The rational argument against Frank Haith

It's not often that late-night news turns into such a spectacle, but Mizzou fans have been through a lot lately, so when Frank Haith (who?) to Mizzou rumors went from a small leak to a deluge of tweets, posts and general online chatter, the reaction was stunning.

Even as the long-familiar wailing and gnashing of teeth from tigerboard began its late-night crescendo, the counter-culture here at RMN did what RMN does: take the opposite stance of the tigerboard consensus.  He's a great recruiter. Gene Chizik. Miami is a bad job. No one would win there. Gene Chizik. He graduates players! Gene Chizik. He's a great guy! And have we mentioned he's kind of like Gene Chizik? If the initial reaction to Frank Haith was swift, harsh, and typical of MU fans, the reaction to the reaction here at RMN was slow-building, optimistic and equally typical of MU fans. 

We have developed, as a group, a cannibalistic nature. Mizzou fans have long thought ourselves long-suffered, ill-fated and deserving of much more. When the internet age made being a tortured fan so much easier, so much more a community event, we did what all fan bases do, but our dial went to 11. It was inevitable that RMN would develop as a place for reason to trump emotion, for optimism to have its place alongside pessimism. 

But the place we find ourselves at now is, in my mind, ripe for a bit of mental pruning. There is a place for those who disapprove of the hiring of Frank Haith without hysterics, who question Mike Alden's judgment without presuming to know his job better than he does, to be unsatisfied with the fruits of a coaching search without calling for doom and gloom.

To analyze the hiring of Frank Haith and therein the reaction to the hiring of Frank Haith, I find it simplest to start on the surface.

The surface is much clearer than the depth of the issue, its picture more stark.  On the surface, Frank Haith appears to be a poor hire, one borne out of desperation or over-reaction to losing one coach to a 'dream job'. 

The simple facts are clear-cut and shocking for a fanbase who a week ago had visions of 3-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Matt Painter in its head.  A 129-101 career record as a head coach (.561). A 43-69 conference record (.384). 1 trip to the NCAAs in 6 years, 2 seasons missing the cut for even the NIT. 

Looking into more detailed stats on his teams, we see that Frank Haith Miami teams lack any kind of consistent identity and any kind of consistent strength. His six teams have generally been stronger offensively than defensively, finishing between 30th and 52nd in KenPom's offensive efficiency ratings 5 out of 6 years, only once higher than 64th in his defensive efficiency rankings.

Haith's teams shoot an average to slightly above average number of 3's and make a decent percentage of them, this year's team making 37.7% (good enough for 36th in the nation) being clearly his best 3 point shooting team. 2 point shooting percentage is mostly poor, with the exception of last year's team, and Miami's Assists/Made FGs ratio has been consistently very poor over the last 6 years. Haith's teams are generally decent rebounding teams or rather they are generally good offensive rebounding teams and mediocre defensive rebounding teams.  The turnover battle has been largely a draw for Miami over the last 6 years; in his first three his team turned the ball over slightly less than their opponents and the opposite over the last three years. Expect Missouri's BCI to take a hit in a big way under Frank Haith.  On the other hand, we'll probably shoot a few more free throws, but only because Mike Anderson's teams have been atrocious at getting to the line as Haith's teams are usually just average at it (never ranking about 101st in the nation there). And finally, Haith's teams typically play at or around an average tempo, which isn't a slight so much as a nod to the end of the Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball here in Columbia.

All of this is via KenPom and his wonderful site; I had no idea what kind of basketball Haith's teams played until last night.  My reaction was instead, based on the same thing that most reactions are based on; preconceptions and emotion.  And so it's important to look at the extenuating circumstances that might show the error of emotional thinking.  

First and foremost, Head Coach of the Miami Hurricanes basketball team is a pretty bad job as far as D-1 coaching jobs go. There is little fan support for basketball in Coral Gables, football gets the lion's share of attention (and presumably money) and there is no, I repeat, no history of winning. Bill posted earlier that Haith has arguably put up 6 of Miami's best ever seasons, and that underscores just how little there is to the history of basketball at the U. It's been called a dead-end job, a coach killer, all that.  Points to Haith for turning a bad situation into a less bad situation. 

Second, Haith has a reputation and a history as a good recruiter. He's recruited fairly well to Miami; a cursory glance at Miami's rivals page shows 1 5-star recruit, 3 4-star recruits, 10 3-star recruits and 2 unrated/2-star recruits in his 6 years. I'll leave it to the reader to decide how impressive that is balancing the lack of history or prestige at Miami with the obvious *ahem* attractions of playing at Miami. Regardless, Haith built his reputation recruiting elsewhere, particularly in Texas, where he recruited several 5 star recruits including Lamarcus Aldridge. He's a bonafide recruiter in a way that Missouri hasn't had in a while (ever?).

And finally, I hear Haith has a pretty good record at graduating players, for what it's worth (which, I expect, varies from person to person).

So we've covered the obvious complaints about Haith and the possible extenuating circumstances, which leads to the reasons why I personally feel those extenuating circumstances don't override the less-than impressive first glance at Haith.

First, regarding Miami and the expectations, and I expect many will find this the main point of contention.  Frank Haith may be the best basketball coach Miami has ever had. That sounds more impressive than it is, but it also puts evaluation of his time at Miami in a strange place. I doubt anyone could argue that he underperformed at Miami, and it's fair to say he outperformed reasonable expectations. The feeling is that if he outperformed reasonable expectations at Miami then surely he can do the same in a better job at MU. I find this to be flawed reasoning for the simple truth that more support does not always make for a better job. It's not easier to outperform expectations just because one has better tools to work with, I've always thought, because increasing assets linearly increases expectations exponentially.  

My main disagreement, though, with justifying Haith's hire with arguments about his situation at Miami, is that success (not relative success) should be the measure of a coach. What we have in Frank Haith is a man who has, from a bad job put forth moderate results. If Frank Haith's body of work were a single game, it would be a moral victory. It would be hanging with Duke for 35 minutes before losing by 15.  The notion that Haith is to be commended for his work at Miami or that he has through it earned a new job and a raise I find preposterous. Coaches who have never achieved a better than .500 conference record just do not get new jobs, regardless of how poor the situation was. The man does not deserve to be written off as a bad coach for what he did, but he certainly hasn't proven himself a good coach either.

As a recruiter, Haith's reputation is a different story. He's achieved above his means while at Miami in the recruiting arena, though Miami is probably attractive to students in ways that have nothing to do with basketball. The majority of Haith's reputation, though is built on his work in Texas at his various assistant coach jobs. I have little doubt the man is a good recruiter, but I do find it odd that Haith gets points as a coach for degree of difficulty, but doesn't lose points as a recruiter when the biggest names he's recruited were at Texas. 

And finally, there's the issue of the large public outcry, Mike Alden's responsibility for it and how it might affect Haith's time here in Columbia. Whether or not Mike Alden saw it coming or not, Haith is thus far an extremely unpopular hire. There's always some pressure to win at a program like Mizzou, but I have to believe the pressure will be immense this fall, and the backlash will be harsh if a coach few liked in the first place struggles out of the gate. The parallel I see clearly here is Turner Gill at KU. If the Tigers seriously under-perform this year as Gill's Jayhawks did, how much leash will he get? If ticket sales drop off before the season even gets going and then we miss the tournament, how much patience do you think a fan-base that disliked this hire from the beginning will have? If Alden saw this reaction coming (and I tend to think he didn't, not fully), he had to know that Haith is walking into a much more difficult job than Shaka Smart, for example, might have had. Patience will be razor thin, and if Haith isn't an exceptional coach he could be eaten alive by it.

The argument has been made that if Mike Alden thinks Frank Haith is the best candidate available then he did right to hire him, and I disagree. Mike Alden's job in this case is not only to hire the best coach, but the coach with the best chance to succeed. Even if Haith is the best candidate, he might still be more likely to fail than other viable candidates. Where someone else might have gotten 3-4 years minimum, is it out of the realm of possibility that Haith gets 2? I hardly think so. We're not Duke, UNC or kU here, but we have expectations and I doubt anyone on this board would disagree with the notion that we know how to overreact. 

Frank Haith could turn out to be a great coach. God help him if he isn't, though, because just a good coach might not cut it in the viper's nest he's stepped into.

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