After Kentucky beat Missouri by 49 points two weeks ago, a strange thing happened. Missouri first-year Coach Kim Anderson was the model of composure in the post-game news conference. He patiently, almost pleasantly, answered questions. He betrayed not a hint of let's-get-this-over-with nor any need to vent frustration despite Mizzou's most lopsided loss in 17 years.
A question went unasked: Who is this strange visitor from another planet?
Under the best of circumstances, coaches are supposed to be impossible-to-please, easy-to-irritate authoritarians.
"Kim's the most normal coach you're ever going to come across," said sportswriter Steve Walentik, who covers Missouri for the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune.
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Walentik noted how Anderson regularly eats lunch with media types before news conferences. He's conversational with reporters in a breezy what's-going-on way.
He even acknowledges reading sportswriters' stories and listening to radio call-in shows. According to the us-versus-them ethos of coaches, such an admission is verboten.
"It's very weird," Walentik said. "He's not really built for this level. He's not wired like normal coaches."
When asked about coming across as a normal person, Anderson chuckled and suggested the telephone interview about to start might necessitate a re-evaluation. Self-deprecation seems to come easy with him.
"I guess that's a compliment," he said before adding that his background formed his normality. "Being perceived as normal, I appreciate that. I hope I stay normal with that one."
Anderson grew up within a mile or so of the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, Mo. His father, Keith, was a teacher (known to throw tennis balls or chalkboard erasers at inattentive students), coach and referee. As an assistant coach at Missouri, Anderson returned to the State Fair to run clinics. He also sold sunglasses that had "Mizzou" on one lens and "Tigers" on the other at Missouri football games.
His sister Kathy, who is three years younger, was an All-American player for Central Missouri. Now, she works as the school's senior associate athletic director.
After two stints as an assistant coach at Missouri, his alma mater, Anderson was stung by being passed over to replace iconic coach Norm Stewart, who retired in 1999. Instead, he went to work at the Big 12 Conference office as director of basketball operations.
"That experience taught me a lot (in terms of) being involved in all aspects of college basketball," he said. "Not just the coaches, but the officials, conference people, TV, game management."
Three years later, Central Missouri, a Division II school in Warrensburg, Mo., approached Anderson about becoming its coach. He led the Mules to six conference titles, three Final Fours and last year's Division II national championship.
In a happy convergence, Frank Haith left Missouri for Tulsa last spring. Missouri Director of Athletics Mike Alden called Anderson, who took the call while riding his bicycle on the Katy Trail (a former railroad line that now is a trail that runs 240 miles across central Missouri).
Gary Link, the analyst on radio broadcasts of Missouri games, said that it hurt Anderson's feelings that Missouri hired Quin Snyder, then Mike Anderson, then Haith after Stewart retired.
"But he really wasn't ready," said Link, who played with Anderson for Mizzou in the 1970s. "He wasn't seasoned enough. I kid him: 'If Missouri had hired you 15 years ago, you'd be fired by now.'"
Link, who also works as a special assistant to the athletic director, said Missouri wants Anderson to change its basketball culture. "Get back to blue-collar basketball," he said.
The three coaches who followed Stewart won enough, Link said. But fans could not relate to Mike Anderson's "chaotic" playing style nor Haith's dependence on transfers.
"We're Missouri ... ," Link said. "We are the Show Me State. We have people who appreciate effort rather than wins."
As a player for Missouri, Anderson gave plenty of effort and, ultimately, production.
"He came in as a big, old skinny kid from Sedalia," Link said. "A rough old country kid with eyes wide open and, quite honestly, wasn't very good as a freshman."
Anderson, who is 6-foot-7, got good. He scored 1,289 points in his college career and was named the then-Big 8 Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 1977.
Anderson also set Missouri records for fouls in a career (338) and number of times fouling out in a career (34) and a season (13).
"Most would tell you I wasn't really a nice guy on the court ... ," he said. "You know, I'm a competitor. I'm trying to instill that trait with some of my guys. In order for us to compete in this league, as time goes by, we've got to be more intense and we have to be more aggressive."
Link noted how Anderson's aggressive playing style pleased Stewart, aka "Stormin' Norman."
"Norm Stewart used to tell us before every game, you get five fouls, don't take them home with you," Link said. "Make sure you use them."
One foul, which Anderson did not intend to use, looms large in Missouri basketball history.
The setting was Louisville's Freedom Hall. The game was the 1976 NCAA Tournament region finals. Missouri, which was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 32 years, trailed Michigan 50-37 at halftime. The Tigers rallied to lead 76-71 with about eight minutes left.
That's when Anderson went in for a layup. Sensing a defender in position to undercut him, he grabbed the rim. The shot was deemed a dunk, which was then illegal, resulting in a technical foul. Missouri lost 95-88.
The following year the NCAA made dunking legal again.
"Coach (Stewart) says that was the Kim Anderson rule," Anderson said. "I don't think it was."
But that makes for a good story. Perhaps the kind of story written by a sportswriter that Anderson would admit reading.
"I understand they have a job," he said of the sportswriters. "I know they've got to write what they've got to write. It doesn't mean I always agree, but I know they don't always agree with me either."
Then Anderson confessed. "I don't read many," he said. "I'll be honest."
Nor does Anderson listen to sports talk radio as much as he used to. He recalled how he'd listen while driving from Central Missouri to Kansas City to watch high school games. He enjoyed listening to chatter about Bill Self (Kansas) and Bruce Weber (Kansas State).
"Now, they're talking about me," he said. "I don't listen to it as much anymore just because I know when things aren't going good, I know people have opinions. I don't read that much or listen that much anymore.
"But I always have people tell me, 'Hey, this guy said this.'"
Anderson doesn't want to hear it.
"I like that guy," he said he tells the would-be informer. "I want to keep liking that guy. Don't tell me what he said."