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Has Sean Miller coached his last game at Arizona?

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Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller screams his disagreement at a call made by referees during the Arizona-Utah game.

The question on everyone’s mind after the recent men’s basketball whirlwind is whether University of Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller will walk back into McKale Center and continue to be Arizona’s men’s basketball coach. The answer isn’t simple.

In an ESPN report on Feb. 23, Miller was reportedly caught on an FBI wiretap having phone conversations with former ASM employee Christian Dawkins discussing a potential payment of $100,000 to land Deandre Ayton. 

As a result, Miller was not in his usual suit and tie to coach in the Feb. 24 game against Oregon in Eugene and informed the team of the decision a few hours before the game. Associate head coach Lorenzo Romar took the reins instead. 

It’s not clear whether the decision was made by the university or by Miller himself, but in a statement released before the game, Arizona Athletics said the UA and Miller agreed it was in the “best interests of the university and the basketball program” that Miller not be the coach against the Ducks.

As of now, Miller has not been suspended or fired by the UA, and it’s possible he will don a suit and tie this week to coach in the final homestand of the 2017–18 season. 

On the flip side, it’s also possible Miller won’t see the inside of McKale Center on game days again.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said on Feb. 24, in a television interview with CBS, that it is the university’s decision on whether to hold out Miller or Ayton. Deandre Ayton’s eligibility is in good standing after Paul Kelly, the attorney brought in by the UA, said there is “not a shred of evidence” to suggest Ayton or his family received payments or additional benefits. But Miller’s status is more complicated. 

To break down Miller’s case, a distinction between a law and an NCAA rule must be made. According to Sports Illustrated legal analyst and writer Michael McCann, Miller would not have broken federal law by arranging for a payment, but it does, without question, violate NCAA rules. 

While the investigation continues, the university could choose to suspend or fire Miller if it chooses to not let him coach the upcoming games. 

A suspension would be similar to the one placed on former assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson in September. Miller would be placed on paid administrative leave until the UA reaches a full decision. The big difference between Miller and Richardson is that Miller has not been charged with a crime by the FBI yet, whereas Richardson was charged with multiple felonies in his September arrest.

If the UA chooses to fire Miller, it could do so in two ways.

The university could choose to fire Miller as soon as it sees fit and do so without cause, hoping to get away from the rest of the FBI probe and move in a new direction. If this were to be the case, Miller would be owed 50 percent of his remaining base salary. His current contract runs through May 2022 and pays him between $1.6 million and $1.8 million annually. Miller would be entitled to that 50 percent within 30 days of his firing. 

The other way is that Miller would be fired with cause. Here, the university would have to prove specific circumstances outlined in Miller’s contract that would justify a firing with cause. Two of them include “demonstrated dishonesty” and “material or repetitive violations” of NCAA rules. 

If it is proven that Miller indeed arranged for a payment, the university would have cause to fire Miller as he knowingly broke NCAA rules and also demonstrated dishonesty by denying any involvement in the FBI probe.

Despite conflicting reports, The Arizona Republic’s Anne Ryman reported that Miller would not be entitled to his salary through the end of his contract if he were fired with cause. 

However, there remains speculation on the initial ESPN report from Mark Schlabach concerning the dates that Miller spoke to Dawkins, which could potentially delay an immediate decision on Miller’s future.

The first report stated Miller and Dawkins spoke about the arrangement of the payment in the spring of 2017. Nearly 48 hours after publishing the report, ESPN made a correction to the timeline, stating that it was actually in the spring of 2016. That date has now been changed again to sometime in the year of 2016. 

On Feb. 26, Miller was not present at team practice, according to Romar, and his usual Monday-night radio show with play-by-play announcer Brian Jeffries was cancelled.  

For now though, Miller remains the head coach at Arizona, and there does not appear to be a timetable for a decision on his future. Arizona hosts Stanford on March 1, and the collective Tucson basketball community will hold its breath to see who walks out onto the court Thursday night.


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