Jury still out on Anderson

By: Harry King
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Mike Anderson, Arkansas head coach, shouts during the first half vs Ole Miss Saturday, March 2, 2019, during the game in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Mike Anderson, Arkansas head coach, shouts during the first half vs Ole Miss Saturday, March 2, 2019, during the game in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

LITTLE ROCK — The morning after Arkansas’ loss at Kentucky, a former co-worker now living in Florida e-mailed a question:

“What are your thoughts about Mike Anderson returning as coach next year?”

Fifty-fifty was the response, with the addendum that the outcome of the last three regular-season games was in play along with Arkansas’ performance in the SEC Tournament.

Looking back, the answer was a bit too flippant and should have been more expansive. The Razorbacks’ 3-0 finish to the conference schedule and their postseason performance this week is only part of the big picture. No matter whether the Razorbacks were 3-0, 0-3 or somewhere in between, results of the final three games were not going to push athletics director Hunter Yurachek one way or the other.

The same presumption applies to the results in Nashville unless, of course, the Razorbacks do something miraculous. Oddly, if recent results are any indication, they have the opportunity to do just that.

First-round opponent Florida is on a three-game losing streak, not particularly proficient on offense and on the spot to win a game or two this week to be certain of an NCAA Tournament bid. Meanwhile, Arkansas has made more than 50 percent of its 76 3-point attempts in the last four games after shooting a pathetic 24.5 percent from long range in the previous five outings.

Season-long talk that the SEC will get at least eight teams into the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row is in serious jeopardy because of the three-game losing streaks by both the Gators and Alabama. Prior to Alabama’s loss in Fayetteville, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi labeled the Crimson Tide one of the last four in the field.

On Sunday, Jerry Palm at CBS identified Florida as one of the last four in and Alabama as one of the first four out. The Tournament status of both teams is TBD.

A victory over the Gators would pit the Razorbacks against LSU, a team that will not intimidate Arkansas despite being conference champion. After all, the Razorbacks handed the Tigers one of their two conference losses — on the road, no less — and lost to LSU in overtime in Fayetteville.

Both times, the loser scored in the high 80s and, in the free-wheeling contest that seems likely, the winner is often decided in the final minute.

As for Arkansas fans, the three-game winning streak did not move many, if any, regarding whether Anderson should stay or go. Many UA fans are as dug in on Anderson as Americans who are on one side or the other politically.

Post-Nashville, Yurachek — on the job less than 16 months — will decide whether Anderson is the right man for the job after eight years. Other than yea or nay, Yurachek could even opt for something less and insist that Anderson make personnel changes.

Not that the druthers of an ancient journalist matter, but influenced by personal interaction, it is difficult to be objective about the future of the 59-year-old Anderson.

The incident occurred years ago in Memphis when an AP reporter was obligated to lead the SEC Tournament advance with Arkansas, but head coach Nolan Richardson was called away from the practice site. On short notice, Anderson filled in admirably, providing the quote or two needed to flesh out the story.

Legitimate arguments are available on both sides of the Anderson question, but one by some supporters is downright silly: If he is fired, who can the Razorbacks hire that will be better?

For starters, the background of successful hires is varied.

Former Arkansas-Little Rock coach Chris Beard, now a strong candidate for national Coach of the Year at Texas Tech, particularly in light of the rumors swirling around LSU coach Will Wade, spent 10 years in Lubbock working under Bobby Knight and his son, Pat.

Was that learning experience enough to project his success at Tech, where the Red Raiders recently won their first Big 12 title and are a possible No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament? Maybe it was his year with the South Carolina Warriors of the America Basketball Association, or his 47-15 record during two years at Angelo State, or his 30-5 record and NCAA Tournament bid in his year in Little Rock.

Retreads also succeed.

Rick Barnes at Tennessee is a prime example. Cut loose by Texas after taking the Longhorns to the NCAA Tournament 16 times in 17 years, the 64-year-old has the Vols in position for a No. 3 seed in the NCAA in his fourth year in Knoxville.

Beard and Barnes are cited only to remind that willing and able coaches are available.

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