'Whirlwind' lands Razorbacks' ex-coach Anderson in New York

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, April 20, 2019
Mike Anderson holds up a jersey after being introduced as the new St. John's men's basketball coach during a news conference, Friday, April 19, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Anderson was hired as Red Storm coach on Friday after he was fired by Arkansas in March. (Craig Ruttle/Newsday via AP)
Mike Anderson holds up a jersey after being introduced as the new St. John's men's basketball coach during a news conference, Friday, April 19, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Anderson was hired as Red Storm coach on Friday after he was fired by Arkansas in March. (Craig Ruttle/Newsday via AP)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Mike Anderson found himself becoming St. John's new basketball coach in about a New York minute.

On Wednesday, Anderson got a call from St. John's Athletic Director Mike Cragg asking about his interest in the job. Anderson was in New York on Thursday for an interview with St. John's officials. On Friday, Anderson was introduced as the Red Storm's 21st coach during a news conference in Madison Square Garden.

"Wow," Anderson said. "What a whirlwind."

Anderson, 59, was out of work less than a month after being fired as the University of Arkansas head coach on March 26. His hiring ended a nine-day search after Chris Mullin resigned as St. John's coach on April 9.

According to media reports, coaches who turned down the job include Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley and Loyola-Chicago Coach Porter Moser, a former University of Arkansas at Little Rock coach.

"All the craziness and whatever, this has been an amazing journey," Cragg said. "We're very proud that we have found the best coach in Coach Anderson. I've been dreaming of this moment for the last nine days. I found the right guy."

Contract terms for Anderson weren't announced, but the Razorback Foundation will not owe him beyond the amount he was paid between his firing at Arkansas and hiring at St. John's, Razorback Foundation President Scott Varady confirmed.

If Anderson had not been hired for another coaching job over the next three years, the Razorback Foundation would have owed him $2,989,041 paid in monthly installments, but that payment is now limited to what he received between March 26 and Friday -- a little less than a month's worth of the buyout.

Anderson played for Nolan Richardson at Tulsa and was his assistant coach at Arkansas for 17 seasons.

"I'm excited for Mike," Richardson said. "Being at St. John's puts him in basketball mecca. There are tons and tons of players in the New York area.

"It's a new challenge for him. I can tell he's fired up and ready to go. He wishes the season could start tomorrow."

Anderson takes over a program with 30 NCAA Tournament appearances, but just three since 2003, including this season when the Red Storm finished 21-13 with a 74-65 loss to Arizona State in a "First Four" game.

Mullin, a former St. John's star player, had a 59-73 record in four seasons as coach, including 20-52 in the Big East.

Lou Carnesecca, whom the Red Storm's arena is named after, led St. John's to a 526-200 record in 25 seasons as its coach over two stints from 1965-70 and 1973-92 with 18 NCAA Tournament appearances.

"The thing that's so intriguing is the potential," Anderson said. "It's been done before."

Anderson said he saw the photos of Carnesecca and Mullin, and former St. John's players such as Walter Berry and Mark Jackson in Madison Square Garden.

"That just brings back a lot of memories," Anderson said. "But now I want to say, let's create some more memories."

Anderson already has fond memories of Madison Square Garden, where St. John's plays some of its home games and which also hosts the Big East Tournament.

Tulsa won the 1981 NIT championship -- beating West Virginia 89-87 in the semifinals and Syracuse 86-84 in overtime in the final -- with Anderson as the Golden Hurricane's starting point guard.

"I don't know how things happen," Anderson said. "But they happen for a reason."

Anderson said he'll use the same uptempo style at St. John's that he did at Arkansas.

"Y'all like to play fast?" he said. "All right, let's get it on."

Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said after hiring Eric Musselman as the Razorbacks' new coach that firing Anderson was the toughest decision he's ever made.

Anderson had a 169-102 record in eight seasons at Arkansas with NCAA Tournament appearances in 2015, 2017 and 2018, but the Razorbacks never advanced past the second round. They finished 18-16 this season with a second-round NIT loss at Indiana.

"I think we have a great coach and St. John's got a great coach," Yurachek said. "Sometimes change is good for everybody involved.

"As much as the change we made hurt people who were so close to Mike and hurt Mike because he was so close to Arkansas, I think we'll all look back four or five years from now and say this was best for everybody."

Yurachek said he's also happy for Anderson and his family, and that his hiring at St. John's might allow him to employ some of his assistants at Arkansas who weren't retained.

Anderson didn't announce any staff members he'll hire at St. John's, but Melvin Watkins and T.J. Cleveland -- both longtime assistants for him -- have received letters of termination from Arkansas.

Scotty Thurman, an Arkansas assistant the past three seasons, has been seen on video released by the UA working with players in offseason workouts. So has Anthony Ruta, an assistant at Nevada for Musselman, but there have been no announcements about who will be on Musselman's staff.

"For all the New Yorkers and all the St. John's alumni, for the administration, for the students, for the faculty, I want you to know you've got a guy here who No. 1, he's going to leave it all on the floor," Anderson said. "When you talk about rolling up your sleeves, we're going do it the right way."

Anderson said he realizes building St. John's into a national power again remains a process, but he's going to build on what Mullin did this season in making the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015.

"What I want to do is have an opportunity to come in and take that to another level," Anderson said. "There's a core here. My job is to come in and evaluate and see what we have here and add some more pieces to it."

Anderson has a 369-200 record in 17 seasons as a head coach at Alabama-Birmingham, Missouri and Arkansas with nine NCAA Tournament and three NIT appearances.

"I know how to win," Anderson said. "That's not bragging."

Where they went from here

Recent Arkansas men’s basketball coaches and how they later fared as a head coach:

COACH SCHOOL YEARS RECORD

Mike Anderson St. John’s 2019 TBD

John Pelphrey* Tennessee Tech 2019 TBD

Stan Heath South Florida 2007-2014 97-129

Nolan Richardson No other collegiate coaching positions

Eddie Sutton Kentucky 1985-1989 88-39

Oklahoma State 1990-2006 368-151

San Francisco 2007-2008 6-13

*Pelphrey was an assistant at Florida in 2011-15 and at Alabama in 2016-19.

Sports on 04/20/2019

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