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How did the Missouri basketball program get here? And how does it get out?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Bill C.

In Spring 2014, Frank Haith sought an extension that he had not earned, then left for Tulsa when he did not get it. He left his successor the following:

  • A team that had regressed for two straight years following the highs and sudden low of the 2012 season and, despite having two future NBA players (Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown) and Earnest Ross, lost 8 of 15 to finish the 2013-14 season, bombing out in the second round of the NIT.
  • A roster that was going to be without its three best players (Brown, Clarkson, Ross), plus Tony Criswell. The projected returnees: sophomores Johnathan Williams III, Wes Clark, and Torren Jones, post men Keanau Post and Ryan Rosburg, transfers Cam Beidschied and Deuce Bello ... and that's about it. Namon Wright and Jakeenan Gant were signed, and Kevin Punter had just made a verbal commitment. That's not the worst set of 10 players in the world, but it's probably not a great rotation, either.
  • Eventual NCAA punishment. Though Haith swears he hadn't heard anything about this yet, the NCAA informed Missouri days before Haith's departure that it was investigating violations. Most of the violations were relatively lame in nature, but thus far Mizzou has self-imposed sanctions that include a recruiting ban for Tim Fuller, vacated wins from 2013-14, two scholarship losses, a few recruiting restrictions, and a 2016 postseason ban.

If Haith had not taken the Tulsa job, I figure the odds would have been decent that he would have been fired in 2015 following a 15- to 18-win season. And if he had survived, then unless things clicked in a major way around J3 and others, he would have probably suffered through another mediocre season in 2016. Combined with the NCAA violations, the odds are VERY good that he wouldn't be the coach heading into 2016-17.

Haith left his successor a pretty awkward situation, made even more awkward when Kim Anderson dumped Jones and Beidschied. He had to work miracles to put a competitive roster on the court in 2014-15, and he was certainly going to be handcuffed from succeeding at a major level for at least a couple of years with this level of turnover and the apparent spectre of NCAA punishment.

Haith left his successor a pretty tough job. Yes. But I'm starting to get really tired of the "Haith DESTROYED the program, therefore Kim Anderson hasn't had a chance to prove anything yet" meme that pops up on social media every time I write a negative game recap or drop a hint that I might not think Anderson deserves a third year on the job.

Convince me, Sam. Tell me how Frank Haith indeed DESTROYED the Missouri basketball program.


Well, Haith's insecurity in his position is a large part of what led Mizzou to where it is today. Blame that on Mike Alden and some prominent boosters who were still calling for Kim Anderson 15 years after they parted ways with Norm Stewart.

Even in the Fuller interview, Tim talked about how Frank wanted to get to year three so they could get that second contract, because most coaches in a Power Conference job want to get the second contract because that's the security. So because they were just trying to buoy the program up to get to year three, they ignored the kind of program building that Mike Anderson undertook in building Mizzou up from the Quin Snyder finish. To be fair to Frank, he didn't have the cover that Anderson had in the wake of Quin. So when he went seeking that extension, Alden backed him into a corner by ignoring him... and it's hard to recruit when your AD just said you're not worth a contract extension. So in a lot of ways, Mike Alden never quite gave Frank the support he needed once he hired him.

Perhaps the biggest way that Frank Haith hurt Mizzou was in the APR score. Mizzou is dangerously close to the threshold where they start getting punished for a lack of academic progress over the last few years of Haith. Part of it is because guys are leaving for the NBA (usually considered a good thing) but the other part was his inability to get guys to stick around. The lack of continuity hurt Frank in year three, when the team just lacked depth on the front line, and had only a green freshman point guard to help out at guard. If that team has just a little more depth, he likely has a better year and gets an extension.

Honestly, I don't blame Frank for the state of the program. It wasn't in great shape when he left, but there's a far cry from not being a great shape and being the second or third worst Power Conference team in the country. When you're in the same conversation as Rutgers (currently like 278 in KenPom), you've messed up. Even with all the roster turmoil that Haith left, the right hire can come in and plug enough holes to keep this team competitive and amongst the top 100 teams. Just look at what Ben Howland has done at Mississippi State. They aren't good by any stretch, but they aren't terrible. IMO, that was asking too much from Kim Anderson to take over and build this program because that's nothing he's ever had to do before in his time at Central Missouri. He had no experience in program building, and you were asking him to basically reinvent himself while transitioning from Division II to Division I. Thats... asking a lot.

Maybe the biggest question to ask is how Mike Alden went from Matt Painter to Frank Haith with a program that had made three straight NCAA tournaments?

Bill C.

As I've written before, I think it's pretty clear that Mike Alden wasn't much of a wartime consigliere. He seemed capable of panic moves from time to time. That said, I cannot blame him for not wanting any part of an extension at that point. There really wasn't a right answer for him to give. Ignore the request, and you potentially hurt recruiting. Grant the request, and you you just openly rewarded the coach fans are quickly (and rather justifiably) souring on, and with attendance already beginning to flag.

Perhaps there was some nuance he could have added to the proceedings -- like, "we'll work something out in May or June, before summer recruiting really picks up and a few more weeks after the season has ended (and some of the bitter fan feelings have dissipated)." I have no idea if Alden went that route or if it was a simple "Yeah, no extension."

I can, however, blame Alden for the last two hires he made. Haith was an obvious risk, one that came really close to paying off. If the Yahoo! Nevin Shapiro report comes to light 3-4 months earlier, then Haith isn't an option; if it comes to light 3-4 months later, then perhaps Haith has signed guys like Rodney Purvis, and some of the recruiting pipelines have been more well-established. (Or, as it pertains to the latter, perhaps not. Purvis obviously wasn't a slam dunk. But he was definitely interested.) And, of course, if Mike Dixon is 20% less of a creep and doesn't get kicked out of school (more or less), then Haith's 2012-13 team is nearly as good as his 2011-12 team, and he probably gets an extension before that year even ends.

Haith was unlucky, but his short-term thinking and inability to quickly recover once that first wave of recruiting didn't come to fruition hurt him significantly. That 2012 signing class was absolutely wretched, and that can't completely be blamed on the Yahoo! stuff.

I love it when risky hires pay off, when creativity is rewarded. In Haith, Alden evidently saw a guy who had a lot of the foundation of being an excellent coach, and he felt that with the support and resources Missouri appeared to have, it could take Haith over the top. And again, it almost did. But if Alden was somehow surprised at the negative reaction, and if it made him act suspicious or hover over the program a little bit too much when Haith was there, then yeah, that's on him. He should have expected to have to sell that hire extra hard, especially in the wake of the Painter saga. Instead, he seemed surprised when everyone wasn't immediately on board.


I think more than anything Alden wanted a guy who wouldn't say no. I think he felt jilted by Painter and went with somebody who wasn't going to turn the job down over a guy who was more established and might have taken the job. I've heard from a few people that this was more or less the case, that the search committee had to find a guy that would take the job over who might be the best hire. At the time there were still a lot of good coaches out there who were interested. But I agree with you that Haith was almost a great hire. And had Mizzou won a few games in the NCAA in 2012, it's also quite possible that was enough to get Frank Haith over the hump of skepticism he was met with.

Bill C.

That Norfolk State game was just devastating in that regard. Haith had the state eating out of his hand the week before that game. Even if Mizzou gets upset by Florida in the 2-7 game in the Round of 32, I think he gets full faith and credit from the fan base. But fans hold grudges, and he had to earn a lot of faith back from the base after Norfolk State. With Dixon the next year, he probably does just that.

And yeah, if Alden really did let feeling jilted affect his decision-making ... again, that's on him. He was a great AD when things were going well, and he even showed some nerve in not firing Pinkel and snaring Mike Anderson while he was under massive heat. I will always admire him for the way he carried himself and did his job in that absurdly, unfairly difficult time. But if his thinking really was "That Painter thing hurt. Who'll say yes to me?", then ... yeah. Unimpressive.

That said, he won't be making the next hire, whether it's in a couple of months or next year or in a few years.

Let's pretend for a moment that it's happening in March-April after Mizzou finished with 9-10 wins again (and after the NCAA has hopefully announced its decision about Missouri's self-imposed sanctions -- so Mizzou's not in a sort of limbo and afraid to embark on a new search process). I don't necessarily care about specific names, but what TYPE of coach would you figure makes the most sense for Mack Rhoades to bring in?

Do you go for a caretaker -- a Lon Kruger/Tubby Smith/Kelvin Sampson type, a veteran who could be expected to bring your program back to respectability? Or, to go with a more Mizzou-specific example, a Larry Smith type who can fix your foundation issues so that the NEXT hire can succeed? (The most obvious examples here would be Lorenzo Romar, because of his Porter family ties, or, gulp, Sampson himself, whom Rhoades hired at Houston.)

Or do you simply aim for a slam dunk younger guy, someone who might not only succeed, but might succeed for 10-15 years? (Fill in your own examples here -- Archie Miller, Bryce Drew, Chris Mack, etc. Or, yes, Gregg Marshall.) Is the program in such a shambles that a guy like this might even be an option? Would a lofty contract (and a new AD) be able overcome that? Or is a transition/caretaker guy a necessity first?

(But seriously, the thought of Sampson coaching Mizzou gives me so many conflicting emotions. He'd probably be decent, and he's PROBABLY done with the whole "blatantly disregarding the NCAA's admittedly ridiculous communication rules" thing. But I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATED that dude when he was at Oklahoma.)


I've already got my list of coaches if you want me to start teasing some of them :) I've only been putting this together for the last month or so.

Bill C.

I try, and then I think of Sampson and pass out. But yeah, go for it.


My top 3 (realistic) are Mike Lonergan, Mark Montgomery, Bryce Drew. I'm really intrigued by Montgomery.

NIU's Mark Montgomery (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

Bill C.

I, uh, had to look him up. 10-51 in his first two seasons. That would do amazing things to the forever-pro-Kim portion of the fanbase.


Yeah, Mizzou wasn't in the same position as Northern Illinois when Kim took over.

Bill C.

That won't matter to a portion of the fan base. :)


Yeah, I don't care. :) Ricardo Patton was there and basically stopped recruiting for two-three years when he took over and mopped up that mess

Bill C.

His reclamation credentials are certainly strong.


And he's an Izzo guy. FYI, I love Izzo. Like in a weird way.

Bill C.

It's only weird if you don't like Final Fours.


Anyway, I'm with you on Sampson, it's just not very exciting, and yes I'm probably still angry at him for bringing Eduardo Najera into my life. Houston is improved, and I know that he would make Mizzou better, but I also think despite all the obvious issues at Mizzou right now, you could get something more exciting (at least for me).

I don't know that you need to hire the caretaker type because the foundation isn't the prettiest, but it's not that bad either. I'll go back to my "Things I want to see in 2016" piece from early January and mention that I still think the roster that Mizzou has right now has the potential of a top 125 level on KenPom. In that foundation you have enough players like Phillips, Walton, Clark, Wright, Puryear that could be a top 100 team next year. That's not unrealistic.

The obvious thing you do is go talk to Gregg Marshall and Archie Miller. Both would almost certainly say no, but it doesn't hurt to ask. I think the ship has sailed on Chris Mack, who I think would have listened two years ago, and certainly 5 years ago. But he's got Xavier rolling right now and it wouldn't make sense to walk away from that, even if the Mizzou ceiling is slightly higher.

There are a few guys who I think would be great, and have proven that they can take over a bad team and make the program better:

  • I'm really intrigued by Montgomery. DeKalb has never been a center for American Basketball Progress, and NIU basically bottomed out when they tried to resurrect the career of Ricardo Patton. So you have a young-(45 years old)-ish coach from the Tom Izzo coaching tree who has shown he can build from the ground up in a place where nobody has won with any regularity. I'd like to think he could replicate the kind of success Mizzou has had in the past.
  • What's not to like about Bryce Drew? Drew took over for his dad at Valpo, and though the Crusaders have always been pretty good, he's taken them to a new level the last few years. Mizzou fans claim to like defense, and the Crusaders play the best D in the country according to the Adjusted Defense metric on KenPom. They're also ranked 23rd in the country there as well. That all sounds really nice.
  • The last guy I'd want to talk to is Mike Lonergan at George Washington. George Washington wasn't a good program when he took over, but they're near the top of the A-10 these days and Lonergan has done a really good job building up a tough program to sell.

The more I think about it, the more I think you turn to somebody with a record of building a program, with D1 experience, and hopefully some years on the bench at a Power 5 school. To me that guy is Mark Montgomery.

With that said, I'd rather Mizzou just win 3-4 games the rest of the year and show us all that Kim knows what he's doing.