Missouri’s Haith recruits fans, students
Taking over a successful college basketball program as the new
guy is never easy. Competing with live coverage of the NFL draft
when your new school has two top 10 picks? More like downright
That’s the scenario new Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith
found himself in during a recent visit with Tiger boosters at the
Mizzou Caravan’s annual pork-chop dinner and Chariton County
whistlestop of Mendon, population 208.
His brief remarks were cut short by raucous cheers from the
TV-watching crowd when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected former
Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. That was moments after the San
Francisco 49ers selected Aldon Smith, Gabbert’s former
Haith didn’t seem to mind. The former Miami coach – whose hiring
was greeted with disappointment by Missouri diehards hoping for a
bigger name – realizes that he has plenty to prove after seven
seasons in Coral Gables with just one NCAA Tournament berth and a
losing Atlantic Coast Conference record.
”People want to know who you are, how you are going to do
things and what’s in your character,” Haith said in an Associated
Press interview. ”That’s the passion I felt … I got the message
– they want to win big.”
Haith has spent most of the past month on the road, from New
York and Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. and North Carolina,
hustling to fill three available scholarships for next season and
gain verbal commitments for 2012, when six roster spots will be
He’s also focused on recruiting a fan base, with recent trips to
alumni and fan clubs to places as disparate as Chicago and
His life story is one that resonates among Missouri fans who
still revere Norm Stewart, the Shelbyville native who coached
Missouri for 32 years after starring for the school’s baseball and
Haith, 45, was born in New York City, one of 10 children, but
raised by his grandmother in Burlington, N.C., beginning at age 5.
His mother died when Haith was 12, and his father remained distant.
Three younger siblings later joined Haith and older sister Patricia
in North Carolina.
Encouraged by a Pop Warner coach who was also the school’s
athletic director, Haith remained in Burlington to attend Elon
College, at the time an NAIA school. An injury during the summer of
his freshman year derailed his plans to play football.
He instead found an identity in the coaching fraternity, filled
with the father figures he lacked. Haith became a student assistant
at Elon, living in a gym janitor’s closet when his scholarship
couldn’t cover more traditional student housing.
”As I look back on it, I learned and grew from that
experience,” he said. ”It’s a big part of who I am.”
He soon followed the peripatetic life of a college assistant
coach, relocating every few years while learning from more
established basketball minds, from Dave Odom at Wake Forest to Rick
Barnes at Texas. Two other former bosses are now top NBA
executives: Tony Barone Sr. (Texas A&M), player personnel
director for the Memphis Grizzlies; and Kevin Eastman (North
Carolina-Wilmington), a Boston Celtics assistant.
Haith’s humility won over the Mendon crowd of Missouri farmers,
teachers and small-town bankers.
”I’m thrilled,” said Paul Steele, a former University of
Missouri curator and Chillicothe farmer. ”I really believe he has
the integrity that we in Missouri expect in our coaches.”
Haith replaced Mike Anderson, who left Missouri for Arkansas
after five seasons, three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances
and 77 wins over the past three years.
Haith went 129-101 in seven seasons at Miami, his first head
coaching job, including 21-15 in his final stint with the ACC
school. The Hurricanes went 43-69 in the conference under Haith,
whose best ACC mark was 8-8.
Missouri had hoped to lure Purdue coach Matt Painter, who
instead signed a contract extension and received a sizable raise
from the Big Ten school.
Gary Link, who played for Stewart and helped Missouri athletic
director Mike Alden with the coaching search, said that Roy
Williams at North Carolina, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Gary
Williams of Maryland each highly recommended Haith.
Link said Haith will quickly win over skeptical and uncertain
Tiger fans once they get to know him better. Trips to far-flung
places like Mendon certainly don’t hurt.
”We’re the University of Missouri,” he said, emphasizing the
second word in the school’s name. ”We play better to all the
outstate areas than we do even in Kansas City or St. Louis. Mendon.
Brookfield, Marceline. The university is of Missouri. Out here,
we’re the only show in town.”
One potential recruit was expected on campus Wednesday. Isaiah
Philmore, a 6-foot-7 forward who averaged 15.3 points and seven
rebounds as a sophomore for Towson, will make an official visit,
his Delaware-based AAU coach said.
Missouri could also be in the running for Rodney Purvis, a
6-foot-4 guard from Raleigh, N.C. The high school junior verbally
committed to Louisville but changed his mind after Haith hired
assistant Tim Fuller, Purvis’ primary recruiter.
Haith said he doesn’t expect to lose any current Missouri
players, including junior forwards Kim English and Laurence Bowers,
who declared for the NBA draft but can return to school since they
didn’t sign with agents; and freshman point guard Phil Pressey,
whose father was Anderson’s college teammate and lifelong
”Phil is a guy that obviously got hurt, who’s been close to
wanting to leave,” Haith said. ”We’ve talked about it. I feel
comfortable that he’s coming back.”
On Wednesday, Haith will take another brief break from the
recruiting trail to visit with Missouri students for the first time
at the school’s student union.
The only expected distraction this time: final exams.