January 9, 2019 11:19:59 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Tom Anagnost faced the most difficult decision he has had to make as a coach in the last few months of 2018.
Shortly after his Mississippi State women's soccer team lost to Lipscomb in the first round of the NCAA tournament, something happened in Anagnost's personal life that forced him to reflect on his situation and his life.
"It kinda gave light to my life and what I want in my life," Anagnost said Tuesday. "A lot of it is physical health, personal health, outlets, realizing I would like to share my life with someone if I could and friends and family, and that's what prompted the move."
The "move" Anagnost referenced was his decision to resign as MSU's coach after two seasons and leading the program to its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. The news was announced Jan. 4, but Anagnost said his contemplation about his next step went on a lot longer than a month. On Monday, the next move was finalized when the University of Illinois at Chicago announced the hiring of Anagnost as its new coach.
"This is by leaps and bounds the most difficult decision I had to make," Anagnost said. "It took a long time to make the decision. The job at Mississippi State is an elite job in the country, and it is just very difficult to walk away from that."
Anagnost said he felt "unburdened" in a sense when associated head coach Matt Kagan was hired at Oregon State to be its new head coach. The flip side of the equation was leaving players at MSU after building relationships with them and helping the Bulldogs forge a path to more competitiveness in the Southeastern Conference and raise their national profile.
Anagnost praised MSU Director of Athletic John Cohen, deputy AD/chief financial officer Jared Benko, and senior associate AD/event and facilities management Jay Logan for their work, saying they are "unbelievable" and that they helped create an environment that was "very difficult to walk away from."
"I am proud of the work we have put in and the success that the program has achieved, but just like everything we weren't satisfied with the season and were continually striving to do more the next year," Anagnost said. "I think that is the mind-set of (MSU interim head coach) Josh (Rife) and the players. I think we have built some momentum and the team is looking for to build on that."
Anagnost said a strong spring schedule was set up against opponents that all made the NCAA tournament to help a young team capitalize on a second-straight nine-win season. In six seasons as a full-time head coach, Anagnost led his teams to the NCAA tournament five times, including two trips to the second round.
"I think the team is built for the next step and to continue to do what we just did," Anagnost said. "I anticipate they're going to do well in the SEC. They've got a young team and are going to add some kids and fill some roles. I am very, very comfortable and confident in the leadership with John, Jared, and Jay. They have a great list of people they are working with to hire the next coach. I just know they're going to hire someone great, and the future of the program is super, super bright."
Anagnost thanked everyone he met in Starkville and wished all of the players well. Even though it was a tough decision to make, Anagnost said the timing was right for him to take a step he feels is the best one for his future.
"I made my decision and I am at peace with it," Anagnost said. "I am going to miss everybody incredibly."
This season, MSU earned its first top 25 rankings in program history and finished the campaign ranked No. 17 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). The Bulldogs set multiple program records, including shots allowed per game (11.6), shots per game (18.4), and fewest goals allowed (17).
In 2016, Anagnost was an assistant coach at North Carolina State. He was the head coach at Miami from 2011-2013. The Saginaw, Michigan, native's first head coaching stint came at Central Michigan, where he served on an interim basis in 2008, and as the full-time leader in 2009-10. Anagnost went 45-12-7 at CMU.
Rife, who joined the MSU staff in July 2018, owns more than a decade of coaching experience, including most recently as associate head coach at Liberty.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.