the late stages.

The three full-time coaches of the post-Norm Stewart Era were from various backgrounds: hot assistant at power program; coach who had thrived at a mid-major; flashy recruiter from an ACC school. What none of them offered was a tie to school. So here on Hire No. 4, Alden opted for a guy who is so Mizzou he might as well have been born at the base of the columns on Francis Quadrangle.

Kim Anderson is from Sedalia, Mo., a 70-mile drive from the Missouri campus. He played for Stewart at Mizzou in the mid-1970s and was part of one of the better teams in school history – the 1975-76 squad that won the Big Eight and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. He coached under Stewart twice, in both the '80s and '90s. And his one and only head-coaching gig also was within the womb of mid-Missouri, where he won 75 percent of his games as coach of the Mules.

So this unconventional lower-division hire paradoxically is a safety hire for Alden. He is giving the cranky old guard – a significant portion of which has stopped attending games – exactly what it's wished for repeatedly at hiring time.

The maudlin Norm Stewart sentimentalists who have decried the departure from the Good Old Days now have their guy – a guy who was passed over for this job a couple of times previously. The Norm nostalgia is a powerful thing at Mizzou – and a perplexing thing, given his grand total of zero Final Fours and multiple early NCAA flameouts in 32 fiery years on the job. Hiring Anderson should bring some of the old guard back into the fold, supporters waving their pompons and dabbing their eyes at the return of a True Son, as the fight song goes.

They will have an entire offseason to exult in having a coach who "gets Mizzou." The bigger question is whether he gets players.

Can Anderson move up from D-II and compete with John Calipari and Billy Donovan for Southeastern Conference-caliber players? Or, reality check, at least compete with Bruce Pearl, Johnny Jones and Mike Anderson?

For that reason, staff will be key. Retaining Tim Fuller, a key recruiter on Haith's staff, would probably be a good start (Haith's issues were X's and O's, not talent procurement). That could also help solidify the roster for next season – the transfer and de-commit rate is at epidemic proportions presently in college hoops, and a team that already will be talent-deficient will need every man it can keep.

The good news for Kim Anderson is that he is not following a world-beater in Haith, so expectations will be realistic for a couple of years at least. But even familiar names must win sooner or later.

Comfort hires that connect fans with a program's glory days are risky ventures. In football, Colorado and USC bombed spectacularly in recent years with Jon Embree and Lane Kiffin, respectively. Charlie Weis was a Notre Dame alum who won the press conference and several games his first two years, then lost his job because he was in over his head. Basketball probably has a better track record in that regard among current head coaches, with several former assistants or alums doing well: Mike Cronin at Cincinnati; Chris Mack at Xavier; Tom Izzo and Jamie Dixon and Mark Few moving over a chair at Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Gonzaga, respectively; and pretty much the entire Butler coaching tree.

But following that pattern is less important for Kim Anderson than following the Bo Ryan path. If he can do that, Missouri basketball might finally have found its next long-term success. And the cranky old guard will be ecstatic.

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