Missouri hired Kim Anderson as its new men's basketball coach on Monday in part because Anderson is a former Tigers player and assistant and thus one of its own. It also hired Anderson because it believes basketball is basketball no matter what level it is played at, and the newest coach at one of the better jobs in the SEC just won the Division II national title with Central Missouri. Still, Anderson is also 58 years old and has never directed a Division I program, and he's taking over a team that just lost its only three players to score more than six points per game.
All of which means that whatever success the Tigers manage in 2014-15 will be due in large measure to how good their new coach is. Only three returning players averaged double-figure minutes and rising sophomore Johnathan Williams III is the top returning scorer at a mere 5.8 points per game.
Anderson is certainly used to succeeding with unfamiliar players. According to Mizzou's news release, his Central Missouri squad that won the Division II national title this past season had 10 new players and no returning players who had averaged more than 4.7 points per game the year before. “He’s a proven winner on all levels, and he’s built tremendous relationships around the country in the basketball community, which assists greatly with recruiting and other important aspects for a program,” athletic director Mike Alden said in a statement. “The fact that he’s a Missouri Tiger at heart is important, he is committed to Mizzou and has a passion to build a program of which all Tiger fans will be proud.”
Anderson built plenty in 12 years at Central Missouri before taking over for Frank Haith, who left to be the head coach at Tulsa. Anderson's Mules teams went 274-93, a .743 winning percentage that put him in the top 10 all-time for Division II coaches. Central Missouri won the national title this season on its third Final Four trip since 2007 and Anderson was the NABC coach of the year.
This is analogous to the gamble Wisconsin took more than a decade ago. Then-athletic director Pat Richter had an opening and called the coach down the road, who had just finished his second season at Milwaukee after 15 years at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville that featured four national championships.
“Are you ready?” Richter asked Bo Ryan.
“You know I'm ready,” Ryan replied.
The Badgers have won 72 percent of their games since and reached the Final Four earlier this month, so Ryan's self-appraisal was on point. Missouri certainly hopes it's a rough template for the adjustment Anderson must make now.
The Tigers' new coach had 11 years of apprenticeship across two stints under longtime Missouri coach Norm Stewart, but he hasn't recruited at the Division I level since 1999, and talent assessment and acquisition is a priority given the state of the roster. But then only Kentucky and Florida loom as juggernauts in the SEC, so it might not be long before Missouri is back in the NCAA tournament, which it had advanced to five straight years before going to the NIT this past season. That just assumes Anderson's message translates to the level of athlete he'll coach one level up, and that is the leap of faith Missouri took Monday.
“When we took over in Warrensburg 12 years ago, we faced an uphill battle,” Anderson said in a statement. “We had support, we had a winning history and great campus leadership, but the program had lost its identity. I see that same opportunity here at Missouri. We have great leadership with (chancellor Bowen) Loftin and Mike Alden, and I know we have a passionate fan base. We have a lot of work ahead of us and that work starts today, but as a Missourian I embrace this challenge and look forward to bringing championship basketball back to Norm Stewart Court and Mizzou Arena.”
After Stewart patrolled the sideline for 32 years, the Tigers' last three full-time coaches – Quin Snyder, Mike Anderson and Haith – have had stints of six, five and three seasons, respectively. Missouri turned to one of its own to steady the program Monday. It's fair to wonder if a Division II coach would have received any consideration at all if he didn't have two degrees from the school, if he wasn't a former Big 8 player of the year for the Tigers and if he hadn't learned at Stewart's side.