Mizzou Makes the Right Choice — the Only Choice — to Keep Kim Anderson

Mizzou athletics director Mack Rhoades made the right call to stay with basketball coach Kim Anderson for a third season. But even though I support Anderson and agree with Rhoades’ decision, let’s be honest about this: realistically speaking, Missouri didn’t have much of a choice.

Firing Anderson would have been the easy part.

Hiring a new coach … well, good luck with that.

This is a terrible job right now. Unexciting and unappealing.

Who would want this gig at this moment in time?

I’m not talking about any coach. You can always find a warm body to take a head-coaching job at a Division I power conference, and Missouri basketball is housed in a modern arena. The facilities are good. So yeah, Rhoades could have recruited a new coach. But that misses the larger point.

If Anderson fails to turn things around, the next coach can’t be some pedestrian guy that has no juice. Mizzou will have to do this right, spend a bunch of money, and pursue aa dynamic leader. A coach that can win a lot of games. A personality that can woo the fans back to Mizzou Arena by generating buzz and reviving interest.

You don’t whack Anderson unless you have a substantial replacement lined up.

Josh Whitman, the new Illinois athletic director, wouldn’t have terminated Bill Cubit’s contract unless he had Lovie Smith waiting in the wings to take over the chronically underachieving football program. It would have been dumb to fire Cubit to bring in a new coach who was, at best, nothing more than a nominal upgrade.

The same logic applies to the Mizzou basketball. If Rhoades wants to make a change, then he has to go big. And if Rhoades isn’t in position to hire a coach that could radically transform the MU program on the court and at the ticket windows, there isn’t a good reason to make the change.

Why would an established winner or a young, up-and-coming hotshot coach leave a successful program to deal with the hazards that come with the Mizzou job? It makes no sense. I don’t think Rhoades shopped this gig around before deciding to keep Anderson. But even if Rhoades tried to make a few inquiries on the sly, he would have faced an awfully tough sell.

Missouri basketball has fallen off the map.

This nondescript program is little more than a minor curiosity.

Mizzou hoops leads the SEV in ambivalence. Or is it apathy?

A promising coaching candidate that took two minutes to glance at Columbia would be rattled by the multiple flashes of many warning signs:

— A campus still roiling after last fall’s student protests, with toxic accusations of racism still lingering in the air. Whenever race is involved, people basically lose their cool and their minds — all but assuring more hostility and turmoil and negative publicity for MU.

— A Missouri administration led by interim leaders who may not be in place a year from now. Administrators that will be easy targets for critics and the embittered small minds that seek revenge.

— A drop in athletic-department donations from contributors that were alienated — or at least aggravated — by the events of last fall including the polarizing boycott by the Missouri football team.

— Plans by the Missouri legislature to slash funding at Mizzou — an obvious payback for the administration’s handling of the divisive controversy that led to the resignations of the university system president and the MU chancellor.

— The basketball program’s Academic Progress Rate — severely damaged by transfers — could lead to Mizzou getting hit by a range of penalties, including a ban from postseason play and a reduction of practice time. As Dave Matter recently pointed out in the Post-Dispatch, Missouri’s multi-year APR average, disclosed each spring, ranked 13th in the SEC last May. And Mizzou’s status is even shakier because four players have transferred since the last APR report.

—  Mizzou basketball is waiting for the final report from the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on violations that took place under former coach Frank Haith. Missouri took a proactive approach by self-imposing penalties that include a postseason ban and loss of scholarships — but the NCAA will have the final say on sanctions.

The circumstances (ahem) aren’t ideal. Veteran coaches that already have a good job — and the coveted younger coaches that can choose among several attractive openings — aren’t going to run to Columbia right now. They’d be running away instead.

None of this is intended to absolve Anderson. He’s 19-44 in two seasons. That includes consecutive last-place finishes in the 14-team SEC. Anderson has gone 6-30 in the conference, and his team is winless in 18 SEC road games. Anderson’s .302 winning percentage is the poorest by a full-time coach in Mizzou basketball history. He must do better.

Perspective is required here. When Anderson signed on, he plunged into a mess. Mizzou was under NCAA investigation because of infractions that occurred during Haith’s term — but that information was kept from Anderson during his job interview at MU. Moreover, the Missouri roster was virtually stripped away to nothing by Haith’s neglectful recruiting. Anderson didn’t take on a fixer-upper job; he took on a complete reconstruction project.

Anderson’s first two seasons were overloaded with turmoil. According to accounting done by Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star, Mizzou has had nine players de-commit, transfer or be dismissed during Anderson’s 22 months as coach. And there have been 13 player suspensions.

Missouri’s young team logged a lot of minutes this season and should improve in 2016-2017. Anderson has another recruiting class on the way. For now the minimal progress can be rationalized by legitimate excuses, but the clock is running on that. And if Anderson doesn’t survive the 2016-2017 season, Mizzou’s financial obligation to Kim will drop from $900,000 to $600,000.

Rebuilding a collapsed program isn’t easy. We’ve seen highly successful coaches struggle to get through the rubble to put a new structure in place, and it can take more than two or three seasons. And that is true even for coaches that have won elsewhere.

Hired to clear the mountainous debris left by the rules-breaking Kelvin Sampson at Indiana, Tom Crean was 28-66 overall in his first three seasons at Bloomington — including a hideous 8-46 record in Big Ten play. Crean restored the Hoosiers to their customary prominence in his fourth season. The salty Frank Martin left his winning program at Kansas State to go to South Carolina and put oxygen in a lifeless team and had a three-season 15-39 mark in SEC games until breaking through for an 11-7 conference record (tied for third) this season.

Crean and Martin needed four seasons to strengthen emaciated programs.

Given the massive problems at Mizzou, why would anyone expect Anderson to get it done in two seasons?

That said, season No. 3 is essential for Anderson’s future.

A year from now, Missouri should be in a healthier position to pursue a new coach. Hopefully there will be peace on campus, stability at the administrative level, clarity on the APR and NCAA fronts, and a replenishment of funding. If that’s the case, Anderson will have to give Rhoades compelling reasons to ride into a fourth season with the same coach.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie