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Suddenly it's a lot clearer why former Missouri coach Frank Haith made the unusual decision to leave for lower-profile Tulsa almost two years ago.
Haith bolted immediately after learning NCAA investigators once again had caught his scent.
In a news release issued Wednesday, Missouri revealed that it launched a joint investigation 19 months ago with NCAA enforcement staffers into potential violations committed during Haith's tenure. The investigation began after Missouri received a notice of inquiry from the NCAA on April 14, 2014, a mere four days before Haith was introduced as Tulsa's new coach.
The investigation uncovered major rules violations, most notably donors providing impermissible benefits to many players and at least one prospect. In response, Missouri vacated all 23 wins from the 2013-14 season, stripped itself of two scholarships and self-imposed a postseason ban, meaning they will not compete in the 2016 SEC tournament or NCAA tournament.
Haith was not named in the Missouri release and was not charged with any violations, yet it seems unfair if he escapes penalty while the program he was in charge of gets waylaid by major punishment. After all, this is the second time in less than five years that he has switched jobs at a convenient time and left his former program in NCAA shambles.
In 2013, the NCAA "factually concluded" that while at Miami, Haith authorized a $10,000 payment to a recruit, paid off a booster to stay quiet and tried to cover up the violation when investigators began asking questions. By the time the NCAA unveiled its findings, Haith was already at Missouri, so he received only a five-game suspension for those transgressions, a veritable slap on the wrist considering those were games against Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner Webb and IUPUI.
Haith embarrassed Missouri when news that he was involved in NCAA violations at Miami broke soon after his 2011 hiring, but Tigers officials stood up for him throughout the ensuing two-year investigation. Not only did Haith keep his job, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden also went so far as to say that he was "proud" to have Haith as his basketball coach and that Haith and his family "deserve closure."
Haith enjoyed a brilliant debut season at Missouri coaching Mike Anderson's holdovers to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but he did little to earn Alden's support thereafter.
Haith's Tigers underachieved in his final two seasons, playing erratic defense and turnover-prone offense with a roster that often looked as though the pieces simply didn't fit together right. Worse yet, he relied on transfers in need of a second chance and seldom landed any top high school recruits, leaving a barren roster for the next staff.
When Haith bolted for Tulsa, he tried to insist he was leaving Missouri for a more attractive job, citing Tulsa's rich basketball history, financial commitment to the program and new conference affiliation.
At the time that rang phony because it seemed he was trying to avoid the chopping block and gain greater job security. Now we know it was probably not only Missouri's on-court struggles but also the specter of looming NCAA violations that chased him away.
Will Tulsa learn from Missouri's mistakes with Haith? Or will the Golden Hurricane continue to employ a coach who has now had major violations occur twice under his watch? The latter appears to be the school's choice at this point.
Haith's lawyer Scott Tompsett released a statement on Wednesday evening insisting that his client "acted appropriately at all times" while at Missouri and that the lack of violations against the coach validates that position. Tulsa athletic director Derrick Gragg subsequently sent out a statement supportive of Haith.
"I read the details of the NCAA investigation of the men's basketball program at the University of Missouri, and Golden Hurricane head men's basketball coach Frank Haith was not named in any of the reports," Gragg said. "Coach Haith has cooperated fully with the NCAA during this process and has not been accused of any wrongdoing during his tenure at Missouri."
Tulsa's faith in Haith is unlikely to be rewarded if his past behavior is any guide.
History suggests he'll enjoy modest success with his predecessor's players, he'll struggle to match that after they're gone and he'll leave just before the NCAA hammer drops.
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