COLUMBIA (AP) - For a school that makes no secret of its desire to join college sports' elites - and its willingness to spend freely in that quest - Missouri's weeklong search for its next men's basketball coach is off to a rocky start.
Matt Painter's decision Wednesday to remain at Purdue has the Tigers dealing with Big Ten-style rejection for the second time in less than a year. Missouri strongly considered ditching the Big 12 Conference last summer to join an expanded Big Ten. The Big Ten instead opted to invite Missouri's conference rival Nebraska, leaving Missouri and the remaining members of a whittled-down Big 12 scrambling to survive.
After losing Mike Anderson to Arkansas on March 16 despite offers of a new contract and $2 million annual salary, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden hoped to make a splash with Painter, his top target. Painter met with Alden and other Missouri officials Tuesday while on a family vacation in Florida before deciding to stay at his alma mater.
Now, with the Final Four looming this weekend, many Show-Me State fans are more interested in whether Alden next targets a young rising star such as Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart or opts for a less high-profile hire with Missouri roots.
Even before Painter's rejection, Alden was bullish on the appeal of Missouri men's basketball, a program that rose to national prominence under Norm Stewart but has yet to reach a Final Four.
"Mizzou is a great job. It's an unbelievable job," he said, touting the school's academic profile, history, modern facilities and recent success under Anderson, who in five years led Missouri to three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. "We've developed into a nationally elite program - again. We have been in the past. We've again reached that status."
Alden was effusive in his praise of Anderson, whom he lured from Alabama-Birmingham in 2006 after the program was put on NCAA probation for recruiting violations under Quin Snyder, who now works for the Philadelphia 76ers. But Alden also made a not-so-veiled reference to coaches who put career advancement ahead of school loyalty and suggested Missouri has no interest in such a hire.
"It has to be someone who wants to be at Mizzou," he said. "This is a special place. The state of Missouri is a special place. ...This needs to be a place that folks want to be at for a long time."
Since Painter's announcement, Alden and the rest of the Missouri athletic department has been silent.
Fans in Columbia were widely anticipating - and hoping for - Painter to arrive in town Wednesday. Relying on anonymous sources, reporters for a Columbia sports radio station and a local TV channel erroneously reported his hiring on Twitter, while a St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist wrote Painter was "expected" to be hired.
The premature reports led one faculty member who serves on a campus athletics committee to alert other committee members - including Missouri athletes and top administrators - to hail Alden for "luring Matt Painter to be our new basketball coach!"
Instead, Missouri now must turn its attention to finding a coach willing to accept being at best the third choice for the job behind Anderson and Painter - but also ready to lead the program to heights it has yet to reach.