COLUMBIA, Mo. – Frank Haith has heard the criticism that Missouri settled for a safe choice rather than a home-run hire for its new head coach.
After seven years leading a Miami basketball program at a football-first school with little fan interest and plenty of other south Florida distractions, Haith welcomes both the added scrutiny and the heightened interest in his fortunes.
"I spent a year at Miami and had trouble getting into my office because they didn't recognize me," he said jokingly on Tuesday at his introductory news conference. "I know I'm in a different place. I know they care."
The former Big 12 assistant at Texas and Texas A&M returns to a pared-down conference that will only get tougher next season with the departures of basketball also-rans Nebraska and Colorado for the Big Ten and Pac-10, respectively.
He replaces Mike Anderson, who left Missouri after five seasons, three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and a school-best 77 wins over the past three seasons. Anderson was hired late last month at Arkansas, where he spent 17 years as a Nolan Richardson assistant.
Without prompting, Haith quickly acknowledged the initial reaction from some Missouri faithful who questioned his record at Miami and had hoped athletic director Mike Alden would make a bigger splash with the hire.
Haith went 129-101 in seven seasons with the Hurricanes, including 21-15 this season, when they played in the NIT. The Hurricanes went 43-69 in the Atlantic Coast Conference under Haith and made the NCAA tournament once, losing in the second round in 2008. Their best conference mark under Haith was 8-8.
"I don't look at the negativity I'm hearing so far as a negative," he said. "That's why I'm here. I want that passion."
The 45-year-old Haith spent three years as an assistant at Texas, four years as an assistant at both Texas A&M and Wake Forest and had stints at Penn State, Elon College and North Carolina-Wilmington. He took over at Miami in his first head coaching job in 2004.
Alden cited Haith's recruiting skills and familiarity "with the footprint of the Big 12" as key elements in his decision. Missouri has three available scholarships for next season and will have six open slots in two years.
Haith will earn $1.5 million annually in a five-year deal, with $100,000 in deferred annual compensation and an automatic one-year contract extension effective May 1, 2012.
Alden tried last week to lure Matt Painter, but the Purdue coach instead signed a contract extension. He said Monday that Haith was the only person offered the job.
After Painter's decision, fans, boosters and alumni remained hopeful that Missouri could lure a rising star such as Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart, who agreed to a new contract that was announced Monday; or a proven commodity such as Minnesota's Tubby Smith, who reportedly passed on Missouri's overtures over the weekend.
Haith pledged to bolster the Tigers' in-state recruiting efforts, particularly in St. Louis. Anderson failed to land a recruit from the talent-rich city. In this year's high school senior class alone, St. Louis is sending top national recruits to Florida (Bradley Beal), Arkansas (B.J. Young) and, worst of all for Missouri, archrival Kansas (Ben McLemore).
"Our foundation must start here in the great state of Missouri," he said.
Haith said he expects to inherit a fully intact Missouri roster, even with Monday's announcement by junior starters Kim English and Laurence Bowers that they plan to enter the NBA draft but won't sign with agents in case they choose to return.
Haith also doesn't expect to lose freshman Phil Pressey, whose father was Mike Anderson's college teammate and grew up calling the former Tigers' coach "Uncle Mike."
Pressey didn't attend the press conference, but seven other Missouri players did, including Bowers and English. They each offered strong support for their new leader.
"We made a good choice in coach Haith," said Bowers, who also suggested he is likely to return for his senior year if his draft stock doesn't rise. "I'm looking forward to playing for him."