Nice guys may finish last but being nice sure hasn’t hurt Mike Anderson’s job security.
When former Lady Razorbacks player India Lewis lost her battle with cancer last summer, Anderson traveled to Siloam Springs to show his support to the family. That is the kind of guy he is and why he is well-liked.
He’s a family man and respected around the UA campus. He’s approachable and classy. Anderson is everything you want in a coach outside of actual results.
That’s where the problem lies. Even though he’s never endured a losing season at Arkansas, he hasn’t brought Arkansas to the level of success that is expected — a level he enjoyed at the University of Missouri.
To be fair, Hogs basketball hasn’t been at a high level since Anderson’s old boss, Nolan Richardson, roamed the sidelines and the final few years of his tenure weren’t classic Hawg Ball, either.
In a word, Anderson’s tenure has been unremarkable. There have been few marquee wins. There have been three NCAA Tournament appearances and only two second-round appearances. No Sweet 16 trips.
It’s been a pattern of mediocre or slightly-above mediocre basketball. Forget the Fastest 40 moniker. That disappeared before it even began.
So, eight years in the state of the program is about average. Recruiting is average, winning is average. The style of play is average. Average. Mediocre.
Anderson isn’t paid millions to head an average basketball program. He was supposed to come in here and kick a bear’s butt and lead Arkansas to the Sweet 16 and beyond and reclaim the Hogs’ station as an elite SEC power.
Instead, we have watched as Kentucky is light years ahead and former also-rans Auburn and Tennessee are in the coveted Sweet 16 and Ole Miss and Mississippi State made great strides making the tournament.
Seeing those programs enjoying success isn’t easy to swallow for Hogs fans.
But as frustrating as the underachieving has been, no one is mad. Nobody is flying planes or putting advertisements in the newspaper calling for Anderson’s job. The amount of vitriol directed at former Hogs football coaches Houston Nutt and then Bret Bielema was astonishing.
Especially Bielema since he was only here for five years. Hog fans got nasty with him and former UA athletics director Jeff Long. A lot of anger and hatred spewed on message boards and talk radio. It was personal with all three of those guys. I will never understand that, but that’s a column for another day.
However, that is not the case with Anderson, and I am not sure that would be the case at other programs. Anderson is getting a pass. Partly because fans are so apathetic about basketball and frustrated with football futility they don’t care. It’s not worth their energy to complain.
But it’s also because Anderson was the longtime Richardson assistant and left a perfectly good job at Missouri, which he led to the Elite 8, to try to put out the dumpster fire that festered with Stan Heath and John Pelphrey.
That loyalty and positive demeanor mean a lot to Hogs fans. There is just now the start of some unrest. Meanwhile, Alabama not known for basketball, has gone through its second coach in less than 10 years. Nebraska, who has never won an NCAA Tournament game, is supposedly about to fire their coach after five years.
College athletics is big business and administrators don’t wait around for results. Even if a program isn’t tradition-rich or the situation ideal. They back up the Brinks truck to your front door and expect you to construct reclamation projects and win in ways not seen or win big again.
At most programs, after a sub-par year, a coach would have to at least make staff changes. We have heard nothing of the sort at UA. It looks to be business as usual.
That’s how the business works, but not in Fayetteville. Not with Anderson.
Everybody likes Mike, and it looks like nobody wants to make a tough decision that wouldn’t be as tough in other programs.