Haith’s already in a must-win situation at Missouri

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Frank Haith wasn’t a universally popular hire when Missouri announced its choice to replace Mike Anderson. But the former Miami coach spent the summer winning over fans thanks to immediate recruiting splashes and his handling of the Joplin tornado disaster.

Good thing, too. All that goodwill is being tested thanks to Haith’s role in a report by Yahoo! Sports that alleges a Miami booster gave thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes during an eight-year period starting in 2002.

The Hurricanes hoops program wasn’t the centerpiece of the story – the football team is under serious heat – but Haith is one of three basketball coaches included in the report.

Neal Shapiro, a former U booster now serving a 20-year federal prison term for his part in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, reportedly gave $10,000 to recruit DeQuan Jones. Haith and other members of his staff allegedly met with Shaprio at strip clubs, called his multiple times and appeared in photos with him.

Haith issued a response to the story Tuesday night:

“I can confirm that the NCAA has asked to speak with me regarding the time I spent at the University of Miami. I am more than happy to cooperate with the national office on this issue and look forward to a quick resolution. The NCAA has instructed me not to comment further at this time in order to protect the integrity of their review, so I appreciate your understanding in this matter. The reports questioning my personal interactions with Mr. Shapiro are not an accurate portrayal of my character and per the above I am unable to comment further.”

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden – the man who’ll take the heat for hiring Haith is any of this goes south – did not comment. The school issued a statement essentially the same as Haith’s. Some fans are ready to move on, though that’s incredibly unlikely because of the timing. Besides, Haith needs his due process, and that depends on how the NCAA proceeds.

Haith will probably avoid any penalties, mostly because if a cash payment was used, it’ll be his word against Shapiro’s thanks to a paper-less trail. Haith might look shady, but that’s the extent of it.

But here’s the thing: Haith led Miami to one NCAA tournament. He was 17 games under .500 during ACC play in six seasons. This isn’t a guy who was a huge prize when he was hired. If his Missouri teams struggle – or if there’s a hint of impropriety – the school would be foolish to retain his services very long.

Most coaches get a few stress-free seasons to start. Haith won’t even have one.

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