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On mistakes and context: Wrapping up the Tim Fuller interview

The Experience I went through was an intriguing one.

Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

I'm sorry that this has taken me a while to write. For the most part we've all detached from last month's Tim Fuller feature, but I wanted to present my own thoughts on it as best I could. I've had some trouble writing since we wrapped up work on the interview. That's mostly because there was a really long basketball season (maybe you noticed), and we landed this interview right on the heels of that. From the day I interviewed Coach Fuller to the day it published, there was a lot involved, and it wore me out. But it's important for me to share my perspective on this, since I was the guy who sat across from him and asked him these questions.

The story goes something like this...

Back in January, there was turmoil with Mizzou Basketball. Things were at a place where everybody was predicted to leave in some way or another. Players were going to transfer, coaches would be fired, coaches would take other jobs to get away from the dysfunction of Missouri Basketball. What would be left was going to be Kim Anderson, Brad Loos and apparently Ryan Rosburg.

These kinds of rumors tend to stick in bad times. I'm sure it wasn't as dire as some painted it, but the situation was certainly not good, as evidenced by the 9-23 record. When the dust settled, one coach was out, a mutual parting of ways which turned out to be anything but.

The way everything transpired last offseason was a bit strange, from Frank Haith leaving a Power 5 job for Tulsa to the secretive hire of Kim Anderson. Still most of us celebrated the retention of Tim Fuller, the lone holdover from Frank Haith's staff, as a win. Hopefully he would help provide continuity to the program, but I felt at the time it was going to be a short marriage between Fuller and Mizzou, maybe two to three years at most. After all, Fuller was an ambitious guy, so it would make sense that he get a head job at some point.

Two of Fuller's players ran into trouble with the law early in the school year, and then Jakeenan Gant was mysteriously sitting out for nine games as Mizzou "looked into" his "eligibility." About that time, the rumors started to come out saying Fuller wasn't coming back. All this came to fruition on March 26 when Mizzou issued a press release that confirmed the rumors.

When the news began to leak out, I immediately sent Coach Fuller a direct message on Twitter asking if he wanted to do a Q&A with me and Rock M Nation. He responded simply, "When do you want to do it?"

And then it began. A whirlwind two and a half weeks of frantic work. We spoke by phone a few days later to set up a time we would do the Q&A. We decided on March 29 since he would be in St. Louis that same weekend, and we could meet in person. We then spent time outlining parameters of what he could and couldn't talk about. Then, on March 29, we sat down in the lobby of the Chase Hotel in St. Louis to talk about basketball, and the time Coach Fuller spent in Columbia as a men's basketball assistant coach. I also spoke with players and families about Coach Fuller in an attempt to learn more about who he was as a guy. On April 17, we published, and the reactions were ... interesting.

Interpretations and What-not

Part of the difficulty with written text is that perspective and tone are usually lost. People will read into words what they want depending on their own perspective. This is why many of you use the sarcasm font on the internet -- to make sure that people know you're being sarcastic. But even the simplest phrases and terms can be deemed negative if that's what you're trying to get out of something. I say this because sitting across from Coach Fuller, I never felt like he was lobbing bombs, or being unfair or hyper-critical of anyone that he was previously employed by. I've heard the term "scorched-earth" used when describing the interview, and I'm frankly surprised by that.

Fuller spoke very highly of Frank Haith and did a great job explaining what went on during their time. The Missouri job is a challenging one from a lot of different angles. For one, there was always going to be a segment of the fans that wanted Kim Anderson as the coach. On top of that you have a large segment of fans who seem to inflate the history of the program and feel as though Mizzou should be on the same level as Kentucky, Duke or UCLA.

When Haith took over, there was an obvious continuity problem on the roster. Through all those challenges, the Haith regime almost overcame it all. If Mike Dixon were on the roster through the 2012-13 season, Mizzou probably gets close to 30 wins again. Instead of a nine-seed in the NCAA tournament, they're probably a four or a five, and the slack for Haith grows significantly. Maybe if Phil Pressey stays one more year to play with Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, 2014 ends a lot differently as well. Maybe if Nevin Shapiro keeps his mouth shut, Haith and his staff wouldn't have had to make so many early sacrifices in recruiting, sacrifices that led to the patchwork roster that took shape in Haith's last two years.

Fuller also spoke highly of Kim Anderson and their time together. It wasn't the smoothest of sailing for either of them, but no program that goes 9-23 ever has it easy. More than once Fuller referenced how he learned things from Coach Anderson, and my main takeaway was that he wasn't sure the fan base would give KA the amount of time he needs to get things going, not only because of the youth on the roster, but also because he had to spend his first year learning how to be a high-D1 level head coach.

I felt the one statement he did make that was controversial was about the assistant coaches that were brought in when he spoke about Rob Fulford.

So people got here, and they saw how hard the job was at Mizzou, and they were not sticking around. And I can honestly say that once I helped hire them, they weren't great guys to work with. Rob was unbelievable to work with. He believed in us when everybody was telling him that we were going to get fired.

Part of this lies with the written word over the audio itself. I didn't take his phrase where he said they weren't great to work with on its own, but rather in context to his praise of Rob Fulford. I felt he was trying to find a way to say that Rob was outstanding, and he felt they had a great working relationship, while he didn't feel the same way about some of the other guys. Perhaps the other coaches weren't bad guys to work with; it was just that he and Rob connected more.

This is an example of a quote where the context is important, and the interpretation (at least what I've seen) has been incorrect. In no way did I feel Tim Fuller was saying that Rick Carter, Isaac Chew and Mark Phelps were bad guys and bad coaches. And somehow this has been perpetrated out by many as one of the big reasons why Fuller's whole interview was some sort of bomb fest. In reality I felt it was an pretty even-handed, introspective of his time at Mizzou.

The Good, The Bad, The In-between

Perhaps the weirdest part of this whole trip is how many seem to have either elevated or devalued Coach Fuller and his effect on the program. While Fuller was at Mizzou, he made mistakes. So did Frank Haith. Fuller deserves praise and criticism for his time and actions while at Mizzou, as do Frank Haith and, for that matter, Kim Anderson.

No one person is to blame for the state of the program. Each person made decisions they felt were going to be for the benefit of Missouri, save one: Haith taking a long term deal at Tulsa. After talking to Coach Fuller, I believe that if Mike Alden had offered an extension to Haith, he wouldn't have taken the deal at Tulsa. He wanted some security, and Mike Alden didn't offer it to him.

The Haith regime definitely had its share of recruiting mistakes and bad decisions, and Tim Fuller was a part of that. They were obviously caught off-guard when the Nevin Shapiro allegations came out, and there was no reason to be caught off-guard. They too often were caught being satisfied to be considered by the five-star kid and were not focused on getting the kids who were going to help them. That's how they ended up with players like Dominique Bull and Shane Rector instead of guys who could have helped out.

Players like D.J. Johnson (Kansas State), Shaquille Harrison (Tulsa), and even Rayshawn Simmons (Central Michigan) could all help this team out right now. All three were in-state kids in the 2012 recruiting class and the kinds of kids we hope Cullen VanLeer and Kevin Puryear turn into. Perhaps more indicting is the fact that there were few inroads made with Jimmy Whitt prior to Kim Anderson taking over, which left the door wide open for Mike Anderson to exploit his connection to Whitt. Too often Haith and Fuller overlooked the moderately talented guys close to them, who might be able to invest in the program more than the moderately talented guys that would transfer out the first sign of adversity. If I have one hope for Kim Anderson it's that he'll be able to find those guys. Maybe they don't help year 1, but you hope they're helping year 3 and 4.

In the end...

Tim Fuller was neither the hero nor the villain. For all the mistakes that he made, the one thing that I came to understand about him was how much he cared about the players. He could be a bit of a salesman when it came to recruiting, but he worked hard to develop relationships with guys. The ones who bought into Fuller are still invested in him today. In my opinion that says a lot about what kind of person he is.

I liked the time I spent with Coach Fuller and found him to be an interesting and complex guy. I've been around coaches and players at all different levels and he is obviously a bright and engaging guy. If this interview hurt Coach Fuller's ability to land a coaching job, then I feel badly, mainly because I didn't see him or hear him burning bridges or throwing people under the bus. We should encourage coaches to be more candid during interviews, not less. Fuller was candid and introspective, and it ended up showing fans and media alike a side of the Mizzou basketball program that we hadn't gotten to see. It was highly entertaining and incredibly candid, and I'm thankful that I got to be a part of it.