COLUMBIA — The three men who coached under Mike Anderson during his time at Missouri were still Tigers as of Thursday evening.
With their head coach in Arkansas one day after announcing his departure from Missouri, associate head coach Melvin Watkins and assistant coaches Matt Zimmerman and T.J. Cleveland were still in Columbia.
“We were all at work today. I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out,” Zimmerman said in a telephone interview Thursday evening.
While official confirmation of the assistants' futures is pending, general consensus seems to be that the staff will leave with its head coach. But in a text message on Thursday, Missouri spokesman Dave Reiter wrote that he could not confirm speculation that Anderson's assistants are Arkansas-bound.
Of the three coaches on Anderson's staff, two have strong ties to Arkansas.
An Arkansas native, Zimmerman graduated from Arkansas in 1990 and worked under Anderson when he was then-head coach Nolan Richardson's assistant.
Cleveland is a 2002 Arkansas graduate and is also a native to the state. He played for Anderson and Richardson at Arkansas from 1998-2002.
Watkins is the only coach on staff without a clear Arkansas connection. This season was his seventh at Missouri and fifth under Anderson. He served a brief stint as the Tigers' interim head coach for seven games after Quin Snyder resigned in 2006. Before his time at Missouri, Watkins coached at Texas A&M for six years (60 wins-112 losses), and UNC Charlotte for two (42 wins-20 losses).
In the long list of potential replacements to Anderson, it seems that Watkins would like his name to be considered in the search for Missouri's next head coach.
David Johnson, boys basketball coach at Hickman High School and a close friend of Watkins, said in a telephone interview with the Missourian on Thursday that Watkins has previously told Johnson that he would be interested in the coaching position at Missouri if the position was available.
If not, Johnson added that Watkins still is not sure if he will stay at Missouri or go with Anderson to Arkansas.
“I know in his heart, he would love to stay here," Johnson said. "But he’s at a crossroads right now because he has loyalty to both Anderson, since he coached under him for five years, and to Missouri, since he’s been here for even longer than that. Right now, he’s waiting to see what all falls into place because he’s got to make a decision on what is in the best interest of him and his family.”
Watkins declined to speak with reporters Thursday.
The resolution should come soon. On Thursday, Anderson was in Fayetteville, Ark.
“Coach has to figure out his staff there, and we’ll have to see,” Zimmerman said.
Anderson’s introduction to Arkansas fans is set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The open-to-the-pubic announcement coincides with Zimmerman's comment of finding out what his future holds "in the next couple days."
Receiving information from the Missouri athletics department might become more difficult with Missouri’s search for a head coach under way. After thanking the media for their cooperation and attendance at the press conference, an e-mail from Reiter on Thursday morning stated:
“With that being said, Mizzou Athletics will next speak with you after the coaching search has been completed. This includes Mike Alden, as well as his search committee of Deputy Chancellor Mike Middleton, Whit Babcock and Gary Link. It will also include our student-athletes who leave tomorrow for their well-deserved spring break.”