FAYETTEVILLE — The last coach Arkansas hired out of the University of Missouri actively worked 50 years for the Razorbacks and continues as athletics director emeritus.
At 51, Mike Anderson will be hard put to match Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks tenure though he’s willing to try.
However long he gets to coach, Arkansas’ new head basketball coach with the 17-year Arkansas assistant coaching past says he wants to coach only Arkansas.
“I’m at home now,” Anderson told the estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Saturday packing the south side of Walton Arena. “As long as they want me here I am at home.”
He approaches this job like he’ll never move.
Of course former Razorback football legend Ken Hatfield of Helena and Little Rock born former Razorback quarterback Houston Nutt came home thinking they would never leave but did. Things happen.
Even though they were by and large successful, particularly Hatfield, whose six seasons from 1984-89 compiled the highest winning percentage of any Razorbacks football coach, they felt pressured to move on.
Hatfield left embittered with an unsigned contract on his desk to take a Clemson job site unseen.
Retired now living back in Northwest Arkansas, Hatfield travels Arkansas revered wherever he goes, his relationship mended with Broyles, both his former coach and former boss.
Arkansans are a mostly forgiving lot tending to bring out forgiveness in others, says Wayne Stehlik.
Stehlik and Anderson served 17 Arkansas years together on Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks’ staff.
They both moved on since Richardson and Broyles parted with Richardson’s fiery parting in 2002. Now they see fences so mended that Richardson was brought back to Walton Arena in 2009 celebrating his 1994 national championship team’s anniversary.
Anderson, passed over in 2002 after Richardson was fired, returns to standing ovations as head coach. And the mention of Richardson’s name at Saturday’s ceremony introducing Anderson drew standing ovations, too.
However it’s not just the Richardson regime and Hatfield with relations patched.
Stehlik, now assisting Richardson coaching the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA and whose Northwest Arkansas Tip-Off Club’s honoring the 1994 national championship set the stage for Richardson and new athletics director Jeff Long to meet and make possible the big reunion at Walton, recalled Arkansas fans criticizing Richardson predecessor Eddie Sutton for saying, “I would have crawled to Lexington,” when he left Arkansas for Kentucky.
“Time heals lots of wounds,” Stehlik said. “When we came here there were comments about Coach Sutton. And after a few years Coach Sutton became a fan favorite again. This happened with Coach Richardson.”
And in it happened with Mike Anderson, too, but to a lesser extent because the fences really never needed mending.
Because he kept his mouth shut and just went out and succeeded these past nine years going 200-89 with six NCAA Tournaments including a Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight these last nine years at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri, Anderson left Arkansas with no enemies and increasing friends yearning his return.
Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long said there were former players and alums bearing strong opinions of other personal choices they thought the best man for the job, but none Long said, uttered anything less than Anderson is a good man and a good coach.
“There were lots of people supporting lots of people,” Long said Saturday as 5,000 to 6,000 came to Walton Arena to see Anderson introduced. “You know how that goes. But I will say that anyone who mentioned Mike Anderson it was all positive. The support for Mike was substantial and you can see that today.”
The bloom will never be on the rose so much as now before the inevitable first loss, but Anderson does start with unprecedented basketball good will.
Todd Day, the UA scoring leader alum of the Richardson-Anderson era, described Anderson’s advantage with past basketball lettermen that immediate predecessors Stan Heath and John Pelphrey didn’t have.
“Stan was a great guy,” Day said. “John Pelphrey was a great guy, but they just weren’t our guy. You always feel more comfortable around your guys. The one thing I know will change about the program, the former players will feel a lot more welcome. We’ll be able to wear our stuff out with pride.”