There's no shortage of metaphors for the basketball program Mike Anderson walked into on March 26, 2006.
A pile of ashes. A house still on fire. An asylum run by inmates –– inmates that weren't winning, no less.
With a systematic 97-61 destruction of Northern Illinois on Monday, Anderson won game No. 100 as head coach of the Missouri Tigers, becoming the fastest coach in school history to do so. The triple digit win total is a testament that 1737 days after his hiring, Anderson is not merely still standing. He's elevated the program far beyond the chaotic rubble he inherited into once again becoming one of the university's flagship points of pride.
Most commonly, Missouri fans seem to run through the athletic department's lower moments out of some sort of deep-seated masochism that only other Missouri fans can truly understand. But with the tenure of Mike Anderson, Mizzou fans are content to look back at horrible moments in program history not because they like the way it hurts, but because it provides context to a redemption story that still seems fresh.
And with Missouri basketball, all of the wounds were still stinging. Ricky "Them Crackas Shakin" Clemons. Probation and the Quin Snyder "Popcorn Incident." Sending the color analyst to fire the coach. Even Anderson wasn't immune in the first half of his tenure. His hiring by athletic director Mike Alden came mere minutes after the university's Board of Curators held an emergency meeting to determine whether or not Alden would still have a job. A wayward bullet found its way into DeMarre Carroll's ankle in the 2007 offseason. A few months later, Anderson dismissed Kalen Grimes from the team for introducing a man's face to the butt end of a shotgun.
Then in early 2008, Anderson's time at Missouri faced a make-or-break moment. Five Mizzou players found themselves in the midst of team and legal troubles following an incident at the now-defunct Athena nightclub, and Anderson's suspension of the "Athena Five" left the Tigers with only seven players in a close loss to Nebraska at Mizzou Arena. Though any number of Anderson's 100 wins at Mizzou can be counted as statement victories, it was perhaps that particular loss that made the biggest statement about the direction of the program.
Before Athenagate, Anderson was 30-20 in his time in Columbia. Since the "statement loss," he is 70-26. He's won back a fan base previously content to let Mizzou Arena lay largely vacant. He's placed Missouri on the national radar for analysts and recruits alike. He's brought a definable identity to the program, both in terms of style and character. He's rebranded a program previously labeled as "rogue" into one created in his own image.
Anderson will be the first to say the job is nowhere near done. Missouri remains the winningest team in college basketball never to appear in the FInal Four. But though basketball mecca still sits in the distance awaiting Mizzou's pilgrimage, that 100-win milestone is as good a chance as any to reflect on Anderson's triumph in making something out of nothing in little more than four years in Columbia.
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