COLUMBIA — Tim Fuller spent the first few minutes of practice Wednesday afternoon on the floor of Mizzou Arena, feeding passes from the wing to sophomore Corey Haith in the corner.
Fitting maybe, given that just a few hours earlier Corey Haith’s father passed responsibility to Fuller.
Missouri coach Frank Haith named Fuller interim head coach on Wednesday, effective for Friday night’s season opener against Southeastern Louisiana. Fuller will lead the Tigers while Frank Haith serves the five-game suspension he received from the NCAA on Oct. 20.
“Coach Haith gives his assistants a lot of freedom to be almost similar to head coaches in practice,” said Fuller, who is in his third year at Missouri. “I have to continue to do what I’ve always done and fill the role he is leaving void. It’s big shoes to fill.”
Fuller is the only one of Haith’s assistant coaches without head coaching experience. Assistant Dave Leitao won 143 games as the head coach of Virginia and DePaul, and assistant coach Mark Phelps coached Drake University for five years. But Haith said he chose Fuller to lead the Tigers in his absence because of the length of Fuller’s tenure.
“The reason I chose Tim is because Tim has been here the longest,” Haith said. “Tim is our associate head coach. Tim has a pulse of me. He’s worked with me three years, but I’ve also known Tim for more than a decade. He deserves this.”
Fuller played under Haith (then an assistant) at Wake Forest from 1997 to 2000. He worked as the director of basketball operations at Wake Forest and Miami, and as an assistant coach at North Carolina A&T, Elon University, Fairfield and Louisville before coming to Missouri in 2011.
Haith sees Fuller as a head coach one day and notes that after his suspension, Fuller will have more experience at the helm. Back in 2004, when Haith got his first taste as a head coach, he had just 48 seconds of experience. He took over for Texas coach Rick Barnes after Barnes was ejected late in Haith’s last game with the program.
“He (Fuller) is going to be way ahead of me,” Haith said. “He’s going to have five games under his belt.”
Haith told Fuller of his decision Wednesday morning. The players were informed soon after. Almost immediately, Fuller’s phone was flooded with text messages from their parents.
“Fuller has been there since I got here,” guard Jordan Clarkson said. “He brought me in. I have a lot of trust in him.”
Guards Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown both echoed Clarkson in expressing their trust in Fuller. Fuller’s relationship with his players is rooted in recruiting, and now, validated in leadership.
“The most important thing is those 16 heartbeats in that locker room," Fuller said. "Make sure they are covered and that they know I have their back.”
Haith will lead the preparation for Southeastern Louisiana as usual. But starting Friday night, he will step back for almost three weeks. He plans to recruit, report to Mizzou Arena in what he called “an administrative capacity” and, of course, watch his team on television.
“I’ll probably be under his (Haith's) tutelage until 11:59 (Thursday night) trying to figure out if there are any other things I can learn before he can no longer participate with us,” Fuller said.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.