Haith Took First 100 Days Personally
COLUMBIA - Missouri Head Coach Frank Haith is about to pass a milestone...his first 100 days on the job. Nearly three months after his hiring announcement in early April, Haith and his staff have hit the ground running at their new home in Columbia and have turned an eye to the future, which includes the highly-anticipated 2011-12 campaign.
Haith's plan for the future is rooted on a personal level. He has made numerous stops around the state, ranging from meetings with area high school and AAU coaches, to Tiger Club events in Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City. He has sampled the famous pork chop in Mendon, Missouri, and even threw out the first pitch at Busch Stadium during a recent Mizzou Day outing in St. Louis. For a man hired just few months ago, Haith has quickly grasped the Midwest culture of his new home in Mid-Missouri and has embraced the personal touch that is so consistent with the Show-Me State's values.
"When I was hired I'm not sure people knew much about me," Haith said. "A big part of my job was to reach out and get to know the people of this state and allow them to get to know me. I needed to `Show Them' what we are all about. Let them see the type of program we will be running at Missouri and give them a product they can be proud of. The reception we have received on our trips has been incredible. You can really see the passion the folks have for Mizzou Basketball and the University of Missouri as a whole."
A focus for Haith and his staff over the first three months has been to connect with the history of Missouri Basketball. Phone conversations with former head coach Norm Stewart gave him a deeper appreciation for his new school and fueled his desire to reach out to the former players. Haith recently hired St. Louis native Matt Lawrence on as a graduate manager and his Director of Basketball Operations, Toby Lane, began a graphics project at Mizzou Arena to better highlight the history of the program.
"Without our history, none of this is possible," Haith said while inside his Mizzou Arena office. "We have great history and we can't take that for granted. The fan support, the excitement around our university, that stuff just doesn't happen everywhere. There were a number of folks that laid the foundation for this program and we all appreciate that commitment."
Another early focus for Haith was the hiring of a coaching staff. It's no secret, Mizzou has a unique scholarship predicament over the next two years and Haith focused on the hiring of coaches that were not only excellent at on-court teaching, but also well connected throughout the state and nationally with regards to the recruiting process.
"That is probably the most important thing you can do as a head coach early on in your tenure," Haith said. "I was lucky enough to put together a staff I have worked with and have great respect for. Ernie (Nestor) has been a friend for a long time. He is an outstanding coach. He has twice been a head coach and really taught me a lot while we worked together. Isaac (Chew) has a bright future. He worked for a dear friend of mine, Billy Kennedy, at Murray State and is well respected as a coach and recruiter with Missouri ties. Tim (Fuller) will be a life-long friend. My son, Corey, was in his wedding and Tim is one of the hardest workers I know. People nationally appreciate his recruiting ability, but Tim is a basketball coach. He understands the game and like Isaac, is a star in the making."
Haith was also forced to address a busy recruiting schedule. Mike Dixon, Phil Pressey and Kadeem Green will be the lone current Tigers back for the 2012-13 season and not only will Mizzou be looking for top-tier talent to compete in the new Big 12 landscape, but balance out recruiting classes as well to avoid large incoming classes down the road.
"It's a challenge, but we have found a way to address it and bring some continuity back to that situation," Haith said. "We were able to identify a couple of transfers in Earnest Ross and Keion Bell that will sit out this season, but be able to play after we lose a large senior class. We like having those guys in the program and they will join some important newcomers the following season. We really look at it as a positive for our program. We have a lot to offer the younger players coming into our system."
For Haith, that recruiting focus begins at home in the talent-rich Midwest. In-state products have flourished in Columbia over the years, including a current roster with four Missourians. All-America candidate Marcus Denmon headlines that group. The Kansas City native was a first team All-Big 12 pick as a junior and headlines a talent-laden Big 12 Conference in 2011-12. Denmon and fellow in-state seniors Steve Moore and Jarrett Sutton have the opportunity to be the winningest class in school history, while also earning their degrees from the state's flagship institution.
"That's the impressive part, achieving that excellence on and off the court," Haith said. "That's what we were about at Miami and that's what we are about at Missouri. We graduated 21-of-22 seniors at Miami. Now we are here at Missouri and this senior class is in position to graduate at that same rate. There is a commitment to academics at Mizzou and that goes for all sports. It will be a successful selling point for us."
But for this small town North Carolina native and father of two, Haith's lasting memory from his first 100 days will forever be an unscheduled trip to Southwest Missouri in late May. On May 22 a tornado ravaged Joplin, Mo., killing more than 150 people and leaving countless others homeless.
"It's unlike anything we have ever seen," Haith said of his trip to Joplin. "Think about it... One night those families go to sleep in their own bed, they have all the comforts of home and the next night everything is gone. That was a heart-breaking trip, but it also opened my eyes to the resolve of Missourians. This is who we coach for. This is who we play for. Those folks are inspiring us every day."
The following morning Haith, like so many campus officials at Missouri, reached out and offered his services to help his state.
"You want to help, but you don't want to be a distraction or get in the way of the people down there doing so much good. Task Force One from here in Columbia and rescue and aid groups, they continue to be incredible down in Joplin. We wanted to show our support, but we also wanted to find a way for us to make an impact as well."
For Haith and Co. that impact will continue in the form of an Oct. 30 charity exhibition basketball game in Joplin vs. Missouri Southern State at Leggett & Platt Arena. It will be Mizzou's first trip to the city for a basketball game and the purpose is to maintain the country's awareness of a community ferociously trying to rebound after May's devastating storm.
"Our attention span as a society is pretty quick," Haith said. "We get involved and then we move on. That can't happen here. It will be a long road to recovery and Coach (Robert) Corn and I talked about keeping focus on the region and the Oct. 30 date can help do that. It's just one part of an incredible effort by the University of Missouri and I am so proud to be a part of this campus culture."
It's a culture Haith has immersed himself in over the past 100 days and it's a culture he was quick to embrace on a personal level.