Press Box: Haith’s departure as mysterious as his arrival

News Tribune sports commentary

When Frank Haith came to Columbia three years ago from Miami as the new head men’s basketball coach, it was met with a resounding “Who?”

The moment he stepped on that plane Thursday afternoon at Columbia Regional Airport headed for Tulsa, it was met with a resounding “What?”

Haith came in under a cloud of mystery and he’s leaving the same way after three seasons as head coach of the Missouri Tigers.

We may never know the reason why Haith decided to cut and run. Reports throughout the afternoon stated someone close to Haith saying, “Frank wanted out of Missouri.”

Thanks for the insight, Deep Throat.

But here is a guess on the reason for his “wanting out.”

• Haith supposedly asked for a contract extension and didn’t get it.

• He was starting to feel the heat from the fan base. He inherited a talented team and led them to 30 wins in his first season, capped by Haith being named the National Coach of the Year by many media outlets. That was followed by another good season in 2012-13.

But both were concluded with one-and-done appearances in the NCAA Tournament. And then the Tigers looked to be disinterested at times this season playing in front of often half-full Mizzou Arena, a season which ended with a trip to the NIT and no contract extension.

Maybe he saw the writing on the wall. One more season like this at Missouri and there wouldn’t be a Tulsa, which lost head coach Danny Manning to Wake Forest and returns a lot of young talent after making it to the NCAA Tournament, offering a job.

And with the talent level returning to the Tigers next season, getting fired was a distinct possibility, so you might as well get while the getting is good.

When Haith has his introductory press conference at Tulsa, expect him to say something in the vein of “I enjoyed my time at Missouri, we had a lot of success there, I was just ready for another challenge in my career.”

Translated, the reason I left is none of your business.

So with Faith in Haith planted firmly in the rear-view mirror along with Catching a Ride on Woody’s Wagon, where does Missouri athletic director Mike Alden go? Every A.D. has a list of “just in case I need it” candidates to be head coaches ready to go and I’m sure the back-channel telephone lines were in use as soon as Haith’s plane went wheels-up.

Does Alden go young? Experienced? A current Division I head coach or an up-and-coming assistant?

Let’s start with a realistic look at the program.

Missouri is in the top 30-40 of Division I programs. It’s a team that could and should make the NCAA Tournament most seasons and make an occasional deep run.

Is Missouri a top 25-program? History says no, so if you are Gregg Marshall at Wichita State or Shaka Smart at VCU, do you leave a winning program you’ve developed to go to one that has struggled to finish .500 the last two seasons in the Southeastern Conference?

Even if you threw a check at them with one heck of a lot of zeroes on the end of it, I would say it’s not likely they’re coming.

Kim Anderson, coming off leading Central Missouri to the NCAA Division II national title, would get the old-time Missouri fan base fired up. But in his late 50s, is Anderson the coach you hope would stick around for 10 years or more? And does a 17-year-old recruit really care about Anderson’s past at Missouri? Or will he just see Division II?

Matt Painter at Purdue? Umm, no. Been there, done that when Alden hired Haith. All that flirtation got was Painter a raise and Haith a job in Mid-Missouri.

Ben Howland, fired at UCLA after the 2012-13 season, is another name on people’s short lists. He did lead UCLA to multiple Final Fours, but he got fired for some reason.

Donnie Tyndall at Southern Miss, which knocked Missouri out of the NIT last month, or Mike White at Louisiana Tech are a couple of names to watch. Especially the 35-year-old White, who played at Mississippi and should know a little about the ins-and-outs of the SEC.

One thing to remember is Tennessee is also looking for a head coach after Cuonzo Martin left last week for California.

The Tigers and the Volunteers figure to be battling over a similar group of candidates, so time could be of the essence.

Alden’s success rate at hiring basketball coaches isn’t great — Quin Snyder, Mike Anderson and Haith. It isn’t often you get a fourth strike, so he better make this one a good one.

Alden likely won’t get a chance to hire another one.

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