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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Column: Alden walks tightrope with Haith hiring

From an athletics standpoint, MU seemingly has it all. MU resides in a major conference, possesses great facilities and has solid recruiting hubs in St. Louis and Kansas City. Perhaps most importantly, Missouri has shown the willingness to toss around a few million dollars per year.

So why did Athletics Director Mike Alden hire Frank Haith to succeed Mike Anderson?

Haith was off the radar enough that national columnists mocked Missouri's decision alongside fans on Twitter. Boosters and curators also expressed bewilderment and disdain at the hire.

The problem lies not with Haith's relative obscurity, but with his record at the University of Miami (Fla.). In seven seasons, Haith went 129-101 overall and 43-69 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, including only one NCAA Tournament appearance and four NIT berths. His best finish in the ACC was tied for fifth.

Alden will undoubtedly cite Haith's ability to recruit (he attained six McDonald's All-Americans as an assistant for various programs before arriving at Miami), his attention to academics (21 of 22 seniors have graduated from Miami under Haith) and the difficult situation a basketball coach inherits at Miami. Outdated facilities and fan apathy make it difficult to turn the program into a consistent winner.

But the hiring of Haith continues an unsettling trend over the past year for Missouri athletics. The Big Ten Conference fiasco last summer, followed by the Anderson situation a few weeks ago and last week's rejected overtures to Purdue University's Matt Painter have all caused fans to see MU as consistently being taken advantage of. Missouri might never have had a legitimate chance at landing in the Big Ten, retaining Anderson or stealing Painter, but media reports linked MU on the inside each time, yet the university came up empty-handed. This is what the public sees, no matter how factual each case actually was.

If Alden had hired Steve Alford, Ben Jacobson, etc., it wouldn't have been the most exciting hire, especially after trying to nab Painter, but those coaches were still likely to be accepted. They offered more potential upside and they weren't on the proverbial "hot seat." Some Miami fans are relieved Haith is leaving.

When Missouri chooses a coach in danger of being fired from another job, it appears MU is settling. High-profile coaches might have rebuffed Missouri, but there are more coaches like Painter who are performing at a high level within their conference and getting underpaid. Missouri has the resources to lure away coaches with winning conference records.

As a consequence, Haith will start out with everyone doubting his ability as a coach, and any lack in fan support makes the job more difficult (Haith would know, coming from Miami).

Athletics are vital to any university's health because of the exposure they provide. If the exposure is negative, recruits are less likely to attend that particular program. So even if Haith were to blossom into a smart, long-term hire, there could be a short-term loss in recruiting, attendance and donations, enough to prevent Haith from keeping his job for several years.

Alden is walking a tight rope with this hire. Two disappointing seasons in the revamped Big 12 Conference after the program's resurgence under Anderson and Alden could be out the door.

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Article comments

April 5, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.

Ron: Mike Alden has made excellent coaching choices in football,softball,soccer,swimming and with the exception of Quinn Snyder's fall from grace,basketball too. Let's see what happens before we write off the next few years. Haith just might be a great coach.

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