Faith in Haith? No excuses left for Missouri coach

Sports Commentary

When Frank Haith was handed the keys to the Missouri basketball program in 2011, he wasn’t a wanted man.

Haith had just one NCAA Tournament berth in seven seasons at Miami and wasn’t the household name Missouri fans had hoped for after Mike Anderson left for Arkansas.

Fans questioned the hire after the school had publicly failed to land Purdue coach Matt Painter.

Flash-forward nearly three years later and the program is exactly where it was when Haith took the job. It hasn’t gone backward, but it certainly hasn’t gained much forward momentum.

I am a firm believer a coach should get a grace period of a couple of years while building a program (not everyone thinks that way).

You’re on, Haith.

When Missouri officially opens practice Monday, it will be a team that is 100 percent Haith’s. There are no ties left from former coach Mike Anderson’s squad. Every player on the roster will be Haith’s.

Now there are no excuses. No longer can people talk about having to win with another coach’s players, or having to implement a new system or having to get used to a different school and how things operate.

Haith has brought in, on paper, what appears to be a talented mix of freshmen and junior-college transfers, hoping to mesh the new players with returners like Earnest Ross, Jabari Brown and Tony Criswell.

The key for Haith may be to find a point guard in the mix to replace Phil Pressey. There are some possibilities in freshmen Wes Clark or Shane Rector.

Haith has done OK so far. The Tigers have stayed steady after Anderson cleaned up the program on and off the court from the end of the Quin Snyder debacle.

Haith’s back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances are good, but his 0-2 record in those games is not.

It’s been interesting from the start for Haith. He has had the Miami scandal hanging over his head since before he ever coached a game at Missouri. The NCAA still has not ruled on possible penalties from the situation in which Haith was accused of a number of improprieties.

The situation hasn’t seemed to distract the team, but it has to be at the very least an annoyance for Haith. In his third season at Missouri, he still doesn’t know where he stands with the NCAA. Meanwhile, the NCAA has ruled on the situation at Penn State TWICE during that time frame.

But that is a mere sideshow to what is important for Haith this season. Now, it’s fair to judge Haith based on his own team, not the team’s former coach.

It was Anderson’s third season, with his own players, when he led the Tigers to a 31-7 record and a trip to the Elite Eight.

Now the Tigers haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since beating Clemson in the first round of the 2010 tournament. That’s four straight losses in the Big Dance.

Like it or not, it’s all on Haith’s shoulders to change that.

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