State of the Hogs: Coaching

The glory days of Arkansas basketball can always be defined by great players, right? Maybe, but coaching is just as important. Give Mike Anderson credit for understanding timing.

What's more important, players or coaching? That was the question put to me this weekend by someone who already knew the answer.

Well, the right answer is players. However, sooner or later, it all comes back to coaching.

Without Eddie Sutton, I doubt Arkansas would have landed Marvin Delph, Sidney Moncrief and Ron Brewer.

Without Nolan Richardson, would Corliss Williamson ended up at Arkansas? Who knows? And if Mike Anderson had been at Arkansas, would James Anderson left the state for Oklahoma State? I doubt it.

One of Arkansas' all-time great hoopsters in town to welcome Anderson back to Razorback Nation said he'd been stewing for several years on one point. James Anderson, a great one from Junction City, should have never driven through Fayetteville to get to Stillwater. (I assume that was not a literal reference, but for all I know he did once make a trip to OSU that took him past the UA campus.)

Yes, it is about coaches. Without question, college basketball is all about the coaches. The right coaches get the right players and then they know what to do with them. They get the most out of their players.

But it's also about timing. Sutton got to Arkansas at just the right time. Never had three great players lined up at such a key point for an incoming coach in the Ozarks. But, without the right coach, I believe they would have been scattered to faraway points.

Richardson was the right man to attract Lee Mayberry, Todd Day and Oliver Miller. And, yes, just before those three, it started with Ron Huery in Memphis. Richardson got to Arkansas at the right time to haul in those stars, then was sitting pretty when Williamson developed at Russellville. For all we know, it was Richardson's style of play and presence in Fayetteville that convinced Williamson not to be a football player, like the rest of the Williamsons.

I think top talent in the state of Arkansas is a huge factor in Anderson's decision to decide to leave a solid young team at Missouri. I believed Anderson when he talked about winning a national championship as the reason for coming back to Razorback Nation. He's seen the talent in the next three classes in our state.

I believe him when he says money doesn't drive him. I think he listened to Richardson when his mentor left Tulsa for Arkansas. Richardson knew he'd have a much better chance to win a national title at Arkansas than at TU. Mike probably sees the same thing as the difference between Columbia and Fayetteville. He's sees the players on the way and he knows Archie Goodwin is in the next class in the state.

Anderson understands that winning championships is what sustains everything. That should be the goal and it is with Anderson. Win a national championship, money won't ever be a problem again.

Someone with immense basketball knowledge said Saturday that Goodwin is the best homegrown player since Williamson. He was compared also to Moncrief, Brewer and Delph.

The bottom line is that Jeff Long understands all of this. That's the reason the UA athletic director targeted Mike Anderson. Could that meeting with former players two weeks ago at Theo's Restaurant been about players? Yes, I think it was. I would almost guarantee it was. It was about making sure the best players do stay home at a time when there are great ones on the way for several years.

And how do you do that? You get the right coach at the right time.

It is about coaching. It's about pushing the right buttons at the right time. It's saying nothing when that's right, or saying almost enough when that's all it takes.

"This is all about relationships," Anderson said. "That's all coaching is, communication and relationships.

"I learned that from Coach Richardson early on. Coach Richardson could get someone to do something without actually telling them to do it. He could say almost nothing, but you knew what he wanted you to do. He had that knack. It's about knowing exactly how to get someone to perform. That's coaching."

It's about the work of an entire staff, too. Richardson could say something to a player -- perhaps a story from his grandmother -- and there would be Anderson to interpret afterwards. That's one of the reasons he'll bring his entire staff with him. They understand Anderson. They understand the subtle messages. They work smoothly as a unit. As Mike said Saturday, "If it isn't broke, don't try to fix it."

That's why Mike Anderson is back at Arkansas. It's about farming all of his vast network in this state and taking advantage of his good name and his way of pushing buttons. He's developed a solid staff and a style of pushing buttons that wins.

The state is ready. It's about to explode. You felt that at Bud Walton Arena as emotion poured out from both fans, former players and Anderson. I saw it in his eyes. He felt the passion. So did Marcheita Anderson, the new first lady of Arkansas basketball. She teared up several times during the introduction festivities.

"I couldn't hold it back," she said. "It just feels so right to be here. Mike and I talked about that several times in the last couple of days."

The tough part was waiting until the time was right. The Andersons have been hearing from Arkansas friends for several years. All of that has intensified of late. The last two weeks when there was an actual opening produced an incredible volume of calls and messages.

"My phone was filling up with calls and text messages faster than I could erase them," he said. "I'd walk away from my phone for a little while and the phone was full again. No room for another message. I'd erase them all and it was full again."

One former player made it really tough. He had taken his sons to a Missouri game and just after getting home it became obvious that the Hogs were in the market for a new coach. One son said, "Daddy, why can't Coach A be our coach? Can I call him and ask him that?" So that's what they did.

Anderson answered. The youngster asked his question and the coach asked to speak to his daddy.

"Don't ever do that again," Anderson pleaded.

It won't be necessary.

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