Arizona’s firing of Sean Miller is hardly a shocking development given the scandal the staff he hired has been implementing the program in recent years. Academic fraud. Unacceptable benefits. Bribery. You name it, it was probably amplified on Miller’s watch. Then again, it is not surprising that Arizona.
But why did it take so long?
And why now?
The sensible thing for Arizona to do would have been to fire Miller many years ago – after former assistant Book Richardson was arrested, charged with federal crimes and caught on a wire phone telling ex-agent Christian Dawkins that Miller “bought five-star prospect DeAndre Ayton. Even if you think Richardson is lying for some weird reason, there was never any denying that major NCAA rules were broken by several Arizona assistants that Miller hired. A message of accusation was guaranteed to arrive one day – meaning Miller would run a program under a cloud for years without the cheat assistants who helped him build it.
That pearl recruitment would fall off.
And would you not know that recruitment fell off – at least in part because it’s hard to consistently get the same level of prospects when you no longer have assistants who completely ignore the rulebook. So Arizona missed the NCAA Tournament in 2019, would not have been better than a No. 7 seed in 2020 and missed it again this season due to a self-imposed post-season ban designed to minimize future NCAA penalties.
So what exactly did Miller achieve?
Dismissing Miller many years ago would have provided Arizona with a fresh start, freed the school from a tainted coach, and sent a message to the world that it would not tolerate someone who either condoned cheating or did not do enough to prevent it. . Instead, Arizona stood by Miller year after year in a way that some considered shameful.
And then it fired him five weeks after this season ended.
Again, why now?
Why stand by Miller for years only to fire him now when A) the message of accusations that finally arrived was kinder to him than most expected, and B) he had a top 25 team ready to turn around back? According to stadium Jeff Goodman, it’s because Miller continued to have the support of influential boosters despite his program’s NCAA problems, making it difficult for the administration to pull the trigger until now. I get it, I think. But it is the job of the administration to convince the boosters that it was counterproductive to keep Miller in these circumstances. Their inability to do so was a failure.
Either way, Sean Miller is finally out.
Either way, another big-boy job is open. The obvious candidates are Gonzaga associate head coach Tommy Lloyd, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman and at least four coaches who are doubling as former Arizona players – namely Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner, Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire, Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Miles Simon.
Of course, it will be an interesting search for Arizona athletics director Dave Heeke. I’m sure he’s finding a good replacement. But it is hard to deny that he is doing this now, instead of much earlier, is a failure in management that damaged the school’s reputation and valued program for no great reason.