Photo credit: fultonsun.com
Mizzou Athletic Director Diseree Reed-Francois made her most important decision last week since coming to Columbia last year. She put an end to the season long speculation if Head Basketball Coach Cuonzo Martin would get a sixth year at Mizzou..
In the end, Reed-Francois didn't really have a choice. Fan apathy is as low as it was during the Kim Anderson era, with attendance averaging somewhere around 6,600 per game at Mizzou Arena. A 12 win season during year 5 of Counzo's tenure was too much to swallow to allow a year 6. The deed had to be done and she did it.
I wrote here in November that 2021-22 season could be the make or break season for Coach Martin, and it turned out to the break season. The Counzo Martin Era was suppose to be different. It was suppose to re-establish Mizzou basketball to national prominence. But in the end, he really never came close.
It was a frustrating and painful season for Mizzou fans to watch and endure. From embarrassing loses to teams who shouldn't be able to compete with the Tigers(Kansas City and Liberty) to lopsided loses to teams who we would like to compete with annually.(Kansas, Kentucky, and Illinois).
It was also painful to watch the demise of Coach Martin's career at Mizzou. By all accounts he's a man of character and integrity. Counzo Marting is a coach everyone should want to succeed. Some Mizzou fans may be happy, but I"m not celebrating.
So now Mizzou is looking for it's 4th coach in the last 11 years. What kind of coach should Mizzou be looking for? And...what needs to change to give the new coach the support he will need to return the Tigers to national prominence.
A New Era Coach
The next coach of the Missouri Tigers will not just someone who knows the X's and O's, also someone who knows how to navigate in this changing environment in college sports. I"m talking specifically about the transfer portal and NIL's.
The transfer portal can giveth and it can taketh away. With the right moves, It can quickly turn a team around. With the wrong moves, it can lead to disaster. For Cuonzo Martin this year, it was the latter. With the loses of Jeremiah Tillman and Dru Smith to graduation, and Xavier Pension and Mark Smith to the transfer portal, Martin needed to get some immediate help from the portal.
He missed it entirely by not replacing the scoring, rebounding, or ball handling he lost from last year. Although Martin had success in the past in transfers like Smith and Kassius Robertson, his failure this past year, cost the Tigers dearly. Whether fans or coaches like it or not, the transfer portal is here to stay. Finding a coach who can manage the transfer portal will be key in the near and long term success of the program.
However, as important as managing the transfer portal and knowing the Xs and Os, is the new wave of NIL(name image and Likeness) that is now available to college players. Mizzou's next coach is going to have to turn NILs into an advantage, as other SEC schools have done. Eli Drinkwitz's football program has already embraced it, understanding they need it to compete for recruiting purposes. However, according to Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "Martin was open to the NIL movement, but he didn't view a coach's job as leading the charge." Mizzou's administration, along with the Reed-Francois, is going to have to get on the same page with the new coach so they can compete in the NIL era of college sports.
An issue which may not be familiar to most Mizzou fans is how the basketball program has fallen behind in financial commitment compared to most other SEC schools. In fact, according to Matthew Harris of Rock M Nation, since 2012, Mizzou is only ahead of South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi State in the amount of dollars spent on the basketball program. Mizzou's average annual expenditure of $7.52 million is in the bottom third of SEC schools.
According to Harris, Mizzou started falling behind the other SEC schools in expenditure during the Kim Anderson era. Meanwhile, other SEC schools were putting more resources into their programs. Although Mizzou started recently putting more into the basketball budget, catching up has been difficult.
However, I want to go back to Mike Anderson era. After Mizzou's Elite 8 run in 2009, Anderson interviewed for the Georgia job. Then in 2010, he interviewed for the Oregon job, followed by interviewing for the Arkansas job in 2011. which he took.
It was known at the time, Anderson had been unhappy about the money invested in the basketball program. It was thought his interviews with Georgia and Oregon was to get Mizzou's administration's attention to his complaints. Some adjustments were made, but not enough to keep him from leaving for Arkansas.
Let's not fool ourselves into thinking Frank Haith and Kim Anderson were Mizzou's first choice when they were hired. Haith was only hired because Purdue's Matt Painter couldn't be lured away from West Laffayette. Haith was at best, Mizzou's third or fourth choice. After Haith left, Mizzou's AD at the time, Mike Alden, had difficulty drawing interest from other high profile candidates. It was at that time, he turned to Kim Anderson.
The lack of financial commitment since joining the SEC is not Cuonzo Martin's fault. No, the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of Mizzou's administration.
From what I understand, Mizzou's President, Mun Choi, has taken a hands on approach to the Athletic Department. He wants to elevate Mizzou sports. That is good news for fans and hopefully we will see the results across all the Athletic programs.
Choi, Reed-Francois, and the new coach will have to be in step with each other to turn the basketball program around. Learning how to manage the transfer portal, NIL's, and financial resources will be vital in returning Mizzou basketball to national prominence.
The next step is hiring the right coach. Who that will be is too early to say. Many have speculated. The best I've read so far is from Dave Matter of the Post Dispatch.
No matter who is hired, he will need to try to keep most of the roster intact, the recruiting class committed, and go into the transfer portal to pick up some immediate help. Certainly a tall order.