Mike Anderson's basketball teams are known for playing in high gear for the full 40 minutes of a game. That approach also characterizes Anderson's own career. From humble beginnings in a house too small for his family, Anderson has risen to become one of the most successful head coaches in college basketball. He currently coaches at the University of Missouri, where he is the only African American ever to hold the school's top basketball job.
Anderson was born on December 12, 1959, in Birmingham, Alabama. He grew up at the epicenter of the civil rights movement's most critical sites during some of its most critical moments. His family's house on Avenue J in Birmingham's Ensley neighborhood was a mere 10 minutes away from the scene of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and where police commissioner Bull Connor set police attack dogs and fire hoses on peaceful protesters. Nevertheless, the Anderson home was a peaceful, if overcrowded, refuge from the nearby tumult. Eight children had to share one room, and three or four of the six boys often had to sleep in a single bed, in head-to-toe fashion. The dinner table was not big enough to accommodate the whole family, so they ate in shifts. In spite of the cramped living conditions, Anderson remembers the family home mainly as one filled with love and support. "I remember a lot of love, a lot of caring and a lot of sharing," he was quoted as saying in a November 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. "You are who you are, and you never forget where you come from."
Junior College Served as Stepping Stone
Anderson starred in basketball at Jackson Olin High School in Birmingham, winning all-city and all-state honors as a guard. In his junior year, he led his team to the state semifinals. After graduating from Jackson Olin in 1978, Anderson enrolled at Jefferson State Junior College in Birmingham. While playing on the Jefferson basketball team, he caught the eye of Nolan Richardson, the coach of one of Jefferson's opponents, Western Texas Junior College. When Richardson landed the head coaching job at the University of Tulsa the following season, one of his first moves was to recruit Anderson to play for his new team.
With a basketball scholarship in hand, Anderson enrolled at Tulsa in 1981. He was a starter on the Tulsa team for two seasons. In his first year there, Tulsa won the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), and Anderson was named to the all-tournament team. The following year, Tulsa earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
By the time he graduated from Tulsa in 1982, Anderson had set his sites on a coaching career. While working as a substitute teacher, he started looking for coaching jobs. Richardson brought him on board as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Tulsa. During Anderson's two years as an assistant there, the team had a combined record of 50 wins and 12 losses, and appeared in the NCAA Tournament both seasons.
When his mentor Richardson was hired as head coach at the University of Arkansas, he brought Anderson along with him. Anderson quickly moved up the ranks on Richardson's staff. In 1985 and 1986, he served as a volunteer assistant. The following year, he was a paid part-time assistant. He became a full-time assistant coach in 1988.
Groomed by Mentor Richardson
Anderson ended up serving as an assistant coach at Arkansas for 14 years. During his time there, Arkansas was a basketball powerhouse, recording the fifth highest number of victories (270) among all college basketball teams during the 1990s. The Razorbacks won two Southeastern Conference titles during Anderson's tenure there, appeared in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament three times, won the national championship in 1994, and were runners-up in 1995. A large part of Anderson's value to the time was his skill as a recruiter. Repeatedly, he was able to lure players to the school who fit well into Richardson's style of play, which emphasized an active, up-tempo approach to the game.
Anderson was apparently being groomed to succeed Richardson as head coach at Arkansas. However, when Richardson's relationship with the university suddenly went sour in 2002, Anderson's career path took an unexpected turn. In April of 2002, an offer to become the head basketball coach at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) brought Anderson back to his hometown. In his first season at UAB, Anderson led the Blazers to a 21-13 record, marking the school's best ever improvement from one season to the next. That was good enough to earn the team a spot in the NIT tournament, the UAB's first postseason tournament invitation since 1998-99. The following year, UAB improved to 22-10, and tied for the Conference USA regular season championship. That was good enough to earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament, where the Blazers won two games, including a stunning upset of perennial powerhouse the University of Kentucky, the top-ranked team in the tournament. For his efforts, Anderson was named the 2004 Conference USA Coach of the Year.
The 2004-05 season was almost a carbon copy of the previous year. The Blazers made their second straight NCAA tournament appearance in spite of losing several key seniors to graduation after their breakthrough campaign a year before. Another 20-plus win season and another NCAA tournament berth followed in 2005-06, as Anderson continued to mold UAB into the type of team he had learned to lead under Richardson's tutelage. Anderson's swarming defenses and fast-paced style were eventually dubbed "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball." Others called it "Forty Minutes of Hell."
First Black Head Coach at Missouri
Anderson's impressive results at UAB led to an offer from a bigger school with a better-funded athletic program. In March of 2006 he was named head basketball coach at the University of Missouri. In signing a five-year contract worth a reported $850,000 per year, Anderson became the first African-American head basketball coach in the school's history. As he was introduced to the media in his new hometown, Anderson made it clear that he intended to bring with him the scrappy style of play that had marked his teams at UAB. "If you ever see me in a fight with a tiger or a bear, you better help that tiger or that bear out," he was quoted as saying on the ESPN online report about his hiring. "If you watch my basketball team, that's the same mind-set…."
At a Glance …
Born Michael Anderson on December 12, 1959, in Birmingham, AL; married Marcheita Anderson; children: Darcheita, Michael, Jr., Yvonne. Education: Attended Jefferson State Junior College, Birmingham, AL, 1978-80; University of Tulsa, BA, 1982.
Career: University of Tulsa, assistant men's basketball coach, 1982-85; University of Arkansas, assistant men's basketball coach, 1985-2002; University of Alabama at Birmingham, head men's basketball coach, 2002-06; University of Missouri, head men's basketball coach, 2006-.
Awards: Conference USA Coach of the Year, 2004.
Addresses: Office—University of Missouri, 230 Mizzou Arena, Columbia, MO 65211.
Anderson's first season at Missouri was unremarkable, though the team's 18-12 record exceeded the expectations of many college sports commentators, who picked them to finish last in the Big 12 conference. It also tied the team record for the most victories in a season by a rookie coach. Unfortunately, that record was not good enough to qualify Missouri for postseason play. Nevertheless, it further established Anderson as one of the top coaches of any race in college basketball, and one of the small handful of black head coaches thriving in a major university setting.
Columbia Daily Tribune (Columbia, MO), March 12, 2007; April 9, 2006.
Jet, April 17, 2006, p. 50.
St. Louis Post Dispatch, November 5, 2006, p. D1.
"Mike Anderson: Former UAB Coach Happy to Give Back," Special, The Birmingham News,blog.al.com/bn/2007/05/mike_anderson_former_uab_coach.html (July 3, 2007).
"Mike Anderson Profile," CSTV.com,www.cstv.com/printable/schools/miss/sports/m-baskbl/mtt/anderson_mike00.html (August 8, 2007).
"Mizzou Hires Former UAB Coach Anderson," ESPN. com News Service, http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=2385253&type=story (August 8, 2007).
"Mizzou Tabs Mike Anderson New Head Men's Basketball Coach: Anderson Becomes First African-American Head Coach in University of Missouri History," Mizzou: The Official Athletic Site of the University of Missouri,http://mutigers.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/032606aae.html (August 8, 2007).
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