It has been a little more than six months since Frank Haith took over at the University of Missouri.
Sometimes it feels like forever.
From intrigue to scandal to injury, Haith’s first six months on the job have been more event-filled than some coaches will face in a career. He is gearing up for his first season as a Big 12 coach but unsure if it will be his last, as Missouri continues to bat its eyes at the as-yet-disinterested SEC.
He takes the floor for Friday’s first practice, trailed by the aroma of scandal as the NCAA parses through the allegations that surfaced in the Yahoo! report about the University of Miami.
And adding injury to insult, Laurence Bowers, the Tigers’ best defender, tore his ACL a week ago. He’s expected to undergo surgery next week and will miss the season.
“It’s been an offseason that’s been kind of lengthy,’’ Haith said. “Or at least it’s felt kind of lengthy.’’
Haith’s approach has been simple: put the blinders on and keep coaching. With enough outside distractions to divert even a veteran team like Mizzou, Haith is concentrating even more on circling the wagons.
For the most part, he said, it’s working. His players have asked few questions about the conference shuffle, concerned more about the here and now than what might be in the future. The only place the Big 12/SEC conversation comes up is on the recruiting trail.
“I tell them that regardless, we’re going to be fine,’’ Haith said. “It’s not like we’re going to be in a non-BCS league. If we’re in the Big 12, we’ll be fine and if we go to another league, we’ll be fine. That is for others to decide.’’
The allegations made by ex-Miami booster Nevin Shapiro have been more difficult to dismiss. Among his myriad of charges against the Hurricanes, Shapiro claimed that he made a $10,000 payment to a Miami assistant basketball coach to secure recruit DeQuan Jones -- and that Haith was aware of it.
The news broke in August, just four months after Haith was hired and before he had a chance to build up either faith or equity at his new university. But athletic director Mike Alden has stood behind his new coach and Haith said he is cooperating with the NCAA.
“It’s a process and I feel bad for the University of Missouri and the University of Miami, but we’re handling it and getting stronger,’’ said Haith, adding he has been open and upfront with his players about the investigation. “You have adversity in your life and this is what has happened to Frank Haith. All I can do is stand tall and fight through it.’’
Of all the curveballs thrown his way, though, the one that hit Haith hardest was Bowers’ injury. The junior, who was second on the team in scoring (11.6 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.1 rpg), was an integral part of the Tigers’ team and his loss leaves Haith with a huge hole to fill in a thin frontcourt.
Haith said Bowers will return next season and despite the bad news, has remained positive and upbeat.
“With every negative, you find the positive,’’ Haith said of his turbulent start in Columbia. “I’m a man of faith and everything happens for a reason. There’s no question our staff is stronger, our team is stronger because of all of this. The season hasn’t started and I feel like we’re a close unit already.’’