NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One year to the day that Missouri athletics director Desireé Reed-Francois fired her men’s basketball coach that led to the hiring of Dennis Gates, the Tigers are playing in the SEC tournament semifinals Saturday against top-seeded Alabama — a milestone for a program that’s never reached this point on the SEC bracket.
Shortly after Friday’s quarterfinals victory over Tennessee, Reed-Francois informed the team that she’d amended Gates’ contract with a one-year extension and lucrative 60% raise that will make it extremely costly for him to leave for another school.
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Before the Tigers tipped off Saturday against No. 4 Alabama, UM System president Mun Choi visited with the Post-Dispatch to reflect on the Gates’ hire and MU’s decision to make a long-term commitment to the first-year head coach.
Q: Why was the timing right to adjust Dennis’ contract before he finished his first season?
A: Well, we felt that Dennis has outperformed all of our expectations and that we recognize that he is a person that we want to make a long-term investment in so that we can secure him for greater success at Mizzou. We knew that the timing was right, given that we came off the best season that we’ve had in the SEC. This was a demonstration by the AD and the Board that we deeply appreciate the success that Dennis has brought to our program. He's done it the right way by treating his players with respect, expecting accountability and winning.
Q: Would you say there was concern about Dennis and other coaching jobs are was this the university being proactive with his contract?
A: There’s always concerns that that a coach may be recruited. We knew that we had a long-term contract with him already. But it was a sign, an important sign we want to give to Dennis as well as the fan base that we’re committed to this coach and that he's committed to us.
Q: You mentioned that he’s winning and that’s important. What else have you noticed about Dennis over the last year that you really like?
A: His poise. His principles. He always talks about his eight principles. And that is not just the line that he uses. He lives his life by those principles and he imparts those values, those principles to his players. The way that I've seen him interact with his players, the way he treats his players, both on television and in the locker room, it's consistent. He is their coach, and he will always say to them, ‘I’m your coach for life. You can always count on me.’ That means a lot to our players. It means a lot to me.
Q: This commitment comes off the heels of Eli Drinkwitz’s new contract four or five months ago. How do you feel you’re now positioned with the two head coaches of your most high-profile teams?
A: We are in really good position. I do appreciate Desireé's leadership, which has been transformational. It really has been. And also the support and the vision of the Board to make sure that we are competing like an SEC champion.
Q: Speaking of Desireé, this was her hire a year ago. Does this contract decision say anything more about her eye for talent?
A: Yes. She's demonstrated to Mizzou Nation that she knows how to hire coaches and support coaches. We've seen that with Eli’s extension and now with Coach Gates’ extension. She has brought new energy and we have confidence in her and her leadership.
Q: Would you like to make sure she stays around longer, too?
A: The Board and I would love to see her stay around longer. She currently has a long-term contract (through June 2027) and we look forward to that.