COLUMBIA — The work started as soon as he arrived, but there is one task Frank Haith won’t touch.
“I purchased the house in Miami, and I caught so much grief from my wife for the first couple months that it wasn’t the right house,” Haith said. "I’m not doing that this time around."
Pam Haith still remembers the phone call she received from her husband nearly seven years ago. She was pregnant with their second child, Brianna, and Frank Haith had just accepted his first head basketball coaching job at the University of Miami. Thinking he would save her from stressing over a search, he picked out a house before his wife and son, Corey, arrived. Then he called to surprise her with the good news.
“I thought he was lying to me,” Pam Haith said.
She was upset partly because she was not sure about the location of the house and the surrounding community. But laughter began to creep into the telephone as she got around to explaining the biggest reason.
"I didn't like that I didn't make the decision," she said.
Now the Haiths find themselves in a similar situation. This time, the new job is the head coach of the Missouri men's basketball team. Eventually, Frank Haith's family will be making the move to join him. But the coach has learned his lesson. Although his wife grew to love the house in Miami, he has no surprise in store.
“I don’t even want to try to attempt going through that again this time around,” Frank Haith said, smiling. “I’m not looking at one house. That’s all her.”
Seven framed photos are scattered around Frank Haith’s office inside Mizzou Arena. Brianna and Corey Haith are smiling in all of them. Their proud mother appears in some. As the new coach is trying to win over waves of strangers, the people closest to him are far away in Miami.
“It’s hard because we have never really been apart as a family,” Pam Haith said. “For me, as his wife, I feel guilty because I know with a new position comes a lot of added stress. Those are things that I can’t do anything about. Sometimes just your presence alone kind of gives your partner a sense of security.”
Frank Haith's first month has been a whirlwind of activity.
He has started working with his new players. He has traveled across the state, in and out of homes of young men he is trying to convince to join his team. He has driven to meet-and-greets and promotional events in Columbia and other cities across the state to speak to the Black-and-Gold faithful.
Everywhere he goes is an audition, a chance to win over a new player, a new fan.
“It’s building a relationship,” Frank Haith said.
His ability to establish relationships helped lead him here. Friendships with coaches opened doors for him. His network of contacts spreads like a grid from every stop he has made along his way.
A cabinet above his new desk holds a Kevin Eastman basketball instructional DVD. Currently an assistant coach of the NBA Boston Celtics, Eastman has created series of drills that are considered a well-respected resource for developing skills. Frank Haith got that experience firsthand. He coached as an assistant under Eastman at North Carolina-Wilmington for two seasons before moving on to an assistant coaching job at Texas A&M.
Eastman is just one example. Frank Haith can continue to name respected figures throughout professional and college basketball, pausing to add what he learned from each.
He has discussed plays with Miami Heat president and former NBA coach Pat Riley and considers Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski a friend. He speaks with his mentor, Texas coach Rick Barnes, multiple times throughout the week. Every one of their calls ends with "I love you, man."
It's not that Frank Haith is boasting. He considers himself lucky.
“I feel so blessed to work for people that are such well-respected guys, guys that I know have instilled so much into me about this game,” he said. “My preparation as a head coach was there with me in every step of the way.”
His relationships are not only limited to the coaches he learned from. He also connects with players.
As a McDonald’s High School All American from Houston, Jerald Brown had offers to play for a lot of college teams heading into his 1996 freshman season.
“I had options to go to pretty much any school I wanted to,” Brown said. “I could pretty much write my own ticket.”
Brown said he was also being recruited by Kansas, Texas and Arkansas. But there was something about Frank Haith, who, after a one-season term as an assistant coach at Penn State, was back at Texas A&M as an associate head coach. Haith answered not only Brown’s questions, but his mother’s as well.
“His transparency, just something about our connection,” Brown said. "He shot it to me straight. I just trusted him.”
With relationships come the existence of trust. Frank Haith seeks both as he works to fill Missouri's vacant scholarship spots and win over a fan base that did not wholeheartedly approve of his hiring.
When Frank Haith's relationship-building is finished each day, he takes the brief drive to his two-bedroom rented house near Mizzou Arena. Often, he calls his wife before going to bed.
“When he finally does have time after working and returning phone calls, because he’s up really late, he calls and we talk until about 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning,” Pam Haith said.
Sometimes they fall asleep before hanging up.
The family has moved before, during the years Frank Haith bounced from one assistant coaching job to another. But that was when Corey Haith, 17, was younger and before Brianna Haith, 6, was born. Now moving means saying goodbye to friends. Now the process is harder.
At first, Corey Haith resisted the idea. He is a high school junior, and his Palmer Trinity High School boys basketball team won its district championship for the first time in a long time this season. His teammates will return for their senior season. Why couldn’t he?
Friends offered to take him in. Friends' parents vowed to take good care of him.
“That was some conversation at first, maybe let him do his senior year there, but we are a family,” Frank Haith said. “We can’t be apart.”
When faced with the tough parts of the move, the family prayed.
Then, during his first trip to Columbia for his father’s introductory press conference on April 5, Corey Haith’s outlook changed. He got a chance to meet the Missouri players. They put their arms around him and invited him to play a game of pickup basketball.
“They really had an effect on him,” Frank Haith said. “When he went home that next day, he was really excited.”
Pam Haith called it an answered prayer.
The family’s second visit came a couple weeks ago. From Wednesday to Sunday, the four were reunited again. Brief visits will have to do until Corey and Brianna finish school in June. Leaving before the end of the semester would mean unfulfilled academic responsibility.
Both parents speak a lot about the importance of education. For Frank Haith, it is something his grandmother made sure he valued.
“A lot of who I am is based on my upbringing, my childhood,” he said.
Frank Haith was the second of his 10 brothers and sisters. When he was 5, he and his older sister, Patricia Haith, moved from their parents’ home in Queens, N.Y., to live with their grandmother, Ethel Mae Haith, in Burlington, N.C.
Ethel Mae Haith stood only 4 feet, 8 inches tall, but she was stern and her discipline was strict.
Short bursts of breath through Frank Haith's pursed lips replicate the sound her switch used to make as it cut through the air. The woman who did not go to school past fourth grade made sure education was the top priority for her grandchildren.
“That was her ultimate,” Patricia Haith said. “Getting a good education, that is your foundation. And it will take you wherever you want to go. She instilled that in us from day one.”
Education is now Patricia Haith’s career. She is the principal of an elementary school in Maryland. While her brother took a slightly different route, Frank Haith has kept education at the center of his message as he ascended from an unpaid assistant to where he is today.
In seven seasons at at Miami, he graduated 21 of 22 seniors. Ethel Mae Haith's priorities are now his own.
“If you can’t read, I don’t know how you’re going to do any plays for me,” Patricia Haith said. “That’s him.”
Soon Frank Haith’s temporary two-bedroom house will be traded for a home filled with family.
“He’s living like a typical bachelor right now,” Pam Haith said. “He does not like being without his family. For us to find a home and move into a home, he will be ecstatic. I think he still feels a little displaced because we’re not there."
During the visit to Columbia last week, the search for a house commenced with a tour of more than 15 possible locations. Another trip from Miami to make a final choice is planned after the end of the school year. The final move will follow shortly after.
“I think we are all eager to get back,” Pam Haith said.