The people who are dwelling on the frivolous exercise of mocking Frank Haith’s quick exit out of Mizzou or taking for granted the notion that this is the golden opportunity to replace him with a high-profile coaching star just dying to make Columbia his new basketball heaven, are missing out on one glaringly obvious point:
Without a stunningly large king’s ransom laid out on the negotiating table, considering the current circumstances at Mizzou, why would any hot coaching name think this job’s all that attractive?
Make no mistake, someone eventually is going to take this job. Someone is going to leave his current job if he considers this an upwardly mobile move. Maybe it will be a young guy grinding away at a lower mid-major and willing to overlook some of the glaring deficiencies built into replacing Haith as the next Mizzou basketball coach. Maybe it will be a guy who is stuck in Division II (Kim Anderson?) who would consider this a decided upgrade on his current circumstance. Maybe it will be some eager assistant who wants to fast-track his rise up the coaching ladder and would deal with just about anything to make that big climb.
But anyone who thinks that Mizzou is going to land a coaching star like Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, VCU’s Shaka Smart or even Dayton’s Archie Miller better slow their roll.
This isn’t a bad job, but it’s a job with certain, shall we say, difficulties.
The biggest difficulty of them all is current AD Mike Alden. Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked to a lot of folks in college coaching circles, and Alden ought to worry that he’s building a reputation as a man who can’t be entirely trusted. We already know that Mike Anderson didn’t trust him. Now it’s rather obvious that Haith didn’t either, and apparently with good reason.
Alden has mastered the fine art of shaping his facts. He doesn’t lie. He just prefers to tell you his truth with certain convenient omissions. He says he was informed via text message that Haith had accepted the Tulsa job, and that is one of those statements that is true as far as Alden was willing to discuss.
Yet I wonder if the entire truth sounds a little more like this:
Haith calls Alden the night before, leaves a voice mail saying they need to talk. He awaits a return call to update the Mizzou AD on negotiations with Tulsa.
Seven hours go by without a return call, and the first return communication is an impersonal text from Alden the next morning rather than a more personal phone call.
If you’re truly interested in keeping your head coach, wouldn’t you return his phone call immediately instead of waiting overnight to text him? If you are a head coach trying to decide what direction to go and you’ve just been wined and dined by Tulsa and your old boss just hits you up with a text, what sort of message does that send?
It sounds like the message was fairly clear. Alden wasn’t all that psyched up about keeping Haith from bolting. If that’s the response I got, I’d have texted Alden, too.
According to well-placed sources, Haith has repeatedly had issues with Alden’s lack of support behind the scenes. While Alden publicly gave the impression that he was backing his coach, one source said that after news broke that Haith was a part of the NCAA investigation into recruiting violations at the University of Miami, Alden demanded that Haith resign. Haith refused and when the NCAA announced a five-game suspension for Haith, the coach wanted to appeal the decision, but Alden discouraged him from appealing.
This is a rather fascinating side to the Haith-Alden relationship that was never seen in public. It shapes a clearer understanding how their relationship could have gone sour so quickly. I wonder how much different Haith’s stay at Mizzou could have been if the AD had been more of a forceful public advocate rather than an aloof politician who knew his hire was an increasingly unpopular one who was on a permanent hot seat?
It would have taken guts to tell the world that Haith’s job was secure and he deserved all the time he needed to stabilize this program. Arkansas AD Jeff Long has used his Twitter account and its 44,000-plus followers repeatedly to quell any anti-Mike Anderson sentiment.
If you want a man who has won 76 games over three years to stay, you defend him. If you want him to leave — and you don’t have the guts to do your own dirty work — you simply let him swing in the breeze.
Of course Haith was going to leave under those circumstances. Who could blame him?
There are other things that don’t quite add up about this job. If a guy can be run out of town by an ambivalent AD and an unrealistic fan base unsatisfied with a man who wins 76 games, a conference tournament title and earns two NCAA berths in three seasons, what will they expect of the next man to fill his shoes?
Will the impatient fan base settle for a rough one or two seasons that could lie ahead with a roster loaded with seven returning freshmen and sophomore scholarship athletes and two incoming four-star recruits (if they decide to stick to their verbal commitments to Mizzou)?
I hope he can get Marshall, but I don’t see how he can pull it off. If Alden can’t persuade Marshall to take this job (the best strategy to do this would be to start saying “yes” and keep saying “yes” to all of his demands), then what will he do when he ends up having to sell his second, third or fourth choice this time?
Will he have the guts to stick with his man through all the hard times? Will he have the nerve to defend him when the public winds shift or will he be strong enough to create an environment that insulates his new man from the ill winds?