COLUMBIA, MO (KCTV) – Many of us might remember the bestselling book What’s the Matter with Kansas? But area sports fans have been asking, “What’s the matter with Missouri?”
After winning two straight SEC East football championships, Mizzou has posted a pair of losing seasons while the basketball team is in the midst of the worst stretch in their modern history. It’s bad enough that hoops coach Kim Anderson brought it up after winning his 300th career game.
“It’s been a tough three years, guys. I’m not going to sit here and try and tell you it’s the time of my life,” he said.
How could Mizzou athletics fall so far and so fast?
“They fail for one big reason,” longtime Powermizzou.com publisher Gabe DeArmond said. “It’s because of recruiting. It’s because they don’t have the talent.”
DeArmond has had a front row seat as Missouri has self-destructed.
“It’s been something new every day,” he said.
First, in April of 2014, star receiver Dorial Green Beckham was kicked off the team for a string of legal problems off the field.
Then, longtime athletics director Mike Alden retired after 18 years on the job. They would miss his leadership, as the 2015 football season went off the rails with an unbelievable series of events.
Star quarterback Maty Mauk was suspended twice and then kicked off the team after video of him snorting a white powder appeared on social media.
Thirty MU football players, with the support of head coach Gary Pinkel, threatened a boycott of a nationally-televised game unless university president Tim Wolfe was fired. And 72 hours later, Wolfe stepped down.
The potential boycott attracted national attention and had a negative impact on recruiting.
But that was nothing compared to the bombshell that was released just days later, when Gary Pinkel announced that he had cancer and was stepping down at the end of the season.
“When you learn you have cancer,” he said in an emotional press conference. “You’re stunned.”
Former Tiger linebacker Barry Odom took his place and led a very young MU squad to a 4-8 record. They did end an 11-game SEC losing streak and had an inspiring come from behind win over Arkansas in their final game.
If football has been reeling, the last few seasons have been a disaster for basketball.
Former coach Frank Haith was an absolute nightmare, failing in almost every possible area.
Basketball commentators say he was a poor coach and a terrible recruiter. He left a NCAA cloud over the program. That eventually led to probation and a reduction in scholarships.
His replacement, former Tiger Anderson, has cleaned up the mess off the court but has been unable to build success on the scoreboard. The sense is that he will lose his job at the end of the season, but even his most vocal critics admit he was handed an almost impossible task.
All of this has been happening during a time of incredible growth in the athletic department.
Mizzou’s move from the Big 12 to the SEC has spurred millions of dollars of investment in their football and basketball facilities. But the gorgeous stadium, arena and practice facilities don’t win games. Coaches and players do that and, thus far, the recruiting has not been up to the same level as the spending.
Football recruiting has especially suffered in the SEC, as MU’s pipeline to Texas high school recruits has largely been cut. Players like star quarterback Chase Daniel helped drive Mizzou’s success, but a move to the new league has made it tougher to convince kids like that to sign with Missouri.
Coach Odom did make a renewed effort in Texas this past year, resulting in five players signing. He hopes to expand on that in the years to come.
While the SEC revenues are expected to be huge, no amount of money can replace the Tigers’ “Border War” series with Kansas.
As Tiger Club booster Joe Zwillenberg told KCTV5, “I really wished we played KU. I feel like we pushed each other to be better.”
While many Tiger fans blame Kansas coach Bill Self for the death of the Border War, it was actually jettisoned by Missouri in return for money and stability.
So, Mizzou has been cut off from their deep Big 8/Big 12 roots, and they’re left with half-empty arenas and no arch-rival.
So, when will this turn around? When they find the right coaches and right players? The big question is: When will that happen?
The coaches might already be there; they’ve just been beaten down by circumstances beyond their control.