SEC hurdles await Missouri
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
COLUMBIA, Mo. — On an early autumn afternoon, Frank Haith meanders his Chevy Tahoe through a college town that not-so-warmly welcomed him a year ago with student-led plans of “a peaceful but adamant rejection of Frank Haith.”
“There was no parade,” Haith remembers.
A different vibe resonates in Columbia this fall. Haith walks into a local restaurant and is immediately greeted with pats on the back and words of encouragement. After Haith endured what he called the most trying season of his eight as a head coach, the perception of the maligned 46-year-old has evolved.
“He did the best coaching job in America,” says Norm Stewart, Missouri’s head coach from 1967 to 1999. “Right now, it is rolling. Everyone has great anticipation of some more good times.”
Lingering questions persist. The NCAA continues to investigate allegations of rampant booster malfeasance involving Miami’s sports programs, including the charge that Haith, when coaching there, was aware that booster Nevin Shapiro paid $10,000 for a recruit’s commitment. Haith declined to comment on specifics of the case during a recent lunch, other than saying, “I am innocent.”
And despite a 30-win season that included a Big 12 tournament title, the final snapshot came in a despondent locker room, where players sobbed and buried heads in hands after a stunning first-round NCAA tournament loss to 15th seed Norfolk State.
“There is no question,” Haith says of his first full year at Missouri, “it was pretty tough.”
First-year coaches, especially when considered consolation prizes, are often initially rejected by their communities. But what distinguished Haith’s season was its perpetual volatility and how he confronted it.
When word trickled out about Missouri’s hire during the 2011 Final Four, fans were left slack-jawed at the choice to replace Mike Anderson because of Haith’s 43-69 Atlantic Coast Conference record in seven seasons at Miami.
When Yahoo! Sports unveiled its exhaustive Miami investigation, it raised questions about Haith’s recruiting tactics.
And when Missouri’s Laurence Bowers, the team’s best returning big man, suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Big 12 title hopes looked lost last October.
That’s when Haith cobbled together an undersized seven-man rotation, moved 6-6 shooting guard Kim English … [For more on With hoops faithful awake, SEC hurdles await Missouri, click here.]