April 19, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- Two straight winning seasons, then April overtures from Oklahoma and others, got Miami basketball coach Frank Haith a contract extension that included a substantial raise for him and his staff.
UM athletic director Paul Dee said a deal was struck to keep Haith, who has compiled a 34-29 record in his two seasons as a head coach, from taking the Oklahoma job. Haith removed his name from consideration shortly after talking to OU's top brass, a few days before Virginia Commonwealth coach Jeff Capel accepted the position.
Ironically, Capel was a finalist along with Haith two years ago for UM's job, and he likely would have been the first person Miami contacted if Haith had left. But Dee felt Haith had a better upside for Miami, because he had experience building programs as an assistant at Wake Forest and (more recently) Texas.
Haith also remained a candidate in mid-April for the N.C. State opening -- according to sources, that's one of his "dream jobs" -- but two weeks into the Wolfpack's search, State officials still had Haith (who grew up in North Carolina) on the back burner.
Dee said he'd prefer continuing the momentum Haith was building, rather than allowing another school to lure him away and having to start over. Haith is only the second UM coach to lead the program to two straight postseason appearances.
"We feel we've got one of the rising stars amongst coaches and believe he'll be able to get the job done," Dee said. "He's doing it the right way when it comes to building a program, so we better hold onto him."
The final terms of the extension, which will run through the 2010-11 season, still were being worked on by the attorneys from both sides in mid-April. Dee wouldn't disclose the figures, but when asked if Haith was still in the lower half of the payscale for ACC head coaches, he said: "We're bringing him along."
"He has the opportunity to move up. Included in that is built-in raises," Dee said, referring to bonuses and salary triggers that likely are tied to UM's postseason berths and graduation rates.
After last season, Haith received a raise and an extension when Tennessee expressed interest in talking to him about its vacancy. Dee wasn't surprised this year that Oklahoma took an interest in Haith, considering what he's done with a depth-shy roster at Miami.
"When we went into the ACC, I don't know a lot of people who thought we could be competitive playing basketball in the finest league in the country," Dee said. "It was the oblong ball (football) that brought our invitation. But Frank has helped us contribute with the round one."
UM finished the past two seasons 7-9 in league play.
Haith, who went 18-16 and took his team to the NIT's Elite Eight in 2005-06, said he believes UM has everything it needs to be successful in the long run.
"We're going to continue to build to the point where we're a top-25 program," Haith said. "I really believe we have the necessary things."
Next season Haith will face a difficult rebuilding job. UM's two leading scorers, senior guard Rob Hite and Guillermo Diaz, a junior who entered the 2006 draft by signing with an agent, will not be returning.
UM has two starters (point guard Anthony Harris, center Anthony King) coming back, and Haith has signed Miami High power forward Dwayne Collins, Ohio wing guard James Dews and Brazilian forward Fabio Nass to letters of intent. Houston wing forward Lawrence Gilbert also is expected to sign with UM, and the Hurricanes remain a finalist for the services of Hamady N'Diaye, one of the nation's top unsigned centers.
N'Diaye, a 6-10, 220-pound native of Senegal who attends Stoneridge Prep in California, visited UM in mid-April. N'Diaye also is considering Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Gonzaga and George Washington.
Haith also has an early commitment from local product Eddie Rios, who is considered one of the nation's top point guards, for the 2007 signing class.
WILLIAMS' DEVELOPMENT TAKES HIT
Miami football coaches and fans who were hoping to see significant growth from sophomore linebacker Willie Williams this spring will have to wait. He missed five practices because of a stomach virus and lost 16 pounds while battling the illness.
Last season Williams contributed 17 tackles (two for loss) in a limited role. The goal this spring was to get him more accustomed to working in various defensive packages so he could be on the field more, but his illness stifled those plans. His absence allowed junior Jon Beason to cement himself as UM's starting weak-side linebacker.
"It sets you back a lot. When you don't practice, you don't get better," UM coach Larry Coker said. "Willie has a lot of ability. He needs to get schooled in the defensive scheme."
Williams, who became nationally known for his extensive juvenile record and mischievous behavior on a recruiting visit to Florida that resulted in his arrest, missed his freshman season with a knee injury that forced him to redshirt. He also was in a life-threatening car accident that year, while traveling to the Peach Bowl.
He played as a backup last fall, before nagging injures took a toll. This spring UM's coaches were hoping he would challenge Tavares Gooden and Romeo Davis for a more significant role among the outside linebackers, but that didn't happen.
Williams started spring practice weighing about 240 pounds but said he lost 16 during his illness, which kept him from digesting solid foods. Upon seeing him during his return for UM's final week of drills, Williams said his teammates began calling him "Skinny Willie." Later, coaches said they noticed an unwanted reduction in his physical style of play.
FREEMAN DECISION LOOMS LARGE
Miami backup quarterback Kirby Freeman said he had a blast this spring while learning the team's new offense, but that doesn't mean he plans to remain with the Hurricanes beyond the end of the spring semester.
Freeman knows he's firmly entrenched behind rising junior Kyle Wright, who started all of last season. Because the Texas native wants to play as a starter for more than one season, Freeman will explore his transfer options over the next several months.
"I'm happy where I'm at," said Freeman, a rising sophomore who completed 15 of 31 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns in 2005. "But (for) the overall happiness for myself I want to play football, and I'm playing right now behind a really good quarterback."
Unless Wright has a phenomenal season and bolts (a remote possibility) for the NFL next spring, Freeman would rather start over at another Division I-A program, where he would have two years to play.
"There is no reason for him to leave," Coker said. "He's got a great opportunity here. I know he's going to play here next year, and wherever he goes he's not going to play. To me it's a no-brainer, but everybody makes their decisions. I feel very confident he'll be here next year."
New coordinator Rich Olson has taken a liking to Freeman, who is more athletic than Wright, but will it amount to playing time in 2006? That appears unlikely, especially considering that Coker is firmly against using two quarterbacks in close games.
If Freeman leaves, UM would have to rely heavily on walk-on Matt Perrelli and unheralded recruit Daniel Stegall to be Wright's backup this fall.
"In my situation, they are going to let me be more of an athletic quarterback, and I like it. I'm excited about that," Freeman said. "I'll decide the good things, the bad things about the spring and figure out a final decision about what I'm going to do."