Whether or not Missouri fans believe Frank Haith was a smart hire, they have to give the former Miami coach credit for at least one thing.
He handled a difficult situation as well as he possibly could have.
Instead of ignoring the widespread contempt for the hire among alumni who clamored for the school's board of curators to overturn it, Haith addressed the naysayers directly at his introductory news conference. He said he looked forward to the chance to win over the Missouri fan base, even going so far as to insist that he appreciated his critics' passion after seven years at basketball-blasé Miami.
"I don't look at the negativity that I'm hearing so far as a negative," Haith said Tuesday. "I look at it as a positive. That's why I'm here. That's what I want. I want that passion. Because I want to win. I want to cut down nets. I'm not taking it the way you may think I should take it. I take it as a positive."
The criticism Missouri athletic director Mike Alden has faced for hiring Haith is in part a result of both the ex-Miami coach's middling track record and the raised expectations from the Tigers' failed bid to pluck Matt Painter from Purdue. Whereas Painter has a history of Big Ten championships, 25-win seasons and Sweet 16s, Haith amassed a forgettable 129-101 record at Miami, went 43-69 in ACC play and took the Hurricanes to just one NCAA tournament since 2004.
To help assuage some of the concerns fans have, Haith tried to give them a better idea of who he is as a person. He described his own background growing up in New York as one of 10 kids, he shared stories about his wife and two children and he spoke of his emphasis on academics and on trust.
Haith expressed pride in what he did accomplish under difficult circumstances at Miami, but he acknowledged expectations are higher in Columbia. To improve upon the success Mike Anderson achieved at Missouri, Haith hopes to improve the Tigers' defense to fuel their transition offense and do a better job recruiting in state especially, in the Saint Louis area.
It will take time for Haith to win over the fan base, but he at least has managed to turn some of his future players into supporters. Seniors-to-be Kim English and Laurence Bowers told the Kansas City Star they look forward to returning to Missouri for their senior years assuming they withdraw from the NBA draft as expected, though neither Phil nor Matt Pressey have definitively committed yet to playing for Haith.