Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith’s tenure with the Tigers has been a roller coaster, and the ride is expected to end Friday when he is announced as the new coach at Tulsa, according to multiple reports.
Haith wasn’t a popular hire among Tigers fans in April 2011 but led MU to a 30-win season in his debut. Last season, however, the program took a step back after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
Tulsa ordinarily has been a job for coaches on the way up, including their last coach, former KU star Danny Manning, who led the Golden Hurricane to the NCAAs before leaving for Wake Forest. KU coach Bill Self and former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson also coached at Tulsa before winning NCAA championships.
It appears Haith will try for a fresh start at Tulsa.
Around 3:50 p.m. Thursday, Haith arrived at Columbia Regional Airport after meeting with MU players, driving himself in a black SUV. Haith, wearing a black sweatsuit, carrying a black backpack and rolling a small black suitcase, did not speak to reporters. He shook hands with the pilot of a plane sent from Tulsa, Okla., boarded it and took off.
After receiving permission from MU to interview Haith, Tulsa’s school president and athletic director Derrick Gragg, a former MU athletic administrator, met with Haith on Thursday night. Later in the evening, the Tulsa World reported that the school would announce Friday that Haith had accepted the job.
Before he coached a game at Missouri, Haith was embroiled in controversy for his alleged role in a booster scandal at the University of Miami. He was suspended the first five games of the 2013-14 season by the NCAA as punishment.
Still, Haith’s tenure started strong in 2011-12 when he won several national coach of the year awards after guiding the Tigers to a 30-5 season, including a runner-up finish in the Big 12 regular season. The Tigers, months after announcing they would be joining the Southeastern Conference, won the Big 12 Tournament at the Sprint Center.
But that season ended with second-seeded Missouri bowing out against No. 15 seed Norfolk State in its opening game of the NCAA Tournament.
Transitioning to the SEC, the Tigers were expected to be a force in their new league.
Instead, Missouri struggled on the road in conference play and limped to the finish in the regular season before suffering another loss in its opening game of the NCAA Tournament, this time to Colorado State.
The Tigers endured similar late-season struggles in 2013-14 and saw a school-record run of five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances end.
Missouri, which is 76-28 in Haith’s three seasons, finished 23-12 last season after losing at home against Tulsa’s former Conference USA foe, Southern Mississippi, in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Some fans never bought into his transfer-heavy philosophy since taking over the Tigers. Haith brought in more than a dozen transfers from other programs.
Off the court, troubles also cropped up in recent months, with three players arrested since March 15 and assistant coach Mark Phelps leaving for Marquette.
Freshman guards Wes Clark and Shane Rector were arrested March 15 for suspicion of possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana.
Forward Zach Price, a transfer from Louisville, was dismissed from the team last week after multiple arrests for alleged domestic assault and assault. Charges are pending.
But Haith appears to be getting a fresh start with the Golden Hurricane, who are set to join the American Athletic Conference, the same league as national champion Connecticut. Tulsa finished 21-13 last season under Manning.
Under the terms of Haith’s contract with Missouri, he would owe the university $500,000 for terminating his contract early. Haith was scheduled to make $1.7 million for the 2013-14 season, including a $20,000 bonus for reaching 20 wins, and $1.75 million next season. His contract runs through 2016-17.
As reports spread that Haith was leaving, State Fair Community College guard Kevin Punter, who committed to Missouri on April 4, decided Thursday to reopen his recruitment, Roadrunners coach Kevin Thomas said.
Punter, a first-team junior college All-American who averaged 20.3 points last season, went through a ceremonial signing Wednesday, but he never sent a national letter of intent to MU athletics.
Thomas said Punter’s parents wanted to meet Haith first and the coach was supposed to fly to New York on Friday for that purpose.
“Obviously, I don’t think that will be happening now,” Thomas said.
Punter chose Missouri over UTEP, Western Kentucky and Missouri State. Thomas said he had heard from Alabama, Cincinnati, Gonzaga and Pittsburgh as reports circulated that Haith would leave Missouri.
Thomas, who said neither he nor Punter had heard from Haith, didn’t rule out the possibility that Punter would still consider Missouri.
“Right now, they don’t have a coach, so it’s like he’s starting the recruiting process all over,” Thomas said.