The truth of the matter is Missouri needed Mike Anderson more than Mike Anderson needed Missouri. Or at least, at the moment it seems that way.
We'd been through this before, the latest having been just last offseason and the coach flirting with a Nike-powered University of Oregon proposal. It is the life of the non-elite basketball school. Coaches either flop or move on to bigger and better things. The Norm Stewart style tradition of endlessly coaching for one university decade after decade seems to have gone by the wayside in college basketball, Coach K notwithstanding.
After all, it was just five years ago this same Mizzou program — then in shambles from the wake left by good ole Quin Snyder —lured Anderson away from the University of Alabama-Birmingham and into the spotlight and the fire of a major college athletics program in a serious world of hurt. Mizzou was simply the next step in the process; the university acting as just another point in the journey for the coach, not the destination.
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Following Anderson's departure was not unlike riding a rollercoaster. Conflicting reports surfaced from Columbia and Tulsa over the course of the past few days, each swaying the emotions of fans, students, and alum of Mizzou and Arkansas alike. Eventually something had to give. And it did.
In the end, the coach's heart was with the Razorbacks and Arkansas, where he spent 17 seasons as an assistant to his friend and mentor, Nolan Richardson. The pair won a national championship there in 1994 playing the same "40 minutes of hell" brand of basketball we've come to know at Mizzou.
"I don't feel Coach Anderson would have left here for any other place besides Arkansas," returning senior, Marcus Denmon, sitting next to fellow teammates Laurence Bowers and Kim English, said in the Anderson-less press conference held in Columbia Wednesday.
Anderson was beloved at Mizzou, which makes this ending and the ugliness of the past week all-the-more harder to swallow. The coach who led Mizzou basketball out of the circus that was the Quin Snyder-era and into a consistent Big 12 conference contender will now, almost undoubtedly be despised by the majority of those who proudly sport the black and gold.
The legacy of the man who returned the school's basketball program to respectablity will forever be scarred by feelings of disloyalty and betrayal.
For Mizzou, there are questions yet to be answered. The coaching search is on — Butler's Brad Stevens being the most interesting name popping up thus far — and there's plenty of talk already about whether or not the Pressey brothers will jump ship with "Uncle" Mike and deliver yet another blow to the Tiger-faithful.
As for the uncertainty of this moment and looking ahead to next season, Mizzou fans can rest-assured the roster won't be starved for senior leadership.
"I play for Missouri," Bowers, also a returning senior along with English, affirmed. "Coach has moved on, so hopefully Missouri can move on."
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The pressure is certainly on for Mizzou Athletic Director, Mike Alden. Some said he hit a homerun in hiring Anderson five years ago. Expectations would dictate nothing short of that this time around.
He's saying the right things, that he loves Mike, wishes him the best, and all the rest. Most importantly, he says emphatically the next Missouri head basketball coach will have to "want" to be there. As simple as that sounds, the absence of mutuality may have ultimately been the crutch in the relationship between Mizzou and its former coach.
The realization that the school has that luxury — to pick and choose, and to be wanted — where it didn't five years ago tells you all you need to know about the job Anderson did and the possiblities for Mizzou basketball going forward.
So it seems the truth of the matter is Missouri needed Mike Anderson more than Mike Anderson needed Missouri five years ago. The program is better off for having known him but yet still better now for having said goodbye.
Five years ago Missouri basketball had fallen on black days. Today, the future is bright.