The more details emerge about Frank Haith's stormy tenure at Missouri, the more it resembles the average high school relationship.
They first got together against the advice of peers who insisted Haith wasn't good enough for the Tigers. They endured three chaotic, drama-filled years together. And they broke up abruptly in the most impersonal, awkward manner possible.
Missouri athletic director Mike Alden told reporters in Columbia on Friday afternoon that Haith indicated he was leaving for Tulsa via text message earlier in the morning. Haith insisted during his introductory press conference at Tulsa that he'd tried to reach Alden by phone before informing his boss he was leaving by text.
It's a shame we'll probably never see that text exchange because the possibilities are hilarious.
Haith: Off to Tulsa :) Sorry the last two years didn't go better. Tell the players I'll miss them.
Alden: Tulsa?!? LOL. Are their games even on TV? Enjoy obscurity, bro.
Though publicly Alden was complimentary of Haith and insisted he enjoyed working with him during his news conference, many at Missouri believe the coach did the Tigers a favor leaving for a less high-profile job rather than staying for a fourth season. His departure enables Missouri to begin its rebuilding process a year ahead of schedule rather than having to make a decision whether to retain Haith after the 2014-15 season.
When Missouri hired Haith three years ago after a failed bid to pluck Matt Painter from Purdue, many Tigers fans didn't exactly embrace the move. They launched phone and email campaigns urging the school's board of curators not to approve Haith's contract, noting his 43-69 record in ACC play at Miami and his one NCAA tournament berth since 2004.
Haith temporarily quieted his critics by leading a group of seniors who had underachieved the previous year under Mike Anderson to a 30-win season, but an opening-round NCAA tournament loss to 15th-seeded Norfolk State undid some of the good will he had fostered. The Tigers never did win an NCAA tournament game under Haith, going from preseason top 15 to a No. 9 seed and an opening-round exit in 2013 before settling for an NIT bid this year.
Haith also embarrassed Missouri when news broke soon after his 2011 hiring that he was involved in NCAA violations at Miami. He sat the first five games of Missouri's 2013-14 season, a lenient penalty considering the list of violations the NCAA concluded he committed included authorizing a payment to a recruit, paying off a booster to stay quiet and attempting to cover up the violation when investigators began asking questions.
What was also unsettling for Missouri fans was that the program seldom landed top recruits under Haith and instead became a destination for transfers in need of a second chance. Fred Hoiberg and Dana Altman have found success employing a similar strategy at Iowa State and Oregon, but Haith's Tigers underachieved the past two seasons, played erratic defense and turnover-prone offense this year and often looked as though the pieces simply didn't fit together right.
Even though Missouri's three leading scorers will either graduate or leave early for the NBA, Haith was under pressure from both his fan base and administration to win next season. That clearly was a factor in his decision to avoid the chopping block and increase his job security by fleeing for a lower-profile job at a mid-major program with a rich basketball history.
Tulsa is far from basketball Siberia — the Golden Hurricane won at least one NCAA tournament game seven times in 10 years from 1994 to 2003 and returns the nucleus of the team Danny Manning led to 21 wins this past season. Still, this is a clear step down from a Missouri program with the potential to finish in the top three in the SEC most seasons, which made Haith's attempts to spin why he left for Tulsa pretty amusing.
He cited Tulsa's rich history. He cited the program's commitment to basketball, from charter flights, to a sizable recruiting budget, to his own impressive seven-figure salary. And he cited Tulsa's impending move to the American Athletic Conference (though Haith mispoke and referred to the fledgling league as "The Atlantic Conference" instead).
"That's why I'm interested in this program," Haith said. "That's why I'm here."
Thus even after Haith's goodbye text, the aftermath of his departure from Missouri still had the feel of a high school break-up.
One side was left searching for a better partner. The other was desperately trying to convince everyone he was better off without the partner he'd left behind.
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