76 wins in three years.
At first glance, that is quite the accomplishment. It’s an accolade that most college basketball programs would be lucky to even come close to over a three-year span. But for the Missouri Tigers, it wasn’t enough.
Frank Haith technically departed on his own on Thursday, but the now former Tigers coach was more forced out— or took off running— than anything else.
There are reasons that his success wasn’t enough. There were not demands of perfection, the expectation that the program would be on par with Duke, or that anyone believes that his teams were capable of exceptionally better than that, no. It was something else.
When it was announced that Haith signed a deal to become the next head coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, it sent surge-sized shock waves reverberating throughout Columbia. Maybe not so much that he was gone, but the way in which he was gone. It was a serious dose of reality; the ultimate wake up call. Mayday, Mayday!
Let’s put it like this: You know your program is in trouble when you’re an SEC school and your head coach runs off to a black hole of a basketball program like Tulsa. Not to bag on Tulsa, but really? Sure, they made the tournament this year, but it’s a huge step down.
When the news started breaking about Haith’s departure, though, one quote resonated with me. Via USA Today,
“Frank is looking for a way out of Missouri. This might be it.”
Like this is his big break. Like this is going to help his career take off!
No. There’s more to the story here.
One can contend that Haith’s relationship with the school was doomed from the start.
A highly controversial hire, Haith has spent the last three years at Mizzou, which included a top-ten ranking and No. 2 seed in the March tournament in 2012, where they were infamously ousted by 15-seeded Norfolk State.
During much of his tenure, a dark cloud hung over the program—even when the team experienced success—as the investigation into Haith’s involvement with the booster scandal at Miami seriously dampened the progress of the team.
It didn’t help matters when shortly into the second season under his command, star guard Michael Dixon was slapped with allegations of rape that led to his suspension and caused a rift in the locker room before he was forced to transfer.
Mizzou didn’t really recover in 2012-2013. There were some highs—like dismantling former Tigers coach Mike Anderson’s Arkansas team in his first trip back to Columbia—but it culminated in a less than exciting 8-seed and another first round exit in March Madness.
Recently, the school’s support for Haith and the program has nosedived in light of poor performance and a failure to make it to the big dance this season. Looking at the crowd at Mizzou Arena during games, one could clearly see that support had started to dwindle.
Fans stopped showing up. Those that did seemed as about as into the action as an arena league football team’s crowd at a game in Mississippi. Suddenly there was no gas left in the tank. “Faith in Haith” was now merely a distant memory, shrouded in overwhelming widespread negativity.
Watching the last half of 2013-2014 was almost painful. The players stopped trying. If they weren’t putting out terrible performances on the court, they were battling off-court issues and arrests.
The two best players, Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, stopped playing to win and started playing to tryout for the NBA. Haith failed to take control. Ultimately, they missed the tournament for the first time in eight years.
Failure on the court was not the only complaint of the program under his watch. Haith excelled at bringing transfers to play for the program, but has been heavily criticized for his inability to recruit high school players to come to Missouri.
He had found a way to get Louisville transfer Zach Price to commit. But then even Price found a way to get himself arrested—twice in one day—before being dismissed.
It seemed as though everything Haith touched as of recently, died.
High school stars didn’t want to come play for Frank Haith. For Mizzou, team chemistry did not exist. Players either didn’t play to their potential, got into trouble, or both. Whatever the case, it was clear that Haith was in a no-win situation.
He had hardly a team at all set up for the 2014-2015 campaign. There was a lot of pressure building from a community with seemingly unreachable expectations riding his back. Where else could he turn other than Tulsa?
There’s no doubt, Haith wanted a way out of Missouri. And there are many in Tiger nation that wanted him gone as well. One can even argue that Haith did Mizzou a huge favor—after all, it likely saved Alden from having to fire him a year later and Haith had to pay the University’s program $500,000 for leaving. I’m sure they will be putting to use wisely (like, say, a signing bonus to entice a big name to come take his place).
The point is, this move was the right one for everybody. As you can see, it clearly benefits Mizzou financially and with regards to rebuilding the program. It saves Haith’s career because he can get out of a hairy situation with a still highly credible win-loss record in tact and experience at an SEC school that didn’t end on bad terms. And finally, it clears the way for both parties to just START OVER.
But the real thing we must all take from this whole situation is this: Mizzou’s basketball program is lost—lost enough for its head coach to seek refuge at Tulsa. That’s pretty jarring to say the least.
2014 was already looking like a mess. It looks like it just got a lot messier. One can only hope that all parties involved—from Frank Haith, to Mike Alden, to the players, to the basketball program in general—are able to find their way again.