Arizona firing Sean Miller is hardly a shocking development given the scandal the staff he employed put the program through in recent years. Academic fraud. Impermissible benefits. Bribery. You name it, it probably happened on Miller’s watch. So, again, it’s unsurprising that Arizona decided to remove Sean Miller.
But why did it take so long?
And why now?
The sensible thing for Arizona to do would’ve been to fire Miller years ago — after former assistant Book Richardson was arrested, charged with federal crimes and caught on a wiretap telling ex-agent Christian Dawkins that Miller “bought” five-star prospect DeAndre Ayton. Even if you think Richardson was lying for some weird reason, there was never any denying that major NCAA rules were broken by multiple Arizona assistants Miller hired. A notice of allegations was guaranteed to arrive someday — meaning Miller would be running a program under a cloud for years and without the cheating assistants who helped him build it.
It appeared recruiting would fall off.
And, wouldn’t you know it, recruiting 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 totally disregard the rulebook. So Arizona missed the NCAA Tournament in 2019, would’ve been no better than a No. 7 seed in 2020, and missed it again this season because of a self-imposed postseason ban designed to minimize future NCAA sanctions.
So what did keeping Miller accomplish, exactly?
Firing Miller years ago would’ve provided Arizona with a fresh start, ridded the school of a tainted coach, and sent a message to the world that it won’t tolerate a person who either condoned cheating or didn’t do enough to prevent it. Instead, Arizona stood by Miller year after year in a way some deemed shameful.
And then it fired him five weeks after this season concluded.
Again, why now?
Why stand by Miller for years only to dismiss him now when A) the notice of allegations that finally arrived was kinder to him than most anticipated it would be, and B) he had a preseason top 25 team set to return? According to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, it’s because Miller continued to have the support of influential boosters despite his program’s NCAA troubles, which made it difficult for the administration to pull the trigger until now. I get that, I guess. But it’s the administration’s job to convince the boosters that keeping Miller under these circumstances was counter-productive. 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 double 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.
Needless to say, it’ll be an interesting search for Arizona athletics director Dave Heeke. I’m confident he’ll find a good replacement. But it’s hard to deny that him doing this now, instead of much earlier, is a failure in leadership that damaged the school’s reputation and prized program for no great reason.