Former Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson is expected be named St. John’s latest basketball coach as soon as today, according to the New York Post and other news organizations.
That news is bound to make many Razorback fans and Fayetteville citizens very happy because despite the desire for change at the top of the Arkansas basketball program, Anderson remains a beloved and respected man by just about everyone who knew him.
Even Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek praised him once he got around to speaking about why he chose to replace Anderson, calling it one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever made because of Anderson’s character.
No doubt that praise helped as Anderson pursued another position.
The St. John’s job isn’t going to be easy. Anderson’s replacing a program legend in Chris Mullin, who led the school to NCAA prominence as a player in the 1980s before a long and outstanding NBA career.
Mullin wasn’t able to return the Red Storm back to the position it held in the college basketball world when Lou Carnesecca prowled the St. John’s sidelines in his trademark sweaters from 1973-92.
It may seem a bit odd that Anderson is taking over another resurrection job at a once-prominent program after being dismissed from a similar situation at Arkansas.
From the outside looking in, it certainly must appear like Anderson couldn’t escape the long shadow of his mentor Nolan Richardson and his remarkable tenure as the Hogs’ basketball coach just like Stan Heath and John Pelphrey before him.
It’s certainly true that Anderson did not approach the standard of winning that Richardson or his predecessor Eddie Sutton set at Arkansas. It was a very high bar, and anyone who doesn’t understand that is fooling themselves.
However, what Anderson did do is clean up a huge, decade-long mess that started with Richardson’s meltdown at a press conference in 2002 that Anderson, then a Richardson assistant, watched while shaking his head in the back of Walton Arena’s media room.
The mess that was Arkansas’ basketball program after Richardson’s bitter departure got even worse with the mismanagement of the program on nearly all levels by Heath for five seasons and Pelphrey for four. Both were clearly in over their heads.
What Anderson did do at Arkansas possibly better than anyone else could ever have done is restore the Razorback basketball program’s foundation. Anderson ran a solid, ethical program, and he left the program in stable condition from the bottom up for Arkansas’ latest head coach Eric Musselman to continue to build.
Anderson did a ton of heavy lifting at Arkansas just to regain the program’s respectability so that he would have a chance to win. He left the Razorback program much better than he found it, and he left it where Musselman only has to worry about the basketball and not a lot of other issues that would keep his attention off the court.
As great as Sutton and Richardson were as coaches — and make no mistake they were both great — neither one can say they left the program in good shape when they departed.
Anderson played a large role in restoring Richardson’s legacy to the program. To say the least, Richardson burned bridges with his actions directly before and then after his dismissal by suing the UA.
Time had passed when Anderson took the Arkansas job in 2011, but if anyone thinks those wounds would have healed on either side without Anderson applying salve and mending fences, they just don’t understand.
Anderson restored the link between the Razorback basketball program and Richardson like no one else could have. While Anderson wasn’t able to win enough to “feed the monster” as Richardson might say, Anderson left the Arkansas program so much better off than he found it in every way.
Razorback fans should remember and appreciate that.
Again it seems odd that a coach who built his resume and reputation in states like Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama and Oklahoma is taking over a Big East program situated in the heart of New York City. All involved are in for a culture shock. But then again, maybe Anderson is the right man to handle the mess that has become of the St. John’s basketball program?
He has certainly had experience with tough situations.