Missouri once passed on Self <I>and</i> Calipari
ST. LOUIS -- Missouri's pain didn't end with one of the worst losses ever in March. This being Mizzou, there is prolonged suffering involved at times, and Tigers fans opened old wounds Monday with this sight: Former coaching candidates Bill Self and John Calipari roaming the sidelines of a national championship game for the second time in five years.
Meanwhile, Missouri still hasn't reached a Final Four. A 30-win season that produced a Big 12 tournament title came to an embarrassing end with a defeat to No. 15 seed Norfolk State in the NCAA tournament. A program that enjoyed unseen highs this winter – only to have expectations crumble in Omaha, Neb. – watched the two men it passed over in 1999 compete for another crown.
Oh, what could have been in Columbia, Mo., if either Self or Calipari had succeeded Norm Stewart. Instead, athletic director Mike Alden chose Quin Snyder, a hot up-and-comer with a Duke pedigree, over two coaches who went on to become among the nation's best.
Self and Calipari have six Final Four berths between them. They have combined for two national titles after Monday. They have recruited some of the game's brightest stars over the past decade. They are proven winners who have elevated programs during each stop of their accomplished careers.
The same, of course, can't be said for Snyder, now an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers. Sure, there were a few items from his tenure in Columbia worth remembering: The promise he carried as a Mike Krzyzewski understudy, the Elite Eight appearance in 2002, the consecutive seasons with at least 20 victories from 2001 to 2003. He projected a youthful confidence that convinced some around the program that Alden had made a wise choice.
But, mostly, Snyder is remembered for the sideshows. The Ricky Clemons scandal was his largest circus act. It included sordid jailhouse tapes, accusations of money exchanged between players and coaches, and a sense of disorder that never improved with time.
There also was dwindling performance on the court. Snyder failed to win more than 16 games in each of his final two full seasons. The chaos was captured in a fitting way when a Missouri fan dumped popcorn on Snyder's head after a 32-point loss to Illinois in 2005. By then, the former prodigy had lost his shine. He was fired less than two months later.
"We recognized two very good coaches," Gary Link, a Missouri radio analyst and former Tigers guard, told FOXSports.com. "I think we were pretty happy with the coaches we got to come here. Quin Snyder took us to an Elite Eight. Mike Anderson took us to an Elite Eight. Frank Haith was the National Coach of the Year (this season). I think we've done pretty well. Obviously, I think we recognized Coach Self and Coach Calipari were outstanding coaches. It's got to be the right fit."
And it's impossible to know if Self or Calipari would have been a good one. It's easy to look back and picture a much different outcome for Missouri under either man. It's easy to watch them at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and think the Tigers fumbled away a promising future. It's easy to think either Self or Calipari could have done better.
But remember, success happens when the right blend of talent and opportunity meets a nurturing environment. Self found it at Kansas – but not without shedding a reputation as someone who collapses early in the NCAA tournament. Calipari found it at Kentucky – but questions about ethics continue to follow him. Both men faced adversity on their rise to the top, and both men surely would have confronted some at Missouri.
But would either man have led the Tigers to a Final Four? Would either have failed? Would either have left for a higher-profile job?
It's impossible to know but intriguing to consider. The good news for Missouri is that Haith has the potential to make such questions irrelevant.
His 30-5 record surpassed almost everyone's hopes. He won over a team that was broken under Anderson and made it a surprise contender. He must do more, of course, but the program doesn't seem lost anymore.
"We recognized Coach Calipari and Coach Self were outstanding coaches," Link said. "It's got to be the right fit. … For whatever reason, at that time, it wasn't a good fit for the school and the coach. We wish them nothing but the best. We realize they're two of the best in the business. We're pretty proud of the fact that we saw that when they were early in their (career) stage."
Still, Self and Calipari didn't come to Missouri. They went on to become elite faces of their profession elsewhere. They played for another national title Monday. They are reminders of where the Tigers haven't been.
And this season, that knowledge is more painful than usual.