Mike Anderson came back to Arkansas Basketball to restore the one-time National Champion Razorbacks into one of the best programs in the country. Instead, Anderson will begin year his fourth year as head coach sitting firmly on the hot seat.
It’s been 12 long years for Razorback fans since Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” played in Fayetteville — 12 years and three coaches to be exact. In those 12 years the Razorbacks have been to the NCAA tournament only three times (2006-2008) under two different coaches. In trying to replace Richardson in 2002, the University of Arkansas also tried to distance itself from Richardson due to claims of racial inequality and stereotypes made by Richardson against the university and its fans. In doing so, Arkansas also let go of Anderson who went on to build successful programs at UAB and Missouri. Arkansas Basketball has since struggled to replace Richardson’s 389 wins, two Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight, two Final Fours and one National Championship.
Anderson quickly rebuilt UAB, reaching the Sweet 16 in only his second year with the Blazers in 2004. It took him only three years at Missouri before he had guided the Tigers into the Elite Eight. Anderson’s early success at those two schools understandably led to a buzz of excitement from Razorback fans about a quick turnaround in Fayetteville. But that success has yet to materialize, and year three ended with a thud. The Razorbacks collapsed at the end of the season, missing the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight year and ending with an early exit in the NIT.
Razorback fans don’t have a lot of patience and have shown in the past they are willing to drop the curtain quickly (see John Pelphrey). They are starting to look at Anderson’s recruiting which has not been stellar during his Razorback tenure. The 2014 class was ranked near the bottom of the SEC, and in his first three years Anderson has only signed one four-star player and one five-star. Razorback fans understand that Richardson’s success at Arkansas was largely due to his ability to recruit in the fertile grounds of Memphis. Todd Day, Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart were all on the 1994 Arkansas National Championship team, and they were all from Memphis.
Arkansas has not signed a big-time Memphis recruit in ages, and if Anderson is to get the Razorbacks back to national prominence, he has to start building inroads into Memphis. Memphis has not been kind to Arkansas since Richardson left, and it’s open to debate whether the charges of racism by Richardson have hurt Arkansas’ recruiting capabilities in Memphis and the rest of the country. But Anderson has to recruit better if he is to stay at Arkansas whether that perception exists or not, as recruiting will buy you time because recruiting buys you hope.
Year four will prove to be a make-or-break one for Mike Anderson. In the SEC you normally don’t get a whole lot of time to turn programs around, especially at a school with a National Championship and the rich basketball tradition that Arkansas has. So, have a seat Mr. Anderson; it’s about to get a little warm in here.