COLUMBIA, Mo. - There's a new man at the top.
Frank Haith won't be in charge of the Missouri basketball team when the clocks strikes midnight tonight. The third-year Missouri head coach will begin serving his five-game suspension for his role in the University of Miami scandal.
Haith appointed associate head coach Tim Fuller as the interim head coach in his stead. Fuller is in his third season with the program.
"I had three great choices In Dave (Leitao) and Mark (Phelps) along with Tim," Haith said. "The reason I chose Tim is because he's been here the longest and Tim's our associate head coach. ... He's deserved this. It's a great opportunity for him.
"He will do a great job. He recruited most of these guys. I think he has a pulse for them. In a head-coaching role you have to be able to get the most out of your kids. ... He'll be able to pull out the best in our guys because of his relationships with them."
Haith is barred from having any contact with his players or staff from Friday through Nov. 25, but plans on recruiting in his time away. That doesn't include the recruiting dead period from Nov. 11-14.
While Fuller takes over head-coaching duties, he doesn't expect much to change.
"I don't know how much it really changes day-to-day," Fuller said. "Coach Haith gives his assistants a lot of freedom to be almost similar to head coaches in practice. I have to continue to do what I've always done and fill the role that he's leaving void. It's some big shoes to fill, but he's started to prepare me for this moment pretty good."
Fuller recognized the help he'll receive from Leitao and Phelps, being the only Missouri assistant without head-coaching experience, having been an assistant at Elon, Wake Faorest, Fairfield and Louisville in the past decade. Leitao owns nine seasons of head-coaching experience at Northeastern, DePaul and Virginia, while Phelps spent the past five seasons as the head coach at Drake.
"It's almost as if our father was leaving for a business trip," he said. "I have two big brothers to lean on to help me keep everything organized. They've been phenomenal. We're going to go about it business as usual. ... We take pride in the University of Missouri and winning games."
Fuller will coach the season opener Friday against Southeastern Louisiana, as well as games against Southern Illinois-Carbondale, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb and IUPUI.
"I can't anticipate the nerves," Fuller said. "Once coach Haith first told me (Tuesday) evening, I had a sleepless night. I can't imagine what (tonight will be like)."
One thing Fuller acknowledged will help is taking the focus on himself.
"The most important thing is those 16 heartbeats in that locker room and just to make sure that they're covered and that they know I have their back and I'm going to give them my very best to hopefully get their very best," he said.
Having veteran leadership in Jordan Clarkson, Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown certainly eases the burden.
"Coach Haith has set out a blueprint for us," Clarkson said. "We just have to go out there and play hard, play smart and play together.
"We still have to do the right thing. It's kind of like one of those things when your parents go away for a little while. What are you going to do, throw a party or something? Nah, we're going to make sure we hold it down and do what we have to do."
Added Ross: "I don't think they'll be an adjustment at all. With the type of guys that we have, the leaders that we have, we're pretty much just reciprocating coach Haith out on the court and in timeouts and stuff like that. We can do the same thing as if coach Haith was here."
Ready or not, Missouri will begin the season without its head coach Friday. That will certainly be something new for everybody.
"When it's game day, game time, yeah, that's going to be a difficult time for sure," Haith said.
And if Fuller is ejected?
"I've already told him that I've been here two years and haven't got a technical," Haith said. "Tim's a pretty emotional guy. He's way more emotional than I am. ... Chain of command, I don't know. I think they'd have to flip a coin on the bench."
Note: Missouri senior forward Tony Criswell will be suspended for Friday's season opener due to a violation of team rules. "Hopefully Tony will do what he needs to do to get back on that court for Tuesday's game (against Southern Illinois)," Haith said.