During our “Fast Lane” discussion of Mizzou’s hiring of Frank Haith as its new basketball coach, the topic of the man who did the hiring, Mike Alden, came up. Alden has previously hired Gary Pinkel and Mike Anderson for Missouri’s revenue-generating sports, and had success. While Alden was the athletics director for the hiring of Quin Snyder, people above him on the food chain conducted the actual interview, and he simply carried out their orders.
Last year, 15 of 20 Mizzou sports participated in the postseason, and under Alden’s 13-year watch, Tigers athletic programs have had 63 top-25 finishes, or 5.3 per season. Before his arrival, Mizzou’s best was averaging three top-25 finishes in a single year.
To suggest that Alden is a failure, or doesn’t want to win, is ridiculous. Remember, Pinkel came out of nowhere. He wasn’t the first choice of the fans, and he wasn’t a well-known commodity when he was hired. Alden zeroed in on his choice, and Pinkel has turned out to be a very good coach for Mizzou. Has he provided a national championship? No. However, no other coach in Tigers history has done that either.
Matt Painter was clearly Alden’s first choice, and when he swung for the fences, he missed. Did Painter play Missouri? There are a lot of people who think he got the better of Alden, simply using a Tigers offer as leverage. I’m not one to blame a school for trying to hire a very good coach and losing out. If they were being played, how were they supposed to know? And if anyone got played, wasn’t it Purdue? If Painter was never really going to coach in Columbia, and got a $1 million raise from the Boilermakers for flirting, who really got played?
VCU coach Shaka Smart wasn’t going to come to Mizzou. He has finished fifth and fourth in his two years as a head coach in the Colonial Athletic Conference. Did Tigers fans really want to provide a six-year contract for a coach who is known only for a five-game run in the NCAA Tournament? If Smart hadn’t made the tournament, and most experts said he shouldn’t have, wouldn’t Mizzou fans have been up in arms if he were the choice?
Brad Stevens isn’t leaving Butler any time soon. His quote during the Final Four was perfect. “I think people always look at their job and you hear people say this all the time that the grass is greener somewhere else,” he said Sunday. “Well, I think we recognize the grass is very green at Butler. … Like I said many times, (my wife and I) are happy.” So Alden wasn’t going to get Stevens, either.
After Painter, Smart and Stevens, who did you want? People are complaining about Oklahoma getting Lon Kruger, the 58-year-old former Illini coach who has been to 13 NCAA tournaments in 25 years of college coaching. Kruger has been to a Final Four and an Elite Eight in 25 years. Is Oklahoma building for a great future, or did they hire a caretaker?
Did you want someone who had just been fired? Would John Pelphrey or Pat Knight sell better? I can’t imagine that they would. Were Mizzou boosters ready to ante up for Tom Izzo (who coaches in his home state), Jamie Dixon or Sean Miller? I don’t think Mizzou people are ready to pay $5 million a year for their basketball coach.
Yes, the Tigers have great facilities and resources. But, Mizzou doesn’t have a championship history, or a history of getting its players into the NBA draft lottery. Programs with history like North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Florida and Kentucky are going to get players when they go head-to-head against Mizzou … even in St. Louis.
The point is, after Painter decided to stay at Purdue, who was it going to be for Mizzou? At first glance, is Haith a good hire? Certainly not. He’s equal to a lot of the suspects who were out there along with him. Were there clearly better choices out there? Only if Missouri’s supporters were ready to help pay an exorbitant salary.
Alden was stuck. All he could do once Painter turned him down was get a JAG … just a guy. And that’s what Haith is to this point. He has a .561 career winning percentage seven years into his first head-coaching job.
All Mizzou fans can hang their hat on is that 31 years ago a guy was hired by a big school five years into his head coaching career, and that guy had a 73-59 record for a .553 winning percentage. And, after that rough start at Army, Mike Krzyzewski has had a pretty nice run at Duke.
It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. And unfortunately for Tigers fans, that’s all they can hope for. Based on his record, there isn’t much reason to have faith in Haith. But is Alden to blame? He was put in a bad situation when Mike Anderson left, missed on Painter, and otherwise had a bad year for an opening at Mizzou.
You can blame Alden if you want, but this time, with this hire, a guy who has led a very successful program is a victim of circumstances.