Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Yurachek says vision of program led to Mike Anderson's firing
Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek (foreground) answers a question while basketball coach Eric Musselman looks on during a news conference Monday April 8, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said Monday that his decision to relieve Mike Anderson of his coaching duties for the men's basketball team March 26 was his toughest thus far in the business.
After the Razorbacks lost 63-60 at Indiana to wrap up their 18-16 season March 23, Yurachek said he sent Anderson a "list of things" he wanted to talk about during a year-end meeting two days later that also would include deputy athletic director and sports administrator Jon Fagg at The Blessings golf course.
Yurachek was asked during Monday's introductory news conference for new Coach Eric Musselman if there was anything Anderson could have done to extend his tenure with the Razorbacks.
"I think just a little bit more of a vision for our program moving forward may have helped," Yurachek said. "And quite honestly, I did not make my decision until I laid my head on the pillow that Monday night."
Anderson, 59, compiled a 369-200 record in 17 seasons as a head coach, including a 169-102 mark in eight years with the Razorbacks. His firing ended a 25-year association with Arkansas basketball, including his 17-year role as an assistant coach under Nolan Richardson highlighted by winning the 1994 NCAA championship.
"As I said, it was an extremely hard decision," Yurachek said. "I mean, as an athletic director you let a coach go that's never had a losing season, that was so closely tied to this program and the history that he had here with Coach Richardson, and the great man that he was and all he stood for.
"I told him the day I let him go, 'This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do, Mike, because you and I stand for so many of the same values in our lives and what we want to happen for these young men off the basketball court.' "
Yurachek said Anderson did not have the level of success he expects. Yurachek said Arkansas should be a consistent top 20 program, and that belief was confirmed to him during the search process that led to Musselman.
"This is a top-tier SEC job," Yurachek said he heard from many people during the search. "This should be a team that's in the top two or three in the SEC year in and year out, and one that's in the top 20 year in and year out. We hadn't met that consistently over the past eight years."
Yurachek gave some insight into the dismissal of Anderson and the events surrounding the process that led to Musselman's hiring for the first time publicly Monday because he did not consent to any media interviews in the interim. Yurachek gave his rationale for not holding a news conference after Anderson's firing in remarks to the media after Musselman's session with the press.
"Mike Anderson is a great man," he said. "I didn't think I needed to compound or shed any negative light on Mike Anderson by having a press conference after I let him go. I didn't see the point in that.
"The only thing that was going to come out of that was negative things toward Mike and how he ran his program. I made a decision that was difficult, so I hope you guys understand why I didn't have a press conference after that."
Yurachek said he delivered the news to Anderson face to face in his office.
"And as you would imagine, Mike handled it with the utmost class," Yurachek said.
Anderson released a minute-long video on social media that day, wearing a white Razorback polo. In it, Anderson thanked his family, his coaching staff and their families, Arkansas fans and others.
He also remarked: "When you have pride and passion about what you do, it's hard to say goodbye. I've had the opportunity to be the head coach here for the last eight years, and it's been a great experience."
Yurachek was asked whether he had watched the video.
"I did," he said. "I think it was Mike Anderson. He's first class."
Yurachek said he was well aware of the tight-knit family atmosphere Anderson fostered.
"I think they're doing great," Yurachek said of the players. "After Coach Anderson had met with them roughly two weeks ago, I followed that up with my own meeting with them, and I allowed them to throw whatever daggers they wanted at me quite candidly in the locker room, and there were very few thrown.
"Obviously, all of those players cared for Coach Anderson, and he was one of the reasons they were here at the University of Arkansas. That change was tough, but what I can tell you is last week whenever I went over to the basketball practice facility after the week off, most of those guys were in there working out, they were lifting weights and ... shooting and they were playing 5-on-5. I think that speaks volumes that they want to be taken to the next level and are preparing for the next coach."
Sports on 04/09/2019
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