Former MPCC baseball player finds success on national stage
Frank Anderson (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com.)
From small town beginnings to a sold-out stadium at the NCAA Men’s College World Series, Frank Anderson’s career has surpassed his wildest dreams.
“Did I ever imagine I’d make it this far? No, not at all,” he said.
Anderson, considered one of the top pitching coaches in the nation, is the assistant baseball coach for the University of Tennessee. He’s also a Mid-Plains Community College alum.
During his 39-year career, he has been part of the coaching staff for Division I teams that advanced to 21 NCAA Regionals, seven NCAA Super Regionals and four College World Series tournaments.
Eighty-nine of the pitchers he coached have been selected in the MLB Draft - seven of them as first rounders.
Growing up in rural Nebraska
The D1 stage is a far cry from the farm fields surrounding Grant, Neb., where Anderson spent his senior year of high school. Back then, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
“My dad managed grain elevators, and I knew I didn’t want to do that,” Anderson said. “Looking back, growing up around agriculture and farms is a good thing. It promotes a strong work ethic. At the time, I thought it sucked.”
Anderson’s father managed the elevator at Grainton, and Anderson was employed there part-time.
“I would play ball until 10 o’clock at night, then have to turn around and be at the grain elevator at 7 a.m. the next day – in another time zone,” Anderson said. “It helped shape me into who I am, but it also helped me realize that if I wanted to do something different, I needed to get a degree.”
After graduating from Perkins County Schools in 1977, Anderson followed his family to Missouri and enrolled in Northwest Missouri State University.
“I didn’t particularly like it,” Anderson said. “I didn’t do well academically, I was a physical therapy major and wasn’t prepared for all the chemistry, biology and physics classes I was signed up for my first semester.”
Assistant Coach Frank Anderson of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com.)
Still wanting to pursue a degree, however, Anderson turned his sights back to Nebraska.
“I liked the baseball program at Mid-Plains Community College,” Anderson said. “Baseball in North Platte was really good at the time, and a lot of it had to do with the American Legion program.”
Most of the baseball Anderson had played was American Legion Baseball because the sport wasn’t offered at the small schools he had attended.
“I did branch out and golf one year, then the next year, the coach said, ‘If you’re going to start as quarterback again, you’re going to run track’,” said Anderson. “So, in Grant, most of what I did was football, basketball and track. I had great coaches. I’ve been around crazy good coaches at the D1 level, and I look back at my coaches in Grant and realize those guys could have coached anywhere. I was very fortunate.”
Chuck Francis, a teacher at North Platte Senior High School, was coaching the MPCC baseball team in 1978. Anderson knew him from high school athletics and also had friends who played for Mid-Plains, both of which influenced his decision to attend the college. On top of that, he received a scholarship that covered the cost of his tuition.
“Going to Mid-Plains was good for me,” Anderson said. “I hadn’t done well my first semester of college, but I got back in there, and MPCC stabilized things. I made friends that I still have to this day.”
Anderson served as an infielder for the Knights for two seasons. The second season, in ’79, was coached by Bob Rabe. That was the year Anderson was named a junior college All-American. It was also the last year MPCC had a baseball program.
Assistant Coach Frank Anderson of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the UNC Asheville Bull Dogs and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com.)
Because the number of two-year colleges that had baseball teams was limited, the Knights had to travel long distances to find someone to play. It was also difficult to keep the MPCC coaching position filled as it was only part-time.
“I must be bad luck because both of the teams I played on in Nebraska shut down,” Anderson said. “All joking aside, I really enjoyed my time in North Platte. We played at an old minor league park, and a couple nights a week after practice, my roommate and I would close the Gallenkamp Shoes store in the mall. It was late enough that we didn’t do a lot of business, but we would sit there and visit with people as they came by. North Platte is number 15 on the license plate - I shouldn’t remember stuff like that, but I do because of the impact the place had on me.”
Even the home he stayed in was memorable.
“The first house the coach put me in off campus – it was scary,” Anderson said. “It was me and another kid upstairs and an elderly lady living downstairs. The house was very old, and at every point there was an upside down cross. I’ll always remember that.”
Anderson transferred to what was then Kearney State College in the fall of 1980 on another baseball scholarship and switched to outfielder.
“I didn’t pitch, which is crazy,” Anderson said. “I’ve been a pitching coach for years, but I never pitched.”
He was named an All-District and All-Area outfielder before continuing on his educational journey to Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan.
“We had played Emporia when I was at Kearney, and I saw the most well-coached team I’d ever seen,” Anderson said. “So, I went there.”
It was during that time, that he realized the career he was pursuing might not be for him.
“When I started at Emporia, I still kind of thought physical therapy might be the direction I would go, but then I did an internship where we helped handicapped kids,” Anderson said. “I can remember a kid walking 10 feet on a balance beam, maybe a foot off the ground, and it’s like we won the World Series. I was going, ‘Whoa man, this is way too emotional for me - and on a daily basis.’ I can see how it would be a really rewarding profession, but I didn’t know if I was tough enough to handle it.”
Instead, Anderson went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Emporia State in 1983. He began his coaching career there, serving as an assistant coach from 1983-85, and helped the Hornets reach the 1984 NAIA World Series.
Anderson also attained a master’s degree in science with an emphasis in exercise physiology from Emporia in 1985.
“I went straight through and got my master’s because I knew if got a job, I would never go back to school. That was one of the best things I ever did,” Anderson said. “After that, I took a job teaching eighth grade science and coaching junior high baseball and football. I had kids who were 6-foot-2 and 4-foot-9. They were all over the map size wise and emotionally. I wouldn’t have gone back for a second year. That was tough.”
Launching a career
Pitcher Ben Joyce, Assistant Coach Frank Anderson and Catcher/Outfielder Evan Russell of the Tennessee Volunteers during the 2022 NCAA Baseball Tournament Super Regional game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com.)
His break came with an opportunity to return to his roots – a two-year college in Big Springs, Texas.
“I was getting married and couldn’t find a job,” Anderson said. “I had gotten to know the baseball coach at Howard Junior College where the trainer had left to take a job with pro rodeo. He asked if I could be the trainer, pitching coach and teach classes. I was hired as a trainer, really, but I didn’t care. I was coaching college ball.”
Anderson accepted the assistant coaching position at Howard in 1987 where he became an integral part of constructing one of the nation’s top junior college programs. Over his three seasons, the Hawks not only ranked among the top 20 junior colleges in the country, but also had 26 of Anderson’s pupils drafted by major league clubs.
Anderson spent the next nine seasons, from 1990-99, as an assistant coach for Texas Tech University. During his tenure in Lubbock, the Red Raiders not only won 71.3 percent of their games, but also averaged 43 wins each season and earned five consecutive NCAA Regional berths from 1995-99.
In addition to helping lead Texas Tech to the Big 12 Championship in 1997 and the conference tournament title in 1998, Anderson also helped guide the Red Raiders to their first-ever Southwest Conference crown and the school’s first NCAA appearance in 1995 behind a school-record 51-14 mark.
From 2000-03, Anderson served as pitching coach for the Texas Longhorns in Austin. He helped lead them to three consecutive College World Series appearances as well as a national championship in 2002.
Moving up the ranks
Pitcher Will Mabrey and Assistant Coach Frank Anderson of the Tennessee Volunteers during the 2022 SEC Baseball Tournament game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Tennessee Volunteers at the Hoover Met Stadium in Hoover, Ala. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com.)
By the end of 2003, Anderson had been named head baseball coach at Oklahoma State University. During his first season, he led the Pokes to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. He also guided OSU to the Big 12 Tournament Championship in 2004 - its first in program history.
The 2006 season started an impressive run for the Cowboys as they posted three straight seasons of 41 or more victories. Anderson’s squad earned the No. 1 national seed in the NCAA Tournament that year, and in 2007 the program reached the NCAA Super Regionals.
Another successful season followed in 2008 with the Pokes climbing as high as No. 5 in the national rankings. Oklahoma State finished the season ranked all three years from 2006-08. In Anderson’s final four seasons, he had an overall record of 130–100 overall.
In July 2012, Anderson was hired as the pitching coach for the Houston Cougars. There, he helped lead the Cougars to three NCAA Tournaments, including an NCAA Super Regional in 2014. UH played in four consecutive American Athletic Conference Tournament championship games, taking home the title in 2014 and 2017.
Anderson took over his current role as pitching coach for the Tennessee Volunteers in June of 2017. In his initial season, he helped lead the Vols to a five-win improvement in SEC play as the team won 12 conference games for the first time since 2014.
Assistant Coach Frank Anderson of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the UNC Greensboro Spartans and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com.)
Tennessee’s pitching staff took a giant leap forward in 2019 and was one of the nation’s best throughout the year, returning the UT back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. Under Anderson’s guidance, the Vols tied a program record with 10 shutouts (including three in conference play), racked up 551 strikeouts (second most in program history) and set a new program record in strikeouts per nine innings (9.16).
In 2021, Anderson’s pitching staff once again ranked among the best in the country as the Vols won the SEC Eastern division title, a feat not accomplished since 1997, and advanced to their first College World Series since 2005. The Big Orange finished the season ranked Top 10, and under Anderson’s guidance, three UT pitchers earned All-America honors.
The Vols also had three pitchers taken in the 2021 MLB Draft. Since joining Tennessee’s staff, Anderson has coached seven pitchers that have been selected in the draft.
Anderson’s pitching staff played a major part in Tennessee’s record-setting 2022 season as well – with the program reaching an unprecedented No. 1 in the polls and winning a school-record 57 games en route to SEC Regular Season and SEC Tournament titles.
The Big Orange had a program-best five pitchers earn All-America honors during the 2022 season, and Anderson was subsequently named Rawlings 2022 Pitching Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association.
Reflecting on the success
Assistant Coach Frank Anderson of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com.)
Anderson has managed to remain grounded despite his success. He credits his roots in the Midwest for molding him into the person he has become, community college for giving him a start and his family for allowing him to pursue his passion.
“I just think if there’s something you want to do you need to put your nose to the grindstone and make it happen,” Anderson said. “For me, that was coaching, but I didn’t do it for the money. If you’re going to teach and coach, you’re not going to get rich. You’re not going to get rich coaching until you get to a certain level.”
He also didn’t find success all on his own. He had a strong support system – especially in his wife, Sandra, who had been an athlete in South Dakota.
“She understood the time and commitment coaching takes,” Anderson said. “By the time we had kids, she was the one who took them to every game. My son played in the major leagues for 13 years, and he would be the first to acknowledge that’s all because of her. So, you definitely need to have that support system and a strong work ethic, but if there’s something you aspire to do, you need to go for it.”