What Happens Next For Mizzou Basketball?

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 10: Head coach Frank Haith of the Miami Hurricanes communicates with the team while playing against the Virginia Cavaliers during the first round of the 2011 ACC men's basketball tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 10, 2011 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

I had hoped that if I were to be writing a full basketball post in mid- to late-August, it would be about Rodney Purvis committing to Mizzou. No such luck, eh? Instead, we have to do some speculation regarding whether we will soon be making yet another hire to lead the Missouri Basketball program. Good times.

I'm seeing a lot of either annoyance regarding how "there is still no official statement from the Mizzou athletic department" about the Frank Haith situation. It gets tiresome, and for one simple reason: there will be a statement when there is enough information for a statement. Anything they put out now would be a simple, "We're looking into it, and we take these matters seriously" note that wastes the time of those who both read it and have to write it. When there's something to know, we'll know it.

There are some rumblings, however, and it seems to point toward the sentiment that Mizzou may be closer to dumping Haith than we may have expected -- or at least, it might happen faster than we expected. And really, I'm okay with that. If Frank Haith lied at any point about being under investigation, or, of course, if he really did "acknowledge" a $10,000 gift to a recruit, then he should, and will, be dumped. I still have my concerns about how provable something like this is, but the word from both Gabe Dearmond and others is that Mike Alden and company will be erring on the side of dumping Haith.

Okay, so let's say he's gone. What happens then? Gabe is proposing that Mizzou give the "Interim Coach" title to Ernie Nestor; I disagree. Vehemently, actually. Mizzou needs name an Interim Coach that might at least possibly become permanent coach one day, and that's not Nestor. Nestor is 64 years old, or to put it another way, Nestor is the age Norm Stewart was when he retired. He is by all accounts a fantastic X's and O's guy and a wonderful assistant, but he would be nothing more than a one-year stop gap. In certain circumstances, a stop gap is perfectly fine. But not when you have so many scholarships to be giving out right now.

Time for a quick refresher. As it currently stands, here are the players Mizzou looks to have on the 2012-13 roster right now:

  • Backcourt: Phil Pressey (Jr.), Mike Dixon (Sr.), Earnest Ross (Jr.), Keion Bell (Sr.)
  • Frontcourt: Kadeem Green (So.), Quantel Denson (Jr., though his status is questionable right now, to say the least), Aaron Scales (Fr.)

That's seven scholarship players, six if Denson is convicted of his alleged crimes (and five if, Phil Pressey ... well, nevermind). Or to put it another way, that's barely enough to fill a starting lineup. Mizzou needs bodies, and at this moment in time, "Interim Coach Ernie Nestor" probably would not bring in the best of recruiting classes, even if Tim Fuller were to stay on staff. We've known for a while that the 2012 recruiting class is going to rather significantly define the Missouri basketball program for the coming years, and I think any sort of "interim" decision has to be made with an eye toward the future.

Therefore, I honestly think the best solution for Mizzou moving forward (if they end up moving forward without Frank Haith) is to name Tim Fuller the interim head coach and plead with Nestor to stay on as chief assistant. I was semi-appalled when Kansas State named Frank Martin their head coach when Bob Huggins left unexpectedly, since it appeared (at the time) that the primary reason he was retained was because of his (and assistant Dalonte Hill's) connections to Michael Beasley. So I feel a bit hypocritical in proposing a Fuller promotion. But at the same time, I'm not suggesting Mizzou hand the reins to Fuller full-time. If he is retained on an interim basis (with, granted, the clear sentiment that if things are going well, he gets strong consideration for the job after the 'interim' period runs out), then that might -- might -- be enough to keep recruits like Purvis, Danuel House, and countless other names interested in the program.

Mizzou's options here are limited; clearly there are no good coaches who would be interested in taking this job now that school has already begun, and "interim" almost has to be the way to get through this season if Haith is gone. And if the options are truly limited to simply naming either Nestor or Fuller the top guy, I feel that Fuller has both higher upside and lower downside. This has been a damaging experience, and I can see why playing it safe with Nestor might seem like the safer option (and really, we might be splitting hairs here if both remain on the staff). But with so few scholarships occupied in future seasons, playing it safe might damage the program worse than taking another risk and failing.

One final note: both Gabe and, from Steve Walentik's article below, recruiting analysts like Dave Telep have expressed concern for how the uncertainty of the current situation might affect recruiting overall. I agree with the concern to an extent; but as long as a decision is made within the next couple of weeks -- whether that decision is "committing" to Haith for the duration of the investigation or unceremoniously dumping him -- that becomes less of a concern for me.

Fact is, big-time recruits go to schools that are either under investigation or have a shaky head man in charge all the time. People are constantly throwing accusations at John Calipari, but he still brings in nothing but five-star recruits. (Yes, that's a shaky example, but you get the point.) Meanwhile, John Pelphrey inked a big-time class last year despite the fact that a large portion of the country assumed he'd be fired at the end of the season. If Haith gets to coach this season, then as long as he can tell a recruit "Mizzou's administration is behind me, I'm innocent, and you should come here," then I don't think this will have too significant an impact. Maybe somebody like Purvis doesn't end up in Columbia, but ... there was a solid chance that that wasn't going to happen anyway.

Meanwhile, if Fuller can tell a recruit either a) the same thing or b) "I'm the top guy, and Mizzou's definitely going to retain me after this year," then it's probably fine too. The key is simply to find certainty, one way or another, in the next couple of weeks, before official visits begin. This isn't a pleasant situation, but committing to a path will help Mizzou long-term, no matter what is eventually discovered about Frank Haith.

(I felt really dirty writing this, by the way, for any number of reasons. First, we're dealing with what's provable, not what Haith actually did; if he truly did arrange for a $10K payment to a recruit, then that's despicable, but if it's not provable, he gets away with it and we all attempt to pretend none of this happened. Beyond that, however, we're talking about sending messages to recruits that might not be true, which is also dicey. This is just not an enjoyable topic, is it?)

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