Vahe Gregorian

Any ‘faith in Haith’ was misplaced, Missouri basketball fans discover

After hurling itself all-in on Purdue coach Matt Painter only to be jilted in 2011, the University of Missouri had no viable alternative in mind for a men’s basketball coach to replace the departed Mike Anderson.

Then-Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin had been asked to stay in a holding pattern pending the outcome of the Painter gambit, but Martin was unable to resist the certainty of being offered the Tennessee job while he waited.

With no discernible plan B in place, MU was relegated to hiring Frank Haith from Miami — despite his 43-69 Atlantic Coast Conference record and the likelihood his job there soon would be in jeopardy.

“Huh?” was about the most enthusiasm the widely condemned hire inspired.

When Haith called himself “the luckiest man in the world” at his opening news conference, well, many agreed.

That day, Haith also said he was “here for the long haul.”

Despite his seemingly curious departure for Tulsa three years later, Haith at least had that right:

He is still very much with MU.

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The bitter residue of his tenure already was lingering in the fragmented roster he left successor Kim Anderson, who might as well have started from scratch with the jumble he inherited.

As if that weren’t enough of a legacy, NCAA violations announced Wednesday and committed under Haith’s watch have tarnished the program and further sabotaged the rebuilding effort.

Through a joint review with the NCAA, it was determined that Mizzou committed major violations during his tenure.

The upshot is that MU is banned from postseason play this season, including the Southeastern Conference tournament, has had vacated its 23 victories from the 2013-2014 season (Haith’s last at MU) and will lose a scholarship this season and another one in the next two seasons.

Just for good measure, a program that is in dire need of better players will have recruiting restricted through 2016-2017.

But, hey, don’t blame Haith, who, after all, is not specifically named in the report.

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According to his attorney, he also has been informed by the NCAA enforcement staff that he will not be charged with any violations “and therefore has been cleared of any wrongdoing.”

That may be technically true.

But he’s responsible for what happens in his program.

And the fact that Haith was hired at Tulsa four days after Mizzou received an NCAA notice of inquiry on April 14, 2014, stands out — even if Haith’s attorney Scott Tompsett told The Star’s Tod Palmer that Haith didn’t know about the letter until the next year.

Tulsa has a terrific basketball tradition, but that’s not a move a coach makes unless he’s getting out while the getting’s good — something that took on a whole new complexion as of Wednesday.

At the time, it just seemed like a shrewd move from someone who knew his footing was wobbly at MU and that his revolving-door recruiting and obsession with transfers was coming due the next season.

Now it sure looks a lot more like part of a pattern.

Haith, you’ll remember, had been under scrutiny in an NCAA investigation when he was at Miami — a fact that Haith and Miami officials somehow felt needn’t be shared with MU when it was in the process of hiring him.

After the news of the investigation broke in the summer of 2011, Haith insisted he had done nothing wrong.

But in 2013, the NCAA suspended him for five games for failing to “promote an atmosphere of compliance.” Haith, it said, “failed to meet his responsibilities as a head coach when he did not monitor the activities of his assistant coaches, and attempted to cover up” former booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro’s “threats to disclose incriminating information.”

On the day Haith was hired at MU, he asked fans for “faith in Haith.”

For a time, it seemed justified.

He did marvelous work with his first Mizzou team, a veteran group that had grown disillusioned with Mike Anderson and was yearning for someone they could connect with.

That was a dynamic, joyous team to watch. Those Tigers were 30-4 after winning the school’s last Big 12 Tournament before moving to the SEC … only to squander a No. 2 NCAA Tournament seed by losing to 15th-seeded Norfolk State.

Still, it all suggested better days ahead before the program ebbed and failed to make the tournament two years later, and Haith figured he best get out before the posse.

Again.

This astute read of the terrain is what makes him a survivor, now 33-17 overall in his second season at Tulsa.

It’s also what leaves issues behind him.

Meanwhile, Kim Anderson continues to try to mend a broken program, one that had won three of four before getting thrashed by Arkansas on Tuesday night and being dealt another step back Wednesday.

Blame it all on Anderson if you insist, and he knows he has to show substantial signs of more progress soon.

But understand that Anderson was handed at least a three-year project that is the enduring signature of Haith’s time at MU — something that became all the more clear Wednesday.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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