Mizzou Basketball Has A Winning Tradition To Sell. Can AD Jim Sterk Close the Deal?

Three things on Mizzou basketball: 

101ESPN’s Bernie Miklasz

1. I was in favor of Kim Anderson’s hiring as Mizzou’s basketball coach. For those who believed MU could do better, you were absolutely correct … and I was wrong. Many of us were wrong. I have to say I’m stunned by just how bad this turned out. With the Anderson hiring, my worst-case scenario was mediocrity. What happened was much, much worse. And while I maintain the highest personal respect for Anderson, his three-season run was a disaster, an abject failure. And I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to rationalize, or lessen, the magnitude of the program collapse. A 26-67 overall record, 8-46 in the SEC, 0-30 on the road, 0-15 vs. ranked teams, and home losses to UMKC, North Carolina Central, Eastern Illinois and Lipscomb. Thirteen players transferred. Home attendance dissipated, falling by some 40 percent. It’s unfortunate. It’s sad. But it’s silly to gloss over the truth. This was a catastrophe.

2. We’re about to see if Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk has game, serious game. Or if he’s just another AD-accountant. I don’t care about Sterk’s hirings during his stays (as the AD) at Washington State and San Diego State. All that matters now is THIS hire. It’s critically important. Sterk has to make an impact hire. He has to round up the boosters, the money guys, and be prepared to spend a lot of $$$$$ to get a coach that can clear the rubble and rebuild, ASAP. I’m confident Sterk will be given the financial muscle to make a strong hire. But can he sell the job? Can he entice a coach who’s reluctant to take over a program that has the worst winning percentage (.280) among the 75 major-conference teams over the last three seasons? Sterk should have the money to throw around, but the most appealing coaching candidates won’t have a problem finding a huge contract in the annual coaching derby. Sterk will have to pitch the potential of MU basketball and close the sale. If Sterk messes this up … aw, hell. I don’t even want to think about that. If Sterk is a light weight, Mizzou is doomed.

3. Mizzou can be a very good program, a great program, again. The last three seasons were pathetic. And the last three seasons were also an outlier. Kim Anderson’s record doesn’t define Mizzou basketball; the last three seasons were a mere snap shot, a small sample. Decades of success preceded this three-season flop, and the many seasons of winning basketball form the real template for what this program can be under the right leadership. Obviously, there is a substantial empty space in MU’s basketball history: the program has never played in a Final Four. I don’t ignore that. It’s something to point out … and I just pointed it out. But just because your program never reached the Final Four, it doesn’t mean the program is feeble, weak, a foot wipe. It doesn’t mean your program is feckless and hopeless and embarrassing and incapable of ever getting into the elusive Final Four.

When the young Norm Stewart took over as coach in 1967-68, he was given custody of a depleted program that had gone 6-43 in Bob Vanatta’s final two seasons.  Stewart needed a while to pull MU hoops out of the ditch, but began winning in 1971-72.

Over the next 43 seasons, this is some of what Missouri basketball did with Stewart, Quin Snyder, Mike Anderson and Frank Haith as head coaches:

— A winning percentage of .673. ( The scorecard: Stewart .656 … Snyder .581 … Mike Anderson .661 … Haith .731.)

— Twenty five appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Stewart’s Tigers competed in the tournament 16 times in his final 24 seasons. Snyder made it four times in seven years.  M. Anderson made it three times in five seasons. And Haith’s teams qualified for the NCAA twice in his three seasons.

— Stewart, Snyder and M. Anderson each advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.If your program can regularly qualify for the tournament and get as far as the Elite Eight — one win from the Final Four — then it can go all the way and win a championship. No one is saying that Mizzou is on a level with Kansas or Duke basketball. But this was a a prominent Missouri program that finished No. 3 in the final AP Poll as recently as 2012. And Missouri can be prominent again.

— All four coaches cited here had teams ranked in the Top 10 nationally during their terms in Columbia.  Stewart had 11 teams that surfaced in the Top 10 during a season; Snyder, M. Anderson and Haith each had two teams appear in the Top 10. Over the 43 years, 14 Missouri teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 in the final poll of the season.

— Mizzou has first-rate facilities including a 15,000-seat arena that’s hardly been used because few fans have showed up for men’s basketball games in recent seasons.

— The SEC is down, but let’s not exaggerate here. This is power-five conference that regularly lands multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament. The past five NCAA Tournaments have included between three and five SEC representatives per season. And there’s an opportunity for a quick rise in the SEC. Kentucky and coach John Calipari rule, and Florida has been very good … but Florida coach Billy Donovan (who won two national titles) moved onto the NBA two seasons ago and the Gators may or may not last near the top of the league.

Over the last three seasons Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M have won more conference games than Florida. And since the start of the 2014-15 season, 11 of the 14 SEC teams have fared no better than 31-23 in league games. The right coach can put Mizzou on a speedy escalator for a swift ride up.

One potential negative: Mizzou is being investigated for NCAA academic rules violations based on accusations made by a former tutor in the MU Athletic Academic Services department. The tutor claims that she took or assisted with entrance exams and completed classes for student-athletes. I have no idea where this is going, but it’s probably enough to unnerve at least some coaching candidates.

Well, no one said it’s going to be easy or that this is a dream job. And this is hardly the first hoops program to be under investigation during a coaching search. If Sterk isn’t concerned about the NCAA taking a hard look at Mizzou, then he needs to offer credible reassurance to interested coaches. And if Sterk is expecting grim news after the NCAA wraps up, then he needs to be truthful with candidates to establish trust. A coach that takes this gig has to know what he’s in for … all of it. Either way, it’s up to Sterk to market and sell the positives — and the potential — of the Mizzou job.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie 

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