Like It Is:

Fan apathy becomes Anderson's biggest foe

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2019
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson is shown during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson is shown during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Fayetteville.

For the past few weeks, much of sports talk radio in Arkansas has included debates about Mike Anderson and his job as head coach of the University of Arkansas basketball program.

Some will say the eighth-year coach isn’t getting it done and point to just the three NCAA Tournament appearances.

Defenders will say the program is in the best place it has been since Nolan Richardson left.

Apparently, quite a few think it is the job of this columnist to call for Anderson’s termination.

I like Mike, always have, but that is not what a columnist does, at least not on a regular basis. In my 40 years at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, only two coaches’ jobs have been called for.

The first was Danny Ford when he was the head football coach at Arkansas and was mired in a bad trend of losing games.

The other was Wimp Sanderson when he was the head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and he didn’t seem happy about it.

Even after the 2002 loss to Kentucky when Richardson said give him his money and you can have his job, it was not written here that he should be fired.

Yes, talking heads on all those cable TV shows scream for coaches of all sports to be fired on a regular basis. Some radio talk show hosts do it, and even some print sports columnists, but most of those guys seem to want to be bigger than the coaches, players and the game. Yours truly has never wanted that.

This is being written before last night’s game with Mississippi State, so what is about to be written might have changed a bit with a victory, but the UA basketball program seems to be sinking into apathy.

The attendance has been in a big decline this season, and that spells a loss of millions of dollars to the UA, not including the loss of scholarship donations.

A big part is that losing to Western Kentucky, Georgia Tech and others at home is not entertaining. A very small part is that millennials don’t buy tickets to games they can see on TV.

This Razorbacks team has found a way to lose more close games than it has won, and that’s something the fans don’t understand. The program that once struck fear into the hearts of all opponents was ranked No. 66 in the NCAA Net Rankings on Saturday. That was behind Belmont, Toledo, Memphis and Vermont to name a few.

They are young, but they’re not inexperienced at this point in the season. One freshman starts for Arkansas. South Carolina starts two true freshmen, and there’s no sense mentioning all the freshmen who start at Duke and Kentucky because those teams are on a different level — a level Arkansas used to share with them.

However, Anderson-coached teams have shown a tendency to get better at the end of the season.

He graduates his players, and aside from one bad incident, his players have not gotten into trouble.

Of course, the radio discussions always turn to whom the UA could hire. Again, those types of decisions are made way above the pay grade of the media.

Hiring and firing coaches are processes that start with the athletic director and chancellor, include the president of the UA System, and land on the desks of the board of trustees. The Razorback Foundation board has to be consulted because it has a great say about money that has been donated for athletics.

It would be hard to imagine Anderson, a fierce competitor, is happy with the overall results right now.

But the biggest concern is those empty seats, and there are enough to say some apathy has set in.

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