COLUMBIA — Missouri athletic director Mike Alden is standing behind the school's embattled men's basketball coach — to a point.
Frank Haith's future has come into question after Yahoo Sports reported last week that a former University of Miami booster said he paid then-Hurricanes recruit DeQuan Jones $10,000 to attend the school with Haith's approval.
Haith spent seven years at Miami before Alden hired him in April. It was a decision that surprised and disappointed many Missouri fans, given Haith's relatively low coaching profile and his 43-69 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Alden discussed Haith for the first time Wednesday at a kickoff party for Missouri football boosters. Asked by The Associated Press if he supports Haith, Alden replied, "We support the NCAA process."
The NCAA has asked Missouri to not undertake its own inquiry but instead await the results of its broader investigation into the sweeping allegations by disgraced Miami booster Nevin Shapiro.
Shapiro, who is in federal prison after being convicted of running a massive Ponzi scheme, claims to have provided cash, cars, prostitutes and other impermissible benefits to 72 Miami football players and other athletes between 2002 and 2010 with the knowledge of at least six coaches and as many as 10 athletic department employees overall.
Alden briefly touched upon the situation in his remarks to boosters, noting that Haith met with the Missouri basketball team several days ago to discuss the matter. But he also emphasized that the alleged violations occurred at another school and singled out the returning basketball players as "a great group of guys."
"He's our coach," Alden said. "There's a process that he's involved with — that we're not involved with — so we're just going to let that play out."
Local radio ads promoting the Tiger Quarterback Club rally touted Haith's appearance at the event as recently as Monday. But the coach decided not to attend to minimize any potential distractions, said team spokesman Dave Reiter
"He wanted the focus to be on football," Reiter said.
Alden said he remains in regular contact with Haith. The two plan to attend a St. Louis Cardinals' game together — a two-hour drive from Columbia — on Thursday night.
The extensive report by Yahoo Sports on Shapiro's claims includes two photographs of the booster with Haith — one at a swanky Miami Beach restaurant and the other showing the pair with Miami president Donna Shalala at a bowling alley accepting what Shapiro said was a $50,000 donation to the school's basketball program. The website also obtained telephone records showing 85 calls or text messages between the two over a five-year period
Before the story broke, basketball spokesman Reiter told Yahoo Sports that Haith assured him "he's had no involvement with this Mr. Shapiro guy. There's nothing." The website subsequently pulled that quote and replaced it with a school-issued written statement in which Haith pledged to cooperate with the NCAA but said was "instructed ... not to comment further."
"The reports questioning my personal interactions with Mr. Shapiro are not an accurate portrayal of my character," Haith said in the statement.
Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton said last week that Missouri's coaching search turned up no evidence of any potential wrongdoing at Miami by Haith, whose high character was highlighted by both Deaton and Alden when the new coach was introduced in Columbia. Missouri's background check involved more than 20 people familiar with Haith, including NCAA and ACC officials, Deaton said.