In a civilized press conference Friday in the Marriott Center, Ladell Andersen resigned as head basketball coach at Brigham Young University. The coach, who just turned 60, said he could have stayed on but decided he didn't want to. If he coaches again, it will likely only be as an ambassador to a foreign country, where they don't take any taxes out of your check, there are no booster clubs, and no recruiting rules.
For 23 seasons - 18 of them as a head coach - Andersen battled the elements and won. Mostly. He was 405-219, overall, counting college and pro ball. In college games he was 290-166. At BYU his teams were 114-71 and included one WAC title and three NCAA tournaments.Friday's press conference brought all that up, as Andersen was properly toasted. The Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., can't be far away.
Or, as BYU athletic director Glen Tuckett elequently said, "When they unite the history of sports in Utah, Ladell Andersen's name will be at the top, and not because of alphabetical reasons."
As coaching changes go, the mood was all upbeat. But, still, doesn't BYU have to be getting tired of this sort of thing? Since Stan Watts retired in 1972, almost two decades ago, there is yet to be a coach leave BYU who wasn't running away, either voluntarily on involuntarily.
It was what wasn't said at the press conference that spoke volumes.
"It's better to resign one year than get fired the next," said Andersen.
The indication of job pressure, from either without or within, was obvious.
It was common knowledge that Andersen planned to coach for at least two more seasons at BYU. It was also common knowledge that he had his frustrations working at, and for, BYU. There were concerns about scheduling (not enough home dates), admission policies (especially frustrating were attempts to get blacks admitted), and administrative support.
Such has been the pattern with BYU basketball in the post-Watts era. No coach has sat on the bench and not looked over his shoulder. Glen Potter wasn't a consensus choice to succeed Watts. Frank Arnold wasn't a consensus choice to succeed Potter. And Andersen wasn't a consensus choice to succeed Arnold.
The program has reflected that skitterishness. Coaching for BYU is in some ways like managing for George Steinbrenner. It's like doing color commentary for Monday Night Football. It's the don't-foul-up-or-you're-gone mentality. Breathing room is scarce. You're guilty until proven innocent.
It is not a system that fosters self-confident coaches, or coaching.
Andersen had enough clout during his first five seasons at BYU - all winners - to survive. But after a 14-15 record this year he had to know intense times were ahead. After all his years in the business, he needed job insecurity like he needed a bleeding ulcer.
A coach to the end, he went with the percentage shot. "The ideal thing is to go out with a national championship," he said, shrugging. "But this isn't bad. It's nice to do it your way."
He certainly went out better than either Potter or Arnold.
But as the question of Andersen's successor takes center stage, it's obvious BYU isn't about to change its system.
The same guarded, conditional, loyalty that has pervaded the program for 18 years surfaced with the announcement that Roger Reid, Andersen's assistant head coach, wasn't the immediate choice as the Cougars' new head coach.
"We'll look at all the parameters," said Tuckett. "We'll conduct a search."
Reid is the coach who has bided his time as an assistant coach the past 11 years, to Arnold and then Andersen. He turned aside several offers to work elsewhere, and as recently as last spring turned down a chief assistant's job at UCLA only after long talks with the BYU administration about his future with the Cougars.
Last fall, he encouraged his highly-recruited son, Randy, a senior at Spanish Fork High School, to turn down UCLA and sign with BYU - undoubtedly a move that he felt created a situation where he could coach his son.
Now, Reid gets the unspoken message from the administration that they might hire him, and they might not hire him. If they do wind up naming him as the new head coach, he starts off with the same kind of off-balance posture experienced by the three men who preceeded him - all of whom are now out of coaching.
At least Andersen is out because he said he wanted to be. In that way, he bucked the system.