Faith in Haith? More Like Burying Your Head in the Sand

Statistics referenced in this article are current as of February 14, 2011.

Kirby Hocutt has apparently decided to bring Frank Haith back for an 8th season, as reported by Steve Gorten of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.  It is too early to blame Hocutt.  Technically, the Hurricanes can have a run of 5 wins in a row and still make the NCAA tournament.  Also, he wouldn’t be the first athletic director to give the vote of confidence to a coach in the regular season only to reverse course after the season and fire a coach.  So, we can reserve judgment on ripping into Hocutt.

What we can definitively state, however, is that barring a miracle run where Haith lands the ‘Canes in the NCAA Tournament, he should be fired. And, when thoroughly examined, it becomes apparent that Haith’s future employment shouldn’t even be in doubt, because there is no case for retaining him.

Steve Gorten, for some reason, does try to make a case for Haith’s retention.  This is particularly disturbing because the lack of media pressure might be one of the things that allow Haith to return next year.  And he cannot be allowed to continue as the head coach.  But, as is often the case when defending the indefensible, Gorten’s arguments don’t really hold any water.

They’ve rebounded since then, and despite Sunday night’s 81-71 home loss to Duke, are playing good basketball.

They won three consecutive nail-biters against Georgia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest after losing four straight by a combined 11 points.

Yes, the Miami basketball team did win 3 consecutive nail biters after losing 4 games by a combined 11 points.  But who are those 3 wins against?  The worst team in the ACC (by 1 point), the 2nd worst team in the ACC (by 2 points) and a team tied for 3rd worst (by 2 points), before turning around and losing to the conference’s best team by 10 points.

Furthermore, this close loss argument doesn’t hold any water, because the Hurricanes have not had a string of bad luck in close games.  Close games generally devolve into a coin flip situation, where a team is expected to win about half the time.  And lo and behold, an examination of Miami’s close conference games shows:

Opponent Result Margin
Boston College Win 1
Florida State Loss 2
North Carolina State Loss 2
North Carolina Loss 3
Virginia Tech Loss 4
Georgia Tech Win 2
Virginia Win 2
Wake Forest Win 1
Record 4-4
Win Percentage 0.500

So, Miami actually goes .500 in close games, as expected (and actually does a little better than expected in 1 possession games).  They then lost 3 games by larger margins, and sit at 4-7.  What we have here is not a team with bad luck but a team that is just bad, splitting their close games and then losing the other games.

Gorten then inexplicably veers off on a tangent where he attempts to compare Frank Haith to dismissed football coach Randy Shannon.  First, I have no idea what the football program has to do with the basketball program and why we are comparing a coach with a 7-year track record to a coach in a different sport to determine whether or not an 8th year is warranted.  But, let’s indulge this anyway:

Shannon’s teams not only were 4-9 against ranked opponents, six of those nine losses were by 23 or more points.

If you are going to look at Randy Shannon’s record against ranked teams, it only stands to reason that you would look at Frank Haith’s as well?  Since that wasn’t done here, I decided to look it up, and Haith’s record against Top 25 teams is 12-31.  That works out to 38.7%, which is worse than Randy Shannon’s 44.4%.

The Hurricanes didn’t put up much of a fight the final few games of his tenure.

Well, this is just false.  The last 6 games of Shannon’s tenure:

  • 23 point home win over North Carolina.
  • 5 point loss at Virginia after staging a comeback to almost erase a 24-point 4th quarter deficit.
  • 6 point win over Maryland where the game winning TD pass came in the final minute.
  • 25 point win over Georgia Tech.
  • 14 point home loss to Virginia Tech that was tied in the 4th quarter.
  • 3 point overtime loss to South Florida after erasing a 10 point deficit late in the 3rd quarter.

Shannon was fired before the bowl game, so that game is irrelevant.  Now, which of those games did they not put up a fight in?  Shannon wasn’t fired because his team failed to put up a fight.  Shannon was fired because his team too often found themselves in a fight against inferior teams they should have been outclassing.  Which brings us to:

Haith’s bunch, meanwhile, rallied from a 17-point deficit with about 12 and a half minutes left to take the lead at North Carolina State before eventually losing.

This is a positive now? Falling behind by 17 points on the road against a 3-8 in conference NC State team, then staging a furious comeback but losing anyway?  Kind of like the football team against Virginia, right?  Here, he is erroneously applying an attribute to Shannon’s team that didn’t exist (“not putting up a fight”), and then praising Haith for doing something very Shannon-esque (showing up flat against a bad team, falling behind big early, then desperately fighting back, only to fall short).

The Hurricanes (15-10, 4-7) haven’t been blown out this season with the exception of a 61-45 loss at Rutgers on Nov. 21.

There are 2 things wrong with this:

  1. It’s hard to argue that a pair of double-digit losses to Duke are close because the ‘Canes managed to keep it keep close before Duke pulled away.
  2. Rutgers is a very bad basketball team.  They are 13th out of 16 teams in the Big East.  So, saying, “it only happened once” is hardly an excuse when the team it happened against is actually a terrible team.

Their problem for UM has been closing out games. They led at Memphis in the final minutes, and then there were those four straight losses in games decided in the final seconds. Five of their losses this season have been by four points or fewer, another by six points and another by seven.

And we are back to the close losses argument, which was debunked earlier, considering that Miami goes an expected .500 in close games.  But, since earlier, only conference games were considered, and here, an out of conference game with Memphis was mentioned, where Miami lost by 4 points, we can expand the discussion.  But true to form, the ‘Canes also have a 3 point win over West Virginia, and arrive back at .500 in close games.

Then, the laundry list of 5 losses by 4 points or fewer, 1 loss by 6 points and 1 loss by 7 points is given.  This is a nice way to cherry pick stats, and misrepresent the situation.  Everything listed there is true, but what is also true is that the Hurricanes have 5 wins by 3 points or fewer, 1 win by 6 points, and 2 wins by 8 points.  So, in actuality, they find themselves a game OVER .500 at 8-7 in these “close” games, and as expected, are winning roughly half.  The performance of the team in close games is not the issue, but merely an expected result.  Playing close games against several ACC bottom feeders is the issue, because the program should be better than the ACC bottom feeders instead of counting themselves as a member of that group.

In the end, results are what matter most.

And, finally, we agree on something and can get to the heart of the matter.  All the previous arguments here were simply debunking statements made in defense of Haith.  Now, we can take a look at Haith’s tenure, and see if he deserves retention:

Team Wins Losses Conference Win Percentage Average RPI Last Place Finishes NCAA Tournament Appearances
Duke 80 27 74.77% 5.6 0 6
North Carolina 77 29 72.64% 14.7 0 5
Maryland 58 48 54.72% 50.6 0 3
Florida State 55 52 51.40% 58.9 1 2
Virginia Tech 54 52 50.94% 74.0 0 1
Boston College* 46 45 50.55% 67 1 3
Clemson* 53 54 49.53% 50.9 0 3
Wake Forest* 49 57 46.23% 87.0 1 3
Miami 42 66 38.89% 82.0 2 1
North Carolina State* 40 66 37.74% 86.0 1 2
Virginia* 39 67 36.79% 101.4 1 1
Georgia Tech 39 68 36.45% 92.0 1 3

By win percentage, in Haith’s tenure, Miami is the 9th best program in the ACC.

Interestingly enough, the teams with asterisks by their name have fired their coach at least 1 time in the last 7 years (Haith’s tenure). So, not only have 2 of the 3 teams that are worse by that metric fired their coach, but 3 teams that have fared better have fired their coach as well. The only program anywhere close to Miami in terms of performance that has retained their coach through Haith’s tenure is Georgia Tech, who actually has the worst conference record over the last 7 years. But they also have 3 NCAA tournament appearances, which more than makes up for being 29 games under .500 versus the 24 games under .500 that Miami is (On a side note, in the 10 years Paul Hewitt has been at Georgia Tech, they have made the tournament 5 times, and the finals once.  So, his 50% hit rate of making the NCAA tournament compared to Haith’s 14% is not really a comparison at all).

The win percentage stat actually flatters Haith when you consider the overall picture.  Miami is one of 3 teams to only make the NCAA tournament once.  The other 2 are Virginia Tech and Virginia.  But, Virginia Tech, having been snubbed multiple times, actually has a winning conference record.  Ironically, the one time Miami did manage to make the NCAA tournament under Haith, Virginia Tech finished with a better conference record and knocked Miami out of the ACC tournament, only to be snubbed by the tournament selection committee.

Miami also has the distinction of being the only program to finish last in the ACC multiple times during Haith’s 7 years (although, Wake Forest looks poised to match that this year.)

So, when you look at the entire conference overall while considering conference win percentage, finishing in last place, making the NCAA tournament (the ultimate goal for a program of Miami’s stature) and you use those metrics to determine who is the absolute worst program in the ACC over the 7 years that Haith has coached Miami, the answer is quickly whittled down to 2 programs:  Virginia and Miami.  Every other program is either over .500 in the ACC or has made the NCAA tournament more than 1 time.

Team Wins Losses Conference Win Percentage Average RPI Last Place Finishes NCAA Tournament Appearances
Miami 42 66 38.89% 82.0 2 1
Virginia 39 67 36.79% 101.4 1 1

Miami has a slightly higher win percentage and a higher RPI, but more last place finishes.  2 things should be noted here:

  1. Virginia has fired their coach TWICE over that period of time.  On the one hand, you can say that replacing the coach is not a cure all.  On the other hand, at least they are trying.
  2. When you objectively look at Haith’s entire 7 years in the ACC objectively, you can actually make the case that Miami is the worst program in the ACC, and at best is 11th out of 12.

The 2nd point is really all that needs to be mentioned.  It’s because of this that anything short of making the NCAA tournament should result in an immediate dismissal.  Even if the Hurricanes miraculously win the rest of their conference games to finish 9-7 in conference, they will still finish Haith’s 7th year overall at 19 games under .500 with a maximum of 2 NCAA Tournament appearances.  With a record like that over 7 years, Haith better place a team in the NCAA Tournament in that 7th year to get an 8th year.

Instead, he will most likely continue the march to the basement of the ACC. If that happens, the discussion in the media should not include anecdotal evidence about a comeback that fell short at a bad NC State team.  Hocutt’s thoughts should not be about close losses (and close wins).  The only question that needs to be asked of Hocutt and the local media who continues to give Haith a free pass is this:  Is it acceptable for the University of Miami, over a 7 year period, to be the worst program in the ACC?  If the answer is no, then Frank Haith should be unemployed before the University of Miami’s fans sit down on their couches to watch other teams compete for the championship in March for the 6th time in 7 years.

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