Thirteen months ago, on the eve of what would prove to be one of the uglier National Title games in memory, everyone’s phone blew up. Text messages. Twitter. Frank Haith, it seems, was headed to Missouri.
And unless you rooted for Mizzou or Miami, the response was a resounding “why?”
Miami fans were shocked that anyone wanted their coach. Missouri fans were shocked that their school wanted Miami’s coach. The rest of us made jokes or bluntly panned the move.
From the CBS crew, Gregg Doyel wrote, “In the most bizarre hire of this offseason, Missouri reportedly has hired Miami’s Frank Haith — a move that makes no sense, on any level…”
Gary Parrish wrote that he and his colleagues “all tweeted jokes and generally mocked the hire.”
It didn’t help a few months later when the Nevin Shapiro case broke. Most of that mess was about football, but basketball guys quickly picked up on the alleged $10,000 payment to secure the services of DeQuan Jones, a payment Shapiro claimed Frank Haith had full knowledge of.
Immediately there were calls for Mizzou to separate itself from Frank Haith. But they stayed the course.
And then Frank Haith and Missouri began the season 14-0. The doubters quieted. At 25-2 they were in a full backtrack. Once they won the Big-12 Championship, all was forgotten. At least until the NCAA Tournament.
The true test came after they got bounced by a 15-seed and everything went haywire for a few days. But that washed over. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be solved by acquiring the services of UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi, a move that was topped off by the transfer of guard Jordan Clarkson from Tulsa.
These moves revved up the CBS crowd again (as well as just about every other national site), only this time they weren’t panning the move. This time they were climbing on the bus.
Matt Norlander, from Tuesday:
Yes, there’s much to be proven on the court again. However, I’ll take a minute here to remind everyone that Missouri had the No. 1 offense, third-best offensive turnover percentage and was the second-best 2-point shooting team in college basketball last season. The year prior, when Mizzou went 23-11 under Mike Anderson, it was 35, 19 and 75 in those respective categories.
And so, extending from an exciting and self-assuring 2011-12 Mizzou debut, Haith’s “F the Haters” tour continues with the undeniable track record of a coach that’s dead set on being anything but a fluke. It’s striking while at the same time being the most unforeseen trend in trajectory in the sport’s past eight months.
I could quote any number of recent articles, but I’ll spare you the quotes. They’re all the same. Mizzou is reloading. Frank Haith has re-framed everyone’s perceptions and pre-conceptions. We’re sorry Frank, we never should have doubted.
Which – of course – makes me wonder where all the columns are about Jim Larranaga. Larranaga took over Frank Haith’s roster at Miami – substituting Kenny Kadji for the one lost starter – and then promptly had the best big man in the ACC blow out his knee. He began the year without Reggie Johnson, played the latter part of the year with an out-of-shape Johnson on one good knee, and still managed to do something Frank Haith never did in seven years at Miami: he finished with a winning record in the ACC.
Circling back to Haith, aren’t those lauding his work just as premature as those who immediately panned his hiring? He’s been there one year. He inherited a talented and veteran roster. Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe, Matt Pressey, Steve Moore. All seniors. It’s not a stretch to think that any decent Division I coach could mold those players (plus Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey of course) into a formidable unit. The key argument is that Mike Anderson wasn’t able to do it. Well, look at what Jim Larranaga did in Miami.
Was Frank Haith a great hire? Will Frank Haith turn into a bust? We don’t know. No one knows. Just like no one know thirteen months ago when we all thought we did.