Gregorian Chants

Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City

Friday Five: Mizzou coaching search version


04/25/2014 9:57 AM

05/16/2014 1:24 PM

It’s time for another edition of Friday Five:

1. In our tortured wait for the results of the University of Missouri’s latest search

for a long-term basketball solution, let’s take a second to look at something that’s been repeated so often now that it might be mistaken as fact:

Athletic director Mike Alden has bungled his three basketball hires since Norm Stewart retired in 1999.

Each ended poorly, true.

But the perception of the hires is skewed by the chaotic flameout of Quin Snyder and the truly botched process that led to MU hiring Frank Haith three years ago.

Alden actually has made two very good hires and should be commended for thinking big each time.

2. First, if you can think back before the gaudy nonsense that came to characterize Snyder’s era

, he was a charismatic, eloquent Duke assistant widely considered the most compelling candidate in the country.

When he was hired, it actually seemed like an unbelievable coup for Mizzou, a new frontier, really. And Snyder did take the Tigers to an Elite Eight three years later, matching the deepest MU ever has gone in the NCAA Tournament.

But the bottom line is MU was so enthralled with his pedigree and so naively trusting in what he learned at Duke that it gave Snyder too loose a leash for too long, even though he was breaking rules before he ever coached a game.

That was Mizzou’s fault and became its problem, but it’s hard to say the hire itself wasn’t a great one.

Moreover, Snyder may well have been Alden’s No. 2 choice. Over the years I’ve spoken with a number of people who believe Alden favored Bill Self, then coaching Tulsa, but that Alden was trumped in some way by donor influence.

I can’t swear to it, but this much we know: Alden had good taste in finalists despite his disregard for Kim Anderson, then Stewart’s top assistant and, as of Friday morning, the only known candidate this time around.

3. In 2006, Alden hired Mike Anderson, whose awkward departure for Arkansas left a residue

that masks the fact he probably was the second-best coach in MU history.

In five seasons, Anderson also took MU to an Elite Eight and had the best winning percentage (.661) of any coach of more than three years’ tenure at MU (Stewart’s was .656 in 32 years).

More to the point, he resuscitated a program in shambles. His hiring also represented a breakthrough of another sort: He was MU’s first African-American head coach in any sport.

4. Then came 2011, when Alden went all-in on Purdue’s Matt Painter

, who for years had led go-betweens to believe he was unhappy at Purdue. He also had let it be known in the past he was enamored of MU, especially after seeing the modern facilities in Columbia in 2007.

The perception of Painter at the time, from multiple sources who knew him well, was he was not one to play games.

Alden and Mizzou fell into that only for Painter to reject the opportunity for reasons that only he knows but seemed a combination of business savvy and sentimentality for his alma mater.

(As it happens, Painter is just 53-48 and 23-31 in Big Ten play since then, though many still regard him as a very good coach.)

The problem wasn’t aiming for Painter, of course. It was that it became so public, projecting to other potential candidates that the Missouri job was gone and ultimately leading to an embarrassment.

Some businessmen I know believe Mizzou also made a strategic mistake in not insisting Painter answer upon being offered instead of allowing him to mull it. I understand that, though I’m not sure it would have turned out differently.

Anyway, then-Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin, whom Alden likely had second on his list, took the Tennessee job while MU was waiting for Painter.

A matter of days may have been the difference in whether Martin would have become MU’s coach, but it was too late.

And if there was a Plan C, it disintegrated too.

So Missouri was somewhere between gasping and grasping when it came up with Haith, whose job was in jeopardy at Miami.

His hiring was an instant buzz-kill to Tiger fans, and all the more so when it came to light that summer that he was implicated in the Nevin Shapiro insanity at Miami.

Despite Mizzou’s protests that it had vetted Haith through many sources and its search firm, the fact no one seemed to know about the scandal reflected not just a lack of candor from Miami (and evidently Haith) but also sloppiness in its haste by Missouri.

That lesson seems to have been learned this time around, when mum’s been the word and MU presumably is being more methodical about scrutinizing its candidates.

5. We can now rule out UTEP’s Tim Floyd as the next Mizzou basketball coach

after his apparent “candidacy” evidently never amounted to much more than a 24-hour internet sensation.

But that flurry got me thinking about him and the odd way he got his first coaching break.

Some years ago, I had occasion to spend a day in El Paso with Don Haskins, the legendary UTEP coach best known for his team (then Texas Western) with five black starters that beat all-white Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA title game.

As Haskins told the story, or at least as I remember him telling it, he had once received a handwritten letter in such wretched penmanship that he threw it in the trash assuming it was from a crackpot.

For some reason, he looked again at the crumpled paper and saw mention of Lee Floyd, whom Haskins had known as the Southern Miss coach and as an El Paso businessman.

He took a closer look yet and realized the letter was from Lee Floyd’s son, Tim, seeking a grad assistant position. And that was enough for Haskins.

At the time, Floyd had been expecting to pursue his MBA and go into the business world. He ended up spending nine years with Haskins to set the foundation for seven head coaching jobs.

One of those was with the Chicago Bulls. When I went there once to do a story on him, I told Floyd what Haskins had said about his writing. He laughed but didn’t deny it.

But I figured his scrawl was exaggerated some.

A short time later, he sent me a note. And it actually was astonishingly bad handwriting, even by my lousy standards. I’ve got it somewhere among keepsakes.

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