posted on August 17, 2011 20:27
I want to be up front in telling you all that I’m not here to decide whether Frank Haith should lose his job or not. It’s really not my place and I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision. Instead, I’m going to use this space to defend the guy that does have to make that call.I’ve seen a lot of debate over the last 24 hours about whether Haith should lose his job. It’s fair debate. It’s a question that absolutely has to be asked. I’ve also seen a lot of debate about whether Mike Alden should lose his job over this.
I thought about it. At first, I thought it was a fair question. And, to be honest, my first reaction was that if Haith indeed has to be fired, Alden would have failed and failed miserably in two of his three hires in basketball. All this after he didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet asking the man who built the program to stick around a few more years.
But since that initial knee-jerk reaction, both the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have published stories stating that more than 20 people gave Missouri their stamp of approval on the Haith hiring in April. That includes the NCAA, a representative of which told the Star he had no idea Haith was involved in the scandal at Miami until reading the Yahoo! Sports report by Charles Robinson (kudos to Robinson, by the way. The article is Woodward and Bernstein type stuff).
So the NCAA didn’t know. His colleagues didn’t know. But Mike Alden should have known? Don’t buy it.
It does, however, bring up what may be Alden’s fatal flaw. I’ll get to that in a minute.
He’s an interesting case. A polarizing figure to be sure. Rarely do you see a man who has been responsible for so much good whom so many of his fans want gone. He has overseen the most successful multi-year run at Mizzou in at least 40 years…and probably ever. He hired the guy that won more games in a single season and went as far in the NCAA Tournament as any coach in Tiger hoops history. He has—and I understand this means about as much as the fact that he convinced someone to pay for flavored coffee in the athletic department offices—worked wonders with many of Mizzou’s smaller sports. But fans seem to point out his mistakes much more often. And to be fair, there have been a few.
But in discussing Alden—both on the radio and on message boards, and also just with friends—I’ve come across a common thread in these episodes that Tiger fans so often bring up. Alden seems to trust people a little too easily. Let me explain on a case-by-case basis:
In 2007, Missouri beat Kansas. They finished ahead of Kansas in the conference. Alden felt like that should be enough. He let his team’s performance do the talking. Meanwhile, Lew Perkins (wink-wink, nod-nod, nah, he'd never do that, right?) convinced the Orange Bowl he’d bring a billion Kansas fans to SouthBeach. The Jayhawks played in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers went to Dallas.
Last year, Missouri batted its eyelashes at the Big Ten. The Big Ten winked back. Jim Delaney held Missouri’s hand and whispered sweet things to Alden (it’s kind of a disturbing analogy, but you get my point). Many around Missouri were convinced they were going to the Big Ten. They didn’t. Nebraska did. Perhaps it should have taught us all a lesson: What they say doesn’t count. It only counts when it’s on paper.
This spring, the lesson had to be learned again. Mike Anderson was talking to Arkansas. Most in the Natural State insisted he was taking the job. Those of us close to Missouri did not. In fact, we insisted on the opposite. We did it because the people we trust were telling us that Anderson was staying. They said that because that’s what he said. And they trusted him. You know the saying. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
Now, has Alden been fooled again? I don’t know. I want to be clear I have no idea what really happened in Coral Gables or what Haith has told Alden behind closed doors. But I know that when I read Charles Robinson’s article, it doesn’t appear to have a whole lot of holes. I know that a Missouri spokesman told the reporters on the story that Haith had no involvement with Nevin Shapiro and I doubt he said it without asking first. I know that the NCAA plans on talking to Haith.
So you have to entertain the fact that Haith perhaps wasn’t up front with the Mizzou administration. You have to wonder if they asked him about Shapiro and he denied even knowing the man. Until, of course, a story came out with pictures proving they knew each other. And just in case Shapiro was really good at Photoshop, there were some phone records too.
Making mistakes is one thing. And we all know that the kind of mistake Haith is accused of making is the kind that costs coaches careers. But other coaches can overcome those mistakes and survive. Often times, it’s not the mistake that buries a man. It’s the cover-up.
As for Alden? Perhaps he was misled. Perhaps he was flat lied to. It does seem to be something that has happened a little too much for Tiger fans. In the cutthroat business of college athletics, it appears being too trusting may be a problem. But it’s not one that should cost Mike Alden his job. There’s only one person in this story with Tiger ties who should be sweating his future in Columbia. I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t Alden.
Gabe DeArmond is the publisher of PowerMizzou.com, the Missouri site on the Rivals.com network. You can read his daily coverage of the Tigers online at http://missouri.rivals.com.