Eye of the Hurricane

April 5, 2011

Haith to Missouri an Obvious Decision

Filed under: sports, college — eadeutsch @ 10:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

The night before the biggest college basketball game of the season, one coach made the biggest decision of his career.  The news of Frank Haith leaving the University of Miami was almost as painful to hear as the Butler-Connecticut game was to watch.  The immediate response by the media and students was a familiar feeling of abandonment.  Only a month ago was the campus coping with Kirby Hocutt vacating his athletics director position for the same job at Texas Tech.  The University now has two vacancies in two of its most crucial positions, and the fault has more to do with Miami than it does with the individuals leaving.

Hocutt left Miami in large part due to cultural differences discerned between Coral Gables and Lubbock.  He felt more comfort raising his family in West Texas than South Florida, and he if we are going to pride ourselves as a country where the American Dream still exists, than we have a duty to, disagree as we may, respect and admire his decision.

If Haith’s American Dream leads him back to the heartland, then more power to him.  He will have the pride of calling Mizzou Arena home, where Tigers fans, including 24,901 undergraduate students, march on weekday nights to root on their team.  When Missouri played North Florida in a meaningless game on November 20th this past season, over 7,000 people were in attendance.  When North Carolina visited Miami in a meaningful game on January 26th, barely 6,000 turned up at the BankUnited Center.  Haith can expect sellouts of 15,061 to show up to conference games.  He will no longer have to beg students on his twitter feed or utilize free Papa John’s pizza handouts at the home venue to entice students to show up.

Why should Haith reject the opportunity to play host in a venue where the home team won 17 games in a row last year?  What does he owe us?  In his seven years of coaching at the University of Miami, he has led the basketball team to the postseason five times.  In 2008, Haith led the Hurricanes to the second round of the NCAA tournament.  A year later, his job was being questioned again, and barely 4,000 people showed up for conference games.  If anything, the University community owed more to Coach Haith.

It is easy to feel bad for the players right now.  They have been abandoned by their leader.  Malcolm Grant and Rion Brown both said the exact same thing about Frank Haith: “He’s the reason I came here.”  But the players are not going anywhere.  The team remains intact even with its coaching changes.  The fallout will be minimal in this regard.  If Miami finished last season 6-10 in conference play, then maybe with another coach it can flip that record.  Either way, the basketball team at Miami will get a spurt of excitement with a new coach, and Haith will be back in his comfort zone.

Haith came into the University of Miami after a stint as the assistant coach of the University of Texas.  He was an assistant coach at Texas A&M from 1992 to 1995, and again for the 1996-1997 school year.  He is no stranger to the Big 12, and can thrive in the loaded conference.  Haith will have strong returning players, including two who are declared for the 2011 NBA draft but, because they did not hire agents, may return to Missouri next year in the likely case that they go undrafted.  The talent pool that Missouri is exposed to is also greater than that of Miami.

The University of Miami digs itself in a hole.  Does any coach want to deal with half-full arenas, unfounded scrutiny, and competition with a football team’s popularity?  Hardly.  The search for an athletics director who wants to hurdle these and innumerable other obstacles may prove to be a difficulty as well, and this does not speak well for the administration or the university.

At the introductory press conference yesterday at Missouri, Haith said, “I had spent a year at Miami and I had trouble getting into my office because they didn’t recognize me.”  How can we fault Haith for entering a better situation in every way.  His pay will be higher, his expectations and aspirations will grow, and most importantly, “I know I’m in a place where they care.”

The student fan group “Haith’s Faithful” may consider changing their t-shirts to “Haith is Unfaithful” but first they would have to ask themselves what loyalty was owed to them, and in turn what they, their peers, and their community left on the table.

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