I will never forget my almost sitcommy train of thought late in the afternoon of August 16, 2011, as I was waiting to pick up my pregnant wife outside of our place of work: "Oh cool! I can kill some time by reading this 'destruction of Miami' Yahoo! story. This is going to be great. Hmm. That guy looks like Frank Hai--oh. Oh crap."
About four months after one of the least warmly-regarded hires in major college sports history, Mike Alden once again caught major hell for his hire of Frank Haith in mid-August when Miami booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro named Haith, among many names, to Yahoo!'s Charles Robinson.
Miami booster Nevin Shapiro alleges that Frank Haith had knowledge of a $10,000 payment the booster made to secure the commitment of basketball recruit DeQuan Jones. Among Shapiro’s allegations:
• The booster alleges that in the early summer of 2008, he was made aware by assistant coach Jake Morton that a member of then-recruit DeQuan Jones’ family required $10,000 to ensure the player’s commitment to Miami. Shapiro said he agreed to put up the money, and Morton met the booster at his Miami Beach mansion to pick up the cash.
• Shapiro said Haith acknowledged knowing about Shapiro’s role in the $10,000 payment and expressed gratitude to him for it when the two met at David’s Café later in the summer of 2008.
• Shapiro alleges the $10,000 was later returned by Morton in June 2010, after the booster had been incarcerated and left angry messages for Morton and Haith about refusing to take his calls. Shapiro said that during those messages, he remarked about having paid $10,000 to secure Jones’ commitment for the basketball team.
• The booster alleges that shortly after he left those messages, Morton reached out to his bodyguard and expressed a desire to return the $10,000. Shapiro said the money was returned by Morton, who met one of the booster’s bodyguards near the home of his mother and turned over the cash in June of 2010.
• Shapiro said he paid for dinners for Haith at several Miami Beach eateries, including a dinner at Prime 112 in late August of 2008.
• The booster said he paid for strip club visits for Haith, including a visit to Solid Gold in late August of 2008.
It has been seven months since the Yahoo! bombshell, and to date, almost no NCAA punishment has yet come of it. When news struck, the NCAA oddly asked Missouri not to open its own investigation of the matter, instead instructing everybody to just sit tight. (Of course, making sense of NCAA decisions will just give you a headache.) Jones was immediately suspended by Miami and missed ten regular season games, but he was eventually reinstated and played the rest of the season. Now, the waiting game continues.
There's one thing we definitely know about cash payments: they are cash payments for a reason. They are quite difficult to track when you want to either prove or disprove their existence. Whether or not the payment happened, and whether or not Haith knew about it, we likely will not know. Haith supporters, of which he has quite a few after a 30-win season (funny how that works), will continue to believe it didn't happen. Detractors and rivals will continue to believe it did.
That Haith was associated with Shapiro at all can be viewed in two ways -- a) inevitable (head coaches have to make friends with huge boosters and, occasionally, go to strip clubs with them) and b) disappointing (Haith's "character" was a major factor attributed to his hire by Mike Alden) -- but ultimate judgment of Haith in the Shapiro matter will come down to whether anybody close to either Dequan Jones or Haith's staff admits to anything, and whether said cash payment can be tracked; both are unlikely, especially if, as Shapiro alleged, "the $10,000 they did return to me after I was incarcerated when I became pissed off [at] the fact that they were ignoring my calls."
Honestly, I will be shocked if any punishment comes Haith's way because of the Shapiro allegations, simply because, true or untrue, proof will be very, very difficult. But there has been a side effect to the NCAA's investigation of Shapiro's claims: they have uncovered some other, infinitely more minor (but still substantive) violations. Both center Reggie Johnson (one game) and Durand Scott (six) have been suspended for receiving illegal benefits connected to members of Haith's staff.
In the grand scheme of things, their illegal benefits were indeed minor -- frequent flier miles and the like -- and if Haith were still at Miami, his program would have received no serious "lack of institutional control" sanctions because of them. (Miami will probably see the hammer for other reasons, but not that.) But a) they are still disappointing because of the "character" thing mentioned above, and b) that Haith is no longer in Miami has led some to crush him for, basically, fleeing the scene of the crime. It doesn't matter that Haith almost certainly would have "fled" for the Missouri job no matter what; for some, this has become the narrative.
Professional curmudgeon Dan Wolken, who is often a damn strong sportswriter considering he seems to hate everything about sports, was the first, and most brutal, to jump on this meme.
Fast-forward a year, and Missouri is a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and Haith is being pushed as the national coach of the year. This will be sold to you as evidence of vindication, one of those March feel-good stories you should embrace.
I’m here to tell you there’s another side to that story, and it’s sickening. Because when I see Frank Haith, I don’t see a coach who turned around anything at Missouri. I see the luckiest person in his profession, and not just because he inherited a roster with seven seniors that literally any competent coach could have taken to the NCAA tournament.
Sickening! Also, Haith coached them to 30 wins, not just "the NCAA Tournament." I feel confident in saying that not just any coach could have done that.
All season, Miami has been dealing with an investigation into improper benefits given to Haith’s former players by Haith’s former assistants. DeQuan Jones, a key rotation player, missed the first 10 games as the NCAA looked into claims that Nevin Shapiro, a former Miami booster, gave $10,000 to one of Haith’s assistants to recruit Jones. That allegation first surfaced in a Yahoo!Sports report last year, but it’s yet to scar Haith.
"It's yet to scar Haith" because it's just an allegation. If the NCAA ever gets around to determining there was more to it than some no-proof allegation from a convicted felon, then it will, indeed, scar Haith. As Kelvin Sampson learned, sanctions can follow you to another school. But if the NCAA uncovers no specific wrongdoing on Haith's part, then Jones was screwed out of 10 games not because of Haith, but because of Shapiro.
The worst of it, though, came last week during the ACC tournament. Miami had to beat Florida State again to make the NCAAs, and everybody knew it. It was arguably the most important game for the Miami basketball program in more than 10 years. And what happened four hours before tip-off? Miami got a call from the NCAA, informing it that leading scorer Durand Scott had been suspended for — yet again — bad stuff that happened on Haith’s watch.
Yesterday, the NCAA announced Scott had to sit out a total of six games, meaning his suspension will almost certainly bleed into next season, too. That’s three players, all of whom were tied to illegal benefits given by Haith’s staff at Miami, missing a collective total of 17 games. And all that separated Miami from making the NCAA tournament was one measly win.
And ten of those 17 games were, again, because of as-yet unproven allegations.
There’s no reason to doubt that Haith feels bad about the fallout in Miami. But as long as he doesn’t have to be held accountable, what’s the difference? For him, this is a small nuisance. For his former players, though, it’s everything.
Once again, there is very little to hold him "accountable" for just yet.
And yes, I know Haith hasn’t been charged with any violations or named in the NCAA report.
This probably should have been higher up in the column. Like, at the very top. Not in the 15th of 17 paragraphs.
By going to Missouri and taking none of his Miami assistants with him, he’s made sure he’ll stay as far away as possible from anything that might violate his new lease on coaching life. Those are Miami’s problems, not Haith’s, even though they happened at his program under his watch. One player is given illegal benefits? Maybe that’s just a rogue assistant. But three?
No, two. One of which was suspended for a single game. The third is still a complete innocent-until-proven-guilty situation.
(As for the assistants, we've long held the theory -- and yes, it is just a theory -- that he didn't take any of his assistants with him to Columbia because Mizzou gave him money to go get better assistants. Again, supporters and detractors can maintain their own theories here, and neither side will ever be proven right or wrong.)
It was cruel enough that Haith used to cost Miami appearances in the NCAA tournament when he was on the Hurricanes’ bench. It’s almost unspeakable that he’s still doing it from 1,300 miles away.
SBN's own Nick Fasulo, writing a piece for NBC's College Basketball Talk, thought Wolken's tone sounded perfectly reasonable.
Remember, this is someone who was deemed a mediocre head coach during his time spent on the bench of the Miami Hurricanes, a job he fled just before a sizable scandal was made public, and this fuels the growing number of people who see right through Haith and question everything about him.
Trust me, we would all like the NCAA to issue its ruling already. We wanted it in September. But with Missouri winning, suddenly people decided the time was up, and it was time to start judging.
The dichotomy of the love we have for the Tiger players with the potential dislike we have for their head coach could turn in to a fascinating story angle. As the country learns more about Haith, perhaps the over-arching sentiment becomes more negative, and suddenly we’ve cast Haith as the bad guy
A bad guy coaching a potentially great team.
Here's what "the country" has learned about Haith: He associated himself with a major Miami booster, as any coach in the country would have done (or had to do). His assistants apparently committed two minor violations involving current Miami players. (And yes, it is likely that Haith knew about it.) That's pretty much it. When the Shapiro ruling comes down, we will know more. But for now, we know that Haith isn't completely clean ... and isn't very dirty either.
How does this issue pertain to the "Offseason To-Do List"? Simple: whatever is going to happen, needs to happen. The end. If Haith is guilty of serious wrongdoing, we need to know so that Mizzou can go about figuring out how to react. If he isn't, we need to know so we can move on with our damn lives. Shapiro's allegations had an immediate impact on recruiting -- Mizzou went from being one of five-star guard Rodney Purvis' co-leaders to being eliminated from contention overnight, and when he dropped Missouri, so did friends Tyrek Coger (a one-time 2013 Missouri commit) and Aaron Scales (a one-time 2012 Missouri commit). There is, and always will be, more recruiting to do, however; and if Haith is going to be cleared ... well, the sooner the better.