'Whirlwind' day: Haith named new coach of Tulsa's Golden Hurricane

Friday, April 18, 2014 | 4:52 p.m. CDT; updated 1:40 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 21, 2014

COLUMBIA — Frank Haith broke up with Missouri via text message on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, he committed to the University of Tulsa with a speech. 

"What a whirlwind," Haith said at an introductory press conference on the Tulsa campus at 1:10 p.m., his first public appearance as the new head basketball coach at the school. "It's Good Friday. I have a lot of things to be blessed for."

In a head-jerking turn of events, Haith was announced as Tulsa's coach Friday, almost 24 hours after initial reports leaked that he was a candidate for the job.

The deal is for seven years and an average salary of $1.85 million, according to an ESPN report. Haith was scheduled to make $1.75 million next season at Missouri and still had three years remaining on the contract he signed in 2011. He owes Missouri $500,000 to buy out his contract.

Haith spoke to Tulsa-area reporters for 20 minutes in a news conference streamed over the Internet. The 48-year-old outlined his past, his coaching philosophies and his plan for his tenure at Tulsa.

He also introduced assistant coach Dave Leitao and strength coach Todor Pandov, who will both be following Haith from Missouri to Tulsa. Haith expressed optimism toward the program he's leaving, which will be headed by assistant coach Tim Fuller in the interim. It's unclear how long Fuller will remain in that spot.

"I'm going to try to bring as many of my staff from Missouri here, and then I'll talk to some folks," Haith said.

Haith inherits a Golden Hurricane program anchored by three rising juniors and that made the NCAA Tournament last month after winning the Conference USA tournament. Coached by former Kansas star Danny Manning, Tulsa finished the season 23-12. Manning left for Wake Forest on April 4.

On July 1, Tulsa will switch to the American Athletic Conference, home of the 2014 national champion Connecticut Huskies.

"I love Missouri," Haith said. "I did not have to leave Missouri. I worked for great people there at the University of Missouri. There is a commitment here to have a championship program and to continue on the legacy of what's been here before.

"I have coached at small private schools before," Haith added. "I like that setting."

Tulsa first contacted Missouri athletics director Mike Alden on Thursday morning to ask for permission to speak to Haith, Alden said Friday. Alden granted Tulsa permission, and the school flew Haith to its campus on a charter plane out of Columbia Regional Airport at around 4 p.m. Thursday.

He met for several hours with Tulsa president Steadman Upham and athletics director Derrick Gragg. Then he signed with the school.

Haith tried to contact Alden about his decision Thursday night but couldn't get through, Haith said. He texted Alden on Friday morning to inform him of his decision to leave Missouri.

"It had to take a place like this for me to leave Missouri," Haith said. "It was really tough. My wife, my daughter, my son love Columbia. The fans were really, really good to me."

Steadman said he and Gragg were searching for a sitting Division I head coach with a winning record over the last three years and "significant NCAA and postseason experience." They were looking for a coach who had experienced a conference change before and a coach who encouraged an up-tempo style of play.

Haith checked all those boxes. His Tigers teams went 76-28 (.731 winning percentage) in the last three seasons. He's gone 1-3 in NCAA tournament games during his 10-year head coaching career. He was at Miami when the Hurricanes moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and then at Missouri when the Tigers moved to the Southeastern Conference.

"A person has to have passion to get up and do this day in and day out," Gragg said. "I appreciate his passion, and I appreciate how he relates to young people."

Gragg has Missouri ties, having worked as the director of compliance at the school from 1995-97. This will be Haith’s third head coaching job and ninth coaching stop overall.

Haith is coming off his worst season at Missouri. The year started with the NCAA assessing Haith with a five-game suspension for infractions committed during his previous tenure at Miami. It ended with the Tigers failing to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years.

Missouri is set to lose more than 70 percent of its scoring with the departures of Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross. Clarkson and Brown have declared for the draft. Ross is set to graduate.

With the move, Haith escapes the uncertainty of next season as well as the chaos that followed this season.

Three Tigers have been arrested in the last month. In addition to the team's top scorers, Missouri also lost transfer forward Zach Price when Haith kicked him off the team April 10. Price was arrested twice in a span of 13 hours April 3 on suspicion of domestic assault and assault.

Haith signed a five-year contract when he replaced Mike Anderson in 2011. He was extended for another year after he led Missouri to a 30-5 record and the Big 12 Tournament title in his first season in Columbia. He was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year after that season, which ended in a shocking upset at the hands of No. 15 seed Norfolk State in the first full round of the NCAA Tournament.

Haith led the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances but zero tourney victories.

The Tigers finished this season with a 22-11 record but stumbled to a 9-9 mark in conference play, finishing ninth in the SEC.

Missouri will now look to replace Haith while also keeping as many recruits committed as possible. State Fair Community College guard Kevin Punter, a verbal commit, said Thursday that he is "not signing anything" and "just laying low" in response to the news.

Haith had signed two Top 100 recruits — Jakeenan Gant of Georgia and Namon Wright, from California — before leaving for Tulsa. Their statuses are unclear.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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