Anderson
UM

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Mike Anderson is returning to Arkansas to become the Razorbacks’ basketball coach.

The school confirmed the move on Wednesday night.

Anderson leaves Missouri after five seasons to return to the school where he was an assistant to Nolan Richardson for 17 seasons. He replaces John Pelphrey, who was fired on March 13.

“Under Mike’s leadership, I am confident the Razorbacks will be successful in the future on and off the court,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement. “The decision to hire Mike Anderson as head coach is based on my firm belief that he is the right person to lead the Razorback program today and in the years to come.”

Anderson’s departure is certain to anger Missouri fans who just six days earlier were assured by the Tigers’ coach that “I’m excited about what’s taking place at Missouri, and I plan on being at Missouri.” But they had also grown accustomed to previous flirtations—Anderson turned down $2 million offers and both the Georgia job in 2009 and Oregon one year later.

But the hard feelings felt by Missouri fans over Anderson’s departure were nowhere to be found inside Mizzou Arena at a news conference on Wednesday night. Less than 2 hours after a team meeting with Anderson, athletic director Mike Alden repeatedly praised the coach for restoring the national success of a program that rose to prominence under longtime coach Norm Stewart but faltered under Anderson’s predecessor, Quin Snyder.

“We’ve been blessed that he has been with us for the past five years,” Alden said at a hastily arranged news conference. “We wish him nothing but the best.”

Anderson did not attend the news conference, but rising Missouri seniors Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Laurence Bowers also spoke fondly of their former coach. Anderson told them that the call home was too strong to resist, they said.

“I don’t feel Coach Anderson would have left here for any place other than Arkansas,” Denmon said.

Anderson was 111-57 in five seasons at Missouri, including an appearance in the Elite Eight in 2009. The Tigers were 23-11 this season, losing to Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He was 89-41 in four seasons at UAB before that.

Before UAB, Anderson was Richardson’s assistant at Arkansas. He was part of three Final Four trips with the Razorbacks, including when they won the national championship against Duke in 1994 and finished as runners-up to UCLA a year later.

Following Richardson’s firing in 2002, Anderson served as Arkansas’ interim coach for two games. He then interviewed for the position before being passed over in favor of Stan Heath.

Heath lasted five years at Arkansas, finishing 82-71. He led the school to back-to-back NCAA appearances in his final two seasons in 2006 and 2007, but he failed to unite the fans in the wake of Richardson’s firing and subsequent discrimination lawsuit he filed over his departure.

Pelphrey struggled to do the same in his four years with the Razorbacks, with attendance in the 19,200-seat Bud Walton Arena falling to its lowest levels since the building opened. The Razorbacks averaged 17,148 in his first season and steadily fell until averaging 12,022 this season.

During its national championship season of 1993-94, Arkansas averaged 20,134. This season, the school drew a season-high 14,174 for its game against Mississippi in February.

Pelphrey finished 69-59 with the Razorbacks, though he did sign one of the top recruiting classes in the country last fall.

Now it’s up to Anderson to keep that class intact and carry on the legacy started by his friend and mentor, Richardson.

Associated Press writer Alan Scher Zagier in Columbia, Mo. contributed to this report.