Frank Haith won a national coach of the year award and made two NCAA Tournaments in three seasons at Missouri but the best thing he could do for the basketball program was get out.
Mizzou athletic director Mike Alden should send the Haith family flowers. MU fans should take back every nasty thing they’ve said about Haith because he is doing them a huge favor.
OK, fine. Maybe they don’t need to take backevery
But in taking the Tulsa job, Haith’s gone without baggage. Alden doesn’t have to worry about firing a man three (or four) years into the job. The school owes him no separation pay and, actually, as part of his contract, Haith will have to pay Mizzou $500,000 for leaving. Alden should use the money as a signing bonus for a better coach.
Accepting the job at Tulsa, even with that school’s move to the American Athletic Conference — if you lost your cheat sheet, that’s the one with Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Memphis, among others — is Haith’s white flag.
He wasn’t up to the job at Missouri, and in recent days and weeks had become increasingly frustrated by what must have felt like constant reminders.
Haith had two choices. He could stand his ground, do his job, and try to earn respect from a justifiably skeptical fan base. Or he could get out before getting got, and see if a fresh start would help. Haith chose the easy way out, and for that the people at Tulsa should be wary and the people at Mizzou should be thrilled.
Missouri is a better program than Haith has made it look. He knows that as well as anyone. After all, the best season of his coaching life was made possible by the last coach leaving him the type of dedicated, athletic, skilled basketball players a coach should be able to attract to Columbia.
Haith was transforming that type of sustainable unity into a second-chance shop for players unhappy with their first school. The result was a disjointed group that underperformed its collective ability, consistently showing less than the sum of its parts. This was a team built around three talented perimeter players that still ranked among the nation’s worst in turnovers and assists.
Two years of frustrating basketball, of groups with all the symptoms of badly coached teams, should be over now — but this is where it gets complicated.
Because asHaith blew an opportunity at Mizzou
, he gave Alden an opportunity. The problem is, how many MU fans feel good about how Alden’s next hire will end?
This would be Alden’s fourth basketball coach, and to be fair, the first three haven’t been the disasters that many have made them out to be. Quin Snyder and Mike Anderson each made an Elite Eight, and Haith did have that 30-win, Big 12 tourney title season in 2012.
But it’s also true that each man underachieved at the job and the program. Alden nearly lost his job in the mess that ended in Snyder’s departure, and Anderson chose job interviews over recruiting his last two years. Each man had substantial bona fides when hired, but these things are judged on results, not projections.
The problems during Haith’s time at Mizzou deserve their own paragraph. The hire was a reach from the start, and Alden’s defense of Haith’s character and integrity looked awfully silly after the Miami investigation. The Tigers played beautiful and efficient basketball that first year under Haith, but lost in their first NCAA Tournament game as a No. 2 seed and regressed each year after.
If Mizzou exhales at the gift of being out of an awkward situation with Haith, it won’t matter if Alden can’t sell his program’s considerable advantages to the right coach. The Tigers have the facilities and salary capabilities to lead the pack of Southeastern Conference programs chasing perennial powers Kentucky and Florida, but they can’t do it with a substitute teacher in charge.
So this comes back to Alden. There aregood candidates out there
, and Alden has a lot to sell. After Haith, the fan base should welcome a new coach with smiles and all-you-can-eat Shakespeare’s.
Football is king, and as long as Gary Pinkel is winning (especially in the SEC) then a basketball hire isn’t make-or-break for Alden. But MU aspires for more than just football success, and there’s a lot of money to be made if a basketball coach can fulfill the program’s potential and keep fans coming to Columbia after the bowl game.
It’s up to Alden to find the right man to take advantage of the opportunity Haith is providing. It’s up to Alden not to let his program’s fans down, again.