TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The University of Arizona has fired men’s basketball coach Sean Miller.
In a statement released Wednesday, April 7, Vice President and Director of Athletics Dave Heeke said he feels “we need a fresh start, and now is the time.”
Heeke also announced that associate head coach Jack Murphy will serve as interim head coach.
“We appreciate Sean’s commitment to our basketball program and to the university,” Heeke said. “I want to thank Sean, Amy and their sons for their service to the university and wish them the very best in the future.”
Heeke said the search for a new head coach will begin immediately. KOLD asked our viewers who they would like to see lead the Wildcats. The most popular answers were: Jason Terry, Josh Pastner, Stever Kerr and Luke Walton.
Miller arrived on campus in the spring of 2009, hired by Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood and charged with calming the basketball program’s choppy waters.
After Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson surprisingly stepped down before the 2007 season, Arizona had gone through Kevin O’Neal and Russ Pennell.
After a third coaching search that included the likes of Tim Floyd, Livengood ultimately zeroed in on Miller.
Miller was a college basketball star at Pitt and made his name as Xavier’s head coach. He led Xavier to three straight Atlantic 10 regular-season championships and four straight NCAA tournament berths. Though Miller initially turned down the offer, he changed his mind and became the team’s fourth head coach in as many seasons.
Miller’s first season ended with 16 wins, 15 losses.
The second year, however, raised the bar substantially.
Led by Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams, who ended up being the second overall pick in the NBA draft, Arizona clinched Miller’s first regular-season conference championship en route to a 30-win season. The Wildcats punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight by defeating Memphis, Texas, and No. 1 seed Duke. The Wildcats ended up losing to eventual tournament champion UConn.
It was the first of seven NCAA tournament appearances for Miller’s Wildcats, a run that included five Sweet 16s and three Elite Eights. Under Miller, Arizona won five regular season conference titles and three conference tournament titles. Thirteen of Miller’s Wildcats were selected in the draft, five of them as lottery picks, including Williams, Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson, Lauri Markkanen and Deandre Ayton – Arizona’s first-ever No. 1 overall selection.
But the program’s foundation started to quiver before Ayton’s only season in Tucson. In September 2017, Miller’s top assistant Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was arrested as part of the sweeping FBI investigation into college basketball and bribery. Richardson was caught on secret recordings accepting as much as $20,000, money that was said to be used to influence at least one high school recruit to sign with Arizona.
Several months later, in February 2018, ESPN published a story alleging that the FBI had recordings of Miller talking to defendant and former would-be agent Christian Dawkins about payments totaling $100,000 to Ayton. Soon after, attorney Paul Kelly of an independent firm hired by Arizona, released a statement claiming that there was no evidence that Ayton ever accepted any money. Miller then publicly refuted the story and any claim that he’d ever knowingly broken NCAA rules.
A year later, Richardson pled guilty to federal funds bribery. Then, in the second trial of Dawkins and former Adidas consultant, Merl Code, jurors heard tapes of Richardson and Dawkins speaking of Miller allegedly paying Ayton and former Wildcat Rawle Alkins.
However, no evidence confirming those allegations was ever presented. Furthermore, following the conclusion of the trial that found Dawkins and Code guilty of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, Dawkins told reporter Adam Zagoria, he never talked to Miller about ensuring Ayton’s commitment to Arizona.
Miller’s final two seasons were marred by incidents. The first came just as the 2020 Pac-12 Tournament got under way, when the NCAA and conference canceled their remaining postseasons amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In October, the NCAA handed down a Notice of Allegations that included nine charges of misconduct, five of which were labelled Level One, the most serious offenses. While Miller was never said to have committed a specific violation, the notice singled him out for what it called his failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and a lack of institutional control.
Finally, in December, Arizona Athletics acknowledged the severity of the Notice of Allegations by imposing a one-year ban on postseason play for men’s basketball. A little over two months later and only after an Arizona superior court judge forced its hand, did the university finally release the NOA to the public.
After 12 seasons, the Miller era ends. He leaves Arizona with 302 wins, 109 losses, three conference coach-of-the-year honors, and one complicated legacy.