New University of Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith arrived late to Friday afternoon because of traffic, but no one seemed to mind. The patio was full of the Tiger faithful by the time he got there.
Haith was first grabbed for an interview, then went into the crowd, shaking hands and signing autographs. The Mizzou fight song rang through the bar as Haith went inside, followed by Mizzou staffer and broadcaster Gary Link. The new coach has been on a tour of the state, meeting fans and talking about his goals for the upcoming season.
He told the gathered crowd the experienced team is adapting to the coaching change. Haith was hired in April. He replaced Mike Anderson, who left Mizzou for the University of Arkansas.
Haith said the athletes are like sponges, taking everything in, though the team can only work with strength coaches in the summer. He said he has no doubt that the Tigers will get back to the NCAA Tournament in the spring.
Haith also said he'd do a better job getting local talent onto the team in response to a question about recruiting in St. Louis.
He also spoke about going to Joplin, MO with the "One State. One Spirit. One Mizzou." drive. He said he felt going to Joplin after a May 22 tornado ravaged the town was the right thing to do. It changed his perspective he said, which could even follow over into the way the team plays their game. The team will play an exhibition game against Missouri Southern State University in October to raise money for tornado relief efforts.
Haith stressed the importance of defense more than once. When asked about pressure on him because of his contract, he said no one can put more pressure on him and the team than they’ll put on themselves. Haith's contract details were announced last week; he will be paid 1.6 million in his first season and faces a higher buyout than his predecessors should he choose to leave Missouri.
Haith's tour of the state has included stops in Kansas City and Springfield. He said Columbia and the whole state has been very welcoming.