March 06, 2017

Kim Anderson was told more than a week ago this would be his final season leading Missouri, making for an awkward finish to the regular season for the man who called coaching the Tigers his dream job.

The school announced Sunday that Anderson had been asked to step down before finishing his third season at his alma mater. But in reality, Anderson was told by athletic director Jim Sterk about 10 days ago that a change would be made following this week's SEC Tournament.

''It's a performance-based business, and production, and we just didn't win enough games,'' Anderson said Monday in his first comments since the announcement. ''One thing I would never wish on anybody is to try to coach a basketball team after you knew you weren't going to be coming back.

''It's hard to concentrate on what you're doing,'' Anderson said, ''but I actually think we did a good job. I think my staff did a good job. And certainly Missouri is a special place to me.''

Anderson grew up in nearby Sedalia and starred for the Tigers in the 1970s, then began two successful stints as an assistant to beloved coach Norm Stewart. He proceeded to lead Division II Central Missouri to a national championship before taking on the head coaching job at Missouri.

To say that he inherited a mess would be an understatement. Not only had the program fallen off under Frank Haith, it had also become embroiled in a number of off-the-court issues.

''We were hired three years ago to stabilize the program and bring a culture to this program and we've done that,'' Anderson said. ''The only thing we haven't done is win games.''

But that's the bottom line in college basketball, and Anderson only managed a 26-67 record heading into Wednesday's game against Auburn in the SEC Tournament. He never won a true road game during his tenure, and a 2-14 record in SEC play this season tied a school and conference record for losses.

Perhaps more damning has been the lack of interest in the program. Attendance has plummeted from the levels experienced under Mike Anderson, who took the Tigers to three straight NCAA Tournaments and then bolted for Arkansas, and empty seats often outnumber full ones at Mizzou Arena.

''I always told my staff when people quit coming to games, that's when we won't be here anymore, and that's what happened,'' Anderson said. ''But there's no bitterness from me. Everybody has a bucket list and a couple things on my bucket list were to win a national championship and be the head coach at the University of Missouri. I'd just have liked to do that at the University of Missouri.''

The school is already conducting a search for a new coach, and some of the names linked to the Tigers include California coach and East St. Louis-native Cuonzo Martin, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, Indiana coach Tom Crean and Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall.

When asked about his spot on the list, Marshall said he was ''flattered.''

''It's very humbling to hear that, but ... I don't know how all that's going to play out,'' said Marshall, whose team won the Missouri Valley Tournament on Sunday. ''I could easily retire at Wichita State, if they'll have me. My contract says I'll be there at least another seven years. But we don't stick our head in the sand, either. That's just the way we've always done it.''

There is certainly potential at Missouri.

The program's facilities are some of the best in the SEC, and the league itself is often wide open aside from Kentucky's dominance. There are also plenty of talented prospects in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, even though Anderson too often struck out on landing them.

But there are also a number of pitfalls. The school has been dealing with a number of off-the-court issues that have caught the attention of the NCAA, and more trouble could loom after a former tutor said last November that she was involved in at least a dozen instances of academic fraud.

The school has said it is investigating those allegations.

''Missouri is a special place,'' said Anderson, who hopes to continue his coaching career elsewhere after taking a break. ''But when you don't win games, you don't get to stay and that's the way it goes.''

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