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Opinion: Coach John Anderson needs to go

Baseball coach John Anderson has been coach since 1982
Image by Sarah Mai

Athletic Director Mark Coyle has not had a slow trigger when dispensing with coaches of high-profile revenue-raising sports like football, hockey and the two basketball teams when those squads have become stagnant.

That’s why it’s time to dispose of Gopher baseball coach John Anderson. The Hibbing native and former player and student manager as an undergraduate here, he has compiled an enviable record over his 43 years at the helm, including a won-lost record of 1347-964-3, 11 Big Ten regular season championships and 10 conference tournament titles, earning eight Conference Coach of the Year awards, along with national honors as the second-winningest Division I Coach and induction into the College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, among other well-deserved accolades.

But the last few years have witnessed a precipitous and disturbing decline in the quality of the teams he has fielded, including three consecutive losing seasons that hit rock bottom at 5-31 and 16-36 in the past two seasons, which was emulated with this year’s desultory 10-14 Big Ten mark, 10th in the 13-team conference, and an overall 18-34 record, which the leadership has blamed I that old baseball bugaboo, injuries, an affliction that strikes other teams, too, and reflects the paucity of depth in the Gopher program.

This is a far cry from the school’s illustrious baseball history, highlighted by three national championships and 41 professional major leaguers over the years, including some stars and Hall of Famers.

At 67, Coach Anderson should be commended for helping to contribute to this legacy, accorded gratitude for his four-plus decades of loyalty to the program and ushered into retirement.

The team’s past glory probably cannot be regained in today’s environment in which Sun Belt teams dominate at the college level. But the Gophers had been competitive at the national level and in the top echelon of the Big Ten until the recent slide.

There’s no reason the team cannot attract good talent, particularly with its two high quality
home fields at Siebert Field on campus and the Twins’ facility at Target Field, along with the allure of Major League Baseball in town. While it may not be able to dominate at the conference level or have a significant presence nationally, consistent with its past history, the University of Minnesota’s baseball team can and should do a lot better.

Athletic Director Coyle acted on sympathy, rather than pragmatism, when he agreed last week to exercise the one-year renewal of Anderson’s contract. In doing so, he failed to recognize the University baseball team is withering while the women’s softball team has achieved a high level of success in the conference and nationally. The baseball team has the tools to resume that level of competitiveness.

It needs new leadership to do so.

Marshall H. Tanick  is a former Daily sports editor from 1967-1969 and long-time Twin Cities attorney.

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