Anderson enjoys welcome return to Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Mike Anderson couldn’t contain his emotions Saturday as he was introduced as Arkansas’ coach in front of about 5,000 Arkansas fans in Bud Walton Arena.

With “Welcome Home” signs all around, a smiling Anderson did what came naturally: He started calling the Hogs, much to the delight of the crowd.

Anderson was appearing in public for the first time since leaving Missouri on Wednesday to become the Razorbacks’ coach. The hiring ended an 11-day search following the firing of former coach John Pelphrey and marked a homecoming for Anderson, who was an assistant coach for 17 seasons at Arkansas under Nolan Richardson.

“I’m happy to be back,” Anderson said. “This is home, this is home for Mike Anderson.”

Anderson’s new contract is for seven years and $2.2 million annually. He turned down a $2 million offer from Missouri, where he coached for five years, as well as overtures from Georgia and Oregon in recent years.

As recently as last week, following the Tigers’ NCAA tournament exit in the first round, Anderson said he planned “on being at Missouri.” However, several former Arkansas players contacted Anderson about the Razorbacks’ opening and that led to a meeting with Razorbacks’ athletic director Jeff Long on Wednesday in Tulsa.

“That was a tough, tough, tough decision,” Anderson said. “When I made that statement, that was coming from the heart.

“It was a tough decision. And I chose to come and lead the Razorbacks back to the promised land.”

Anderson declined to speculate on whether any of his Tigers’ players might be considering following him to Arkansas.

“Those guys are at the University of Missouri at this point in time,” he said. “I’m sure right now they’re focused in on trying to get prepared for, and looking forward to seeing, who’s going to be their coach.”

Long put together a committee of eight current and former players when he began the coaching search. He said the people offered up plenty of potential candidates during the search, but the search always came back to Anderson.

“We had lots of people supporting lots of people,” Long said. “But I will say this. Anyone who supported Mike Anderson, it was positive. The support for Mike was substantial, and you could see that here today.”

Anderson interviewed for the Arkansas job after a two-game interim tryout in 2002, but hard feelings between Richardson and former athletic director Frank Broyles led to the hiring of Stan Heath. Anderson left to become the coach at Alabama-Birmingham for four seasons before leaving for Missouri, compiling a 200-98 record and six NCAA tournament appearances in nine seasons at the two schools.

The Razorbacks went to three Final Fours under Richardson and Anderson, winning the national championship in 1994, but the program has fallen on hard times since Richardson’s firing in 2002.

Arkansas has reached the NCAA tournament just three times since Richardson’s firing. Also, crowds in Bud Walton Arena fell to an all-time low of 12,022 this season — down from the 20,134 the school averaged during its national-championship season.

Richardson wasn’t at Saturday’s introduction, preferring to keep the spotlight on his former right-hand man, but many of Richardson’s former players were on hand. One of them was Lee Mayberry, the point guard on Richardson’s first Final Four team in 1990 and a member of Long’s committee.

“We talked about coach (Anderson) and a lot of other coaches,” Mayberry said. “We talked about a lot of things, what kind of coach and what style of play.

“I’m glad (Long) made that decision to bring coach Anderson back.”

Anderson talked Saturday about a return to the up-tempo style of play Arkansas fans became accustomed to under Richardson, saying his teams would guard the opposition “as soon as they got off the bus.”

He also made his feelings clear about the Arkansas job when asked what he would tell possible potential suitors in the future.

“I’m at home, I’m at home,” Anderson said. “As long as they want me here, I’m at home.”

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