The Missouri Tigers are enjoying the most success they have had since Norm Stewart was patrolling the bench years ago. When unexpected success like this happens people start to trip over their selves to bring a shower of praise and accolades. That is happening with the Tigers and particularly head coach Frank Haith.
But who really deserves the credit for the Tigers season that has them sitting as the #3 ranked team in the nation and competing for the Big 12 conference title? Is it Frank Haith or is it the players? The answer is simple yet complex at the same time. This is a classic chicken or the egg scenario.
What came first, the chicken or the egg? The team or the coach? Is the team this good because Frank Haith is that good of a coach? Or are they this good because they have 4 senior players in the starting lineup? Everyone wants to know who deserves all the credit. The simple answer to who deserves the credit is both parties do. But no one wants to give both parties credit. People want a winner and loser.
This guy deserves all the credit and this other guy doesn't deserve any. But once again it is never that simple especially when applying it to the Tigers. Frank Haith deserves a lot credit for taking a team that was built to play a style of basketball predicated on running up and down the floor, pressing, and being faster than your opponent and changing the identity. This is not an easy task for any coach to pull off, especially when you are Frank Haith.
It is well known that Frank Haith was not the first choice to replace Mike Anderson as MU's head basketball coach. After the very public flirtation with Purdue basketball coach Matt Painter and the very public spurning by Painter the MU fan base was crushed. Everyone had hopes set so high once news began to leak out that Painter was serious about taking the vacant MU job.
he day Painter decided to stay at Purdue was a swift kick to the fans of MU, followed by a punch to the nuggets. Then news broke that the current Miami Hurricanes head coach was going to take over the Tigers' program. My reaction when I heard that Frank Haith was named head coach was, "Who?!" The MU world was pissed when Haith was hired and that is putting it mildly. The venom I heard from fans was unlike anything I had ever heard surrounding a college coaching hire.
It got worse before it got better for Frank Haith and Tiger fans with news of Haith's involvement in a scandal at University of Miami. A booster paid many football players and a few basketball players. People were calling for Frank Haith to be fired before he ever even coached a game. That seems like it was a decade ago. My, how winning helps cure all ills.
Frank Haith was able to weather the storm that surrounded his hire and his past at Miami and then it became time to focus on the team and the play on the court. Things were looking up for him, right? Then forward Laurence Bowers tore his ACL in a scrimmage and was lost for the season. Whenever a person says that things can't get any worse I refer to a line from one of my favorite rappers, Black Thought from The Roots: even a three legged dog has three good legs to lose. Frank Haith should get that painted on the wall in his office.
MU fans were waiting for the first misstep by this Tigers team and Frank Haith so they could tell anyone who would listen I told you so. Those fans are now silent and are still waiting for their moment to scream I told you so in glory. Haith's ability to block out the off the court distractions is not was amazes me about him and his team's performance this season.
What does amaze me is that he was able to connect with his players and get them to buy into what he was selling. That is not an easy feat to accomplish in this day and age. Not to mention all of these players know he was not the first choice for the job. College kids are masters at tuning out adults in authority. Not only was Haith having to battle the rolling eyes of college students, he was asking these players to give up what they have known before and trust that he knew the best way for those players to excel at a higher level. Frank Haith deserves all the praise he is receiving for the transformation this team has made this season.
Haith was tasked with the difficult job of getting players to buy in to what he is selling but the players were the ones who had to do the buying in and the ones who have to go out and play the game. The Tigers were in shambles at the end of last season. Their Big 12 tournament run ended with a giant thud and one of their team leaders, Kim English said that the team quit.
A week later they were embarrassed in the NCAA tournament and the wheels were officially off the MU Tigers program. That embarrassment was the catalyst for these players and what helped them come together as a team and not splinter. The player that deserves the most praise for the turnaround of the Tigers is sophomore point guard Phil Pressey.
We expected Phil's freshman season at MU to be his only one once Mike Anderson left for Arkansas. It was just a foregone conclusion that Phil would follow Uncle Mike down south, sit out his one year and finish his season there. I was shocked that did not happen. I am still taken aback it didn't happen. Once the uncertainty of Phil Pressey had been put to rest, the Tigers were able to move on in a post-Mike Anderson world.
Now, let's be honest with ourselves: why wouldn't these Tiger players buy in to what Frank Haith was selling? I mean, most of them are seniors, right? What else are they going to do? They are stuck here so make the best of it, right? That would make sense but believing that to be the case is selling the character of the Missouri Tigers short.
College basketball is now a world filled with players leaving college early for the greener pastures of the NBA. Teams that are senior-laden are few and far between. College basketball players who worry or care about the legacy they leave behind at their university are a rare breed. Most college basketball players look at their time in college as just a way to the means for their NBA future. I would venture a guess that most one-and-done players are not too concerned about the lasting legacy they leave on a program.
Contrary to that mindset, the MU players' legacy and the sour taste that was left in MU fans' mouths is something these Missouri Tiger seniors cared deeply about. One player who this mattered to a lot was Kim English. Last season was a year that I am sure Kim English wishes he could forget. His play took a giant step back and his constant talking via twitter began to wear thin on the Tiger faithful. He needed a better ending to his career at MU. The idea of his legacy at MU being a sour one matters to him. His is someone who loves college basketball and loves the college experience in general. He was even seen making an appearance when ESPN's College Football Gameday originated from Columbia during the 2010 season.
Kim English was the poster child of the Mike Anderson regime and his willingness to accept change and his drive to leave the MU program better than it was when he arrived infected the rest of the seniors on this team. Phil Pressey and Kim English deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround of this MU team.
The Missouri Tigers fan base is one that lives waiting for the other shoe to drop. Heart breaking moments and MU athletics are The Office's Jim and Pam of the sports world. From the 5th down vs. Colorado to the kicked ball vs. Nebraska to Tyus Edney running the length of the court, getting screwed in the 2007 college football season, and not being invited to join the Big 10 conference have conditioned MU fans to approach everything with a great deal of caution.
This season could end in the similar heartbreak fashion that MU fans have grown to expect. No matter how this magical run ends for the Tiger everyone needs to make sure to give credit where credit is due and that is to Frank Haith and the players that were already on the MU roster. In which order you give those thanks, to the chicken or egg, is up to you.