Missouri and its Frank Haith mess

Admittedly, as a Mizzou fan, Frank Haith had won me over. His introductory press conference had all the right themes: subtle jabs at former coach Mike Anderson’s system and plenty of praise for longtime Tiger coach Norm Stewart. It was nice to see that Haith (or someone in his “camp”) had done his homework.

The early returns in recruiting were really what started to make me believe that Mike Alden had made a shrewd move. He got commitments from Tyrek Coger and Ish Wainwright, two nicely-regarded players from the Class of 2013. Even though I knew full well those two were far from actually being “locked up,” the fact Haith had their ears was a good indicator.

Haith is off to a bad start at Mizzou. Image courtesy blog.al.com.

Maybe Alden really had found something. What sport doesn’t see coaches who have been cast out find success in different (more likely better) situations? People drool over Doc Rivers now but it wasn’t that long ago the Orlando Magic fired him. Staying in Boston, Red Sox Terry Francona was fired by the Phillies before winning titles. Retread wonders are everywhere in sports.

But how things changed with the Yahoo investigative piece on the Miami football program and booster Nevin Shapiro, as it appears Haith may have been along for a portion of the infraction-filled ride.

My first thought was that if evidence surfaced that proved Haith did in fact know about the $10,000 payment to a player it would virtually be a certainty he’d be fired before he coached a game at Mizzou. The Tigers would the have to hastily find a new coach and that would put the team in a tough position.

The new coach would have only a few months to install their system and make a connection with the players. Promoting one of the assistants might have eased this a bit but it’d still be far from an ideal situation. The players themselves would need to emotionally recover, as they would have gone from having a coach that recruited them and preached about “family” suddenly leave, to having to have gone through the introduction/warming up dance with Haith, to then going through that process all over again. What promised to be a solid team that could conceivably contend for a Big 12 title would be put in an awfully tough position to succeed.

But I doubt Missouri will fire Haith before the 2011-2012 season starts for a couple of reasons. The NCAA has a massive investigation ahead of it, and that no doubt will take a very long time. Haith is just a small piece of puzzle, and any action by the NCAA regarding him would likely not come for a long while, and especially not anytime near the start of the basketball season. Haith will almost certainly deny all the allegations made by Shapiro. As damning as the pictures and allegations look, the fact remains that right now it is a Ponzi-schemer’s word against a coach with no record of violations.

So unless Missouri puts Haith on administrative leave, everything he has built since he became the coach stands, for now.

The area in which this would seem to hurt the Tigers most at the moment would be in recruiting. Haith stepped into a great situation because he had a senior-laden team, and this was good for him for two reasons. For one he had a team he can likely compete with right away, which would help win over fans and get his program off to a strong start. But with eight expected scholarships becoming open after the season, he also has an opportunity to fill the team with “his” players right away. He could avoid an uncomfortable period like Anderson had his first few years on the job trying to fit Quin Snyder’s squares into his circular system.

But now Haith’s competition on the recruiting trail, be they from the Big 12 or elsewhere, have potent ammunition against him. They’ll certainly talk with recruits and their families about Haith’s uncertain future at Mizzou. Even though Haith was lauded by Alden as a good recruiter (there is an easy joke here), I doubt anything he could say would alleviate those concerns.

Haith already had a tough job ahead of him in assembling a class that would essentially make or break his tenure at Mizzou. That task just got a lot more difficult, even if his tenure has already been broken.


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