:Arkansas Democrat-Gazette NW; :May 15, 2011; :Northwest Profile; :33


Michael Andre Anderson

Coaching men

RICH POLIKOFF ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE



    SELF

    PORTRAIT

Date and place of birth: Dec. 12, 1959, Birmingham, Ala.

Occupation: Men’s head basketball coach, University of Arkansas

Family: Wife Marcheita, daughters Darcheita Bennett and Yvonne Anderson, son Mike Jr., four grandchildren

One of the things I learned from Coach Richardson was , “Be who you are.” I can’t be Nolan Richardson, I can’t be [North Carolina coach] Roy Williams; I’m going to be who I am. That’s Mike Anderson.

My favorite subject in school was math. I’m pretty good at math.

The key to a successful marriage is keep it simple and keep her happy. It’s a partnership. That’s the most important thing.

My hobby is golf. I’m a seasonal golfer because of my schedule, but that’s my getaway.

Coaching my son at Missouri was fun. It really gave me an opportunity to see him grow from a young boy to [a man]. To spend that time together, that was priceless.

The ideal kind of player is a Kevin Durant [an Oklahoma City Thunder forward], a 6-8, 6-9 guy that can do a lot of different things.

One word to sum me up: Driven

    FAYETTEVILLE — Pickup games shouldn’t matter much. But to Mike Anderson, they always do. The new University of Arkansas men’s head basketball coach likes to play those casual contests where hardly anybody is watching at least a couple of times a week. At 51, he is often facing players half his age, if not younger, but he more than holds his own.

    The former point guard, who was an assistant under Nolan Richardson for 17 seasons at the University of Arkansas, still has plenty of game left.

    “It’s amazing the condition he’s in,” says Scotty Thurman, the UA basketball program’s director of student-athlete development. “He plays hard, he plays to win, but he’s always a coach, telling guys where they should be, on offense and defense. That’s just who he is.”

    Anderson can’t help himself. Even in pickup games, whose final scores will be forgotten shortly, he is always looking for ways to mold better basketball players.

    The man is fiercely competitive. He does not take losing kindly. And while defeats are a fact of life in big-time college basketball, Anderson cannot accept a loss that results from even the slightest lack of effort.

    “If the two of you are playing [Nintendo] Wii bowling — he’s trying to win that,” UA assistant basketball coach Jeff Daniels says. “He obviously wants to do it the right way, but he is so driven and so competitive.”

    Daniels first played with Anderson at Jefferson State Community College (Birmingham, Ala.) in 1979. That was before Anderson was recruited to Tulsa University to play for Richardson, before he became an assistant under Richardson at Tulsa and then Arkansas, before Anderson became a head coach at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and then the University of Missouri.

    Back then, Anderson was just a hard-driving point guard. He took Jefferson State all the way to the NJCAA championship game, where it fell to Richardson’s Western Texas Junior College squad.

    Even in those days, Anderson was already displaying the trademark drive that would make him a winner at every stop in his coaching career. As an assistant, Anderson’s teams went a combined 459-192; as a head coach he is 200-98.

    “A young Mike Anderson would be ideal for me [as a coach],” Anderson says. “I was one of those guys who played to win. I was aggressive. I didn’t mind taking chances.”

    GOING FOR BROKE

    It was that willingness to take chances that first led Anderson to Arkansas in 1985.

    When Richardson took the job at UA in 1985, he asked Anderson to come along to Fayetteville as a volunteer assistant. Anderson had been a volunteer assistant for three years under Richardson at Tulsa, and had been living in the city for five years, ever since he arrived there to play for the Golden Hurricane.

    Like the volunteer assistant position at Tulsa, the job in Arkansas didn’t pay anything. It meant
that Anderson would have to quit his day job as an office-supply salesman, and his wife, Marcheita, would have to leave hers in the Tulsa athletic department.

    It wasn’t an easy decision financially, but emotionally it was.

    “He had developed a passion for basketball, the strategic part of it, and since he wasn’t playing pro ball [Anderson tried out for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks after graduation, but was cut], coaching was a way to keep him connected,” Marcheita Anderson says. “He was willing to do it any way he could. With the passion he had for it, I thought, ‘Why not?’ We knew he would make it through.”

    Anderson remained a volunteer assistant at Arkansas until 1987, when he was promoted to part-time assistant, a paid position. A year later, he was a full-time assistant, and in 1998 he became the Razorbacks’ assistant head coach under Richardson.

    Richardson had been impressed with Anderson from the moment he encountered him in the 1980 NJCAA national championship game. When Richardson took the job in Tulsa that offseason, Anderson was the first player he recruited.

    “Defensively, he was as tough as they come,” Richardson says. “He always shared the ball and always played to win. He didn’t care about himself and instilled that in the players around him.”

    Anderson played for two years at Tulsa. In 1981, the previously moribund team won the National Invitation Tournament, and a year later, the Golden Hurricane made the NCAA Tournament.

    “He wasn’t a vocal person, but he led by example,” Richardson says. “As a player, he was a coach’s dream.”

    Richardson coached his Western Texas team to play the same style of fast-paced basketball he would take to Tulsa and later Arkansas, where it would earn its famous nickname, “40 Minutes of Hell.”

    That sort of up-tempo game required an incredible level of conditioning on the part of players, and they also needed to be able to make intelligent decisions on the fly. The demands were heaviest on point guards like Anderson, who ran Richardson’s offense.

    The players who succeeded had to embrace his style, because it asked so much of them. Anderson immediately fell in love with Richardson’s style of coaching — and his teams’ style of play.

    “He was real, in whatever he said,” Anderson says of Richardson. “What you saw was what you got. He was intense. His practices were some of the hardest practices I’ve ever been involved in, but as a player you could see the payoffs.

    “He was very aggressive as a coach; he wanted his team to be in attack mode. That was right up my alley.”

    It makes sense that Anderson would be happy to coach a younger version of himself, because the teams he coaches require players whose dedication to the game mirrors his.

    Anderson’s teams at UAB and Missouri played a style of basketball that was similar to the Razorbacks in the “40 Minutes of Hell” days. If anything, his teams of the past nine years took that style to the next level, pressing more on defense to speed up the game and force turnovers; his first three squads at UAB led the entire nation in steals.

    Comparisons between his UAB and Missouri squads and the Razorbacks of the mid-1990s have often been made, which Anderson says he takes as “the ultimate compliment.”

    “The styles are very similar, but they’re not exact,” says UA assistant coach Matt Zimmerman, who has coached with Anderson since 2002. “Coach Anderson is not a Coach Richardson; he’s his own person. He just has taken the blueprint of success at Arkansas, the ‘40 Minutes of Hell,’ and he transformed it, first at UAB and then at Missouri, into what we call ‘The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball.’”

    During his final years at Arkansas as an assistant, Anderson was the Razorbacks’ recruiting coordinator. He has earned a stellar reputation, as evidenced by the fact that since his hiring, Anderson has not lost the commitment of any of the five signees who had been recruited by former Coach John Pelphrey.

    Anderson explains his recruiting success in this area as simply “selling yourself [and] being who you are.”

    By targeting players who can’t help but play with maximum intensity, Anderson attracts players whose efforts will allow them — and their teams — to surpass expectations.

    In his first season at UAB, 2002-’03, he guided the Blazers to a 21-13 record, the biggest single-season improvement in school history.

    “A casual fan might say, ‘Everyone plays hard.’ Well, no sir, they don’t,” Zimmerman says. “There’s different levels of playing hard. We have to have someone who’s going to go all out, all the time. It’s got to be high-energy, intense, like a dog with rabies. That’s the kind of players we’ve got to have.”

    FAMILY COACH

    Around a quarter-century ago, Anderson laid it out straight for Zimmerman: He wasn’t good enough to play for the Razorbacks.

    He recognized the young man’s intense love of basketball, though, and didn’t want to discourage him. So Anderson suggested that Zimmerman might have a brighter future on the sidelines than on the court.

    With Anderson’s encouragement, Zimmerman gave up his dream of walking on and instead became the Razorbacks’ student-manager. He remained in basketball after his 1990 graduation and coached a pair of Arkansas high schools, Plainview-Rover and Dardanelle, into the state tournament.

    When Anderson was putting together his staff at UAB in 2002, he asked Zimmerman to come with him, despite his lack of college coaching experience. Zimmerman has been with him ever since.

    Anderson’s loyalty is evident in his UA staff. He recruited Thurman to Arkansas as a player, worked with associate head coach Melvin Watkins and strength and conditioning coach David Deets for five years at Missouri, and has been coaching with assistants Daniels, Zimmerman and T.J. Cleveland since his UAB days.

    “It’s a loyalty issue,” Daniels says. “We share his values, and we know he does things the right way. ... The other thing is the way he welcomes in family. You feel a part of his family.”

    Anderson wants his teams to be like families and has long entwined his real family with his basketball one. He calls his wife the players’ “mother away from home,” someone who can be a sympathetic ear to players in ways that would be impossible for a head coach.

    The Andersons’ three children were always around their father’s teams growing up — his son, Mike Jr., played for him at Missouri — and he does not object to his assistants letting their kids be involved. Coaching basketball is a time-consuming profession, and Anderson wants his assistants to have time to be good fathers.

    “I’ve often made the comment, ‘My husband has a mistress, and it’s a basketball called Spalding, so I decided to love her, too,” Marcheita Anderson says. “We try to be great role models — not just to the players but also to the coaches.”

    Anderson also likes to demonstrate to his players what good fathers and husbands are like. Anderson says that few things excite him more than hearing from a former player who has experienced personal success, post-basketball.

    “If I can continue to touch lives, that’s what’s most important to me,” Anderson says. “Guys come in as young freshmen and they leave as productive citizens, whether they be a doctor or a trash collector or a basketball player. They know how to be daddies, they know how to be husbands. To me, that’s the most important thing.”

    FRIEND AND MENTOR

    When Richardson was recruiting Anderson to come play at Tulsa, he went to the Birmingham house of Anderson’s parents, the late Lucy and Willie Anderson.

    He promised Lucy that if he was allowed to take her boy, he would one day “send her back a man.” It took 22 years, but that happened when Anderson became the coach at UAB.

    Anderson says of one of his greatest thrills as a coach was being able to have his mother get dressed up for UAB games and see him as a head coach. She died in 2004.

    “We called Mike’s mother ‘Peaches,’ and she was as funny as they come,” Richardson says with a laugh. “I remember I went up to a ballgame at UAB and she said, ‘It took you so damn long to get him back home!’”

    Richardson and Anderson were together from 1980 until 2002, five seasons at Tulsa and 17 more at Arkansas. Mike and Marcheita Anderson named their youngest daughter, Yvonne, a guard on the University of Texas women’s basketball team, after Richardson’s late daughter Yvonne, who passed away at age 15 in 1987.

    Richardson’s dismissal in 2002 brought their professional relationship to an end, but their personal relationship never faltered. The two talk nearly every day.

    “We always talk about basketball. We also talk about our families,” Richardson says. “It’s not a conversation of ‘Coach, should I do this?’ It’s ‘How are you, Coach?’”

    When Richardson was let go, Anderson was the Razorbacks’ interim coach for two games. He interviewed for the position at the end of the season, but Arkansas went in another direction.

    Anderson was disappointed — just as he had felt let down when he had previously interviewed for head coaching jobs and not been hired — but he held no bitterness toward the UA.

    “I’m a man of faith,” he explains. “I was at peace with [the idea that] I was doing what I should have been doing. Things didn’t work out for me here at Arkansas, but another window opened up. That window led me back home, to Birmingham.”

    Given Anderson’s record and his history with the program, the UA drew rave reviews when it hired him in March. Shortly after Anderson was hired, an estimated 5,000 turned up at Bud Walton Arena on campus to welcome him back to Arkansas.

    The only person more anxiously awaiting the season opener than the fans, it seems, is Anderson. Every day that he goes to his office, he walks by the trophy commemorating the Razorbacks’ 1994 NCAA national championship.

    It’s a reminder of what he helped build here once, and what he hopes to build again.

    “[Seeing that trophy] is a great feeling of accomplishment,” he says. “It’s exciting. There’s a lot of tradition, a lot of history. That’s what gets your stomach to churn a bit. There’s a lot of great tradition here, and we’d like to restore that.”


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/WILLIAM MOORE



Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/WILLIAM MOORE