Editors Note: This is the first part of our two-part series where we evaluate head coach Sean Miller during his time at Arizona. You can find the other part of this series here.
It’s no secret that these last few years of Arizona men’s basketball hasn't been the best.
It started in 2017 when Arizona was one of a handful of schools that was embroiled in an F.B.I. investigation surrounding a “pay-for-play” scheme that rocked the college basketball landscape.
The trouble for Arizona revolved around assistant coach Book Richardson, who was arrested for federal bribery, fraud and other corruption-related charges. He was one of four college basketball assistants named and the only one of the four to serve jail time.
Arizona also found itself under even more national scrutiny when a now-defunct report came out from ESPN, saying that Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller paid $100,000 for Deandre Ayton to commit and play for the Arizona Wildcats.
Miller and Ayton were cleared by both the F.B.I. and an outside counsel that Arizona hired to help resolve the issue. The question now revolves around what exactly the NCAA will do.
The NCAA is notorious for being inconsistent and unfair with their disciplinary actions towards schools, so Arizona sent their case to the newly formed Independent Accountability Resolution Process so they could be guaranteed a fair process. This is the same thing that LSU, Kansas and Louisville all did as well with their allegations.
The NCAA came down hard on Arizona with notice of allegations that involve five level I violations, including one that accuses Miller of a lack of institutional control as a head coach.
So, with all that said, why am I saying that Sean Miller should be retained? There are a few factors involved that I believe the athletic department needs to take into account.
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The first, and probably most important is money. During this pandemic, Arizona’s athletic budget has been hit insanely hard. There was an original estimate by athletic director Dave Heeke that the department could lose anywhere from $60-65 million, and that was based in the fall, so that number could’ve moved up or down now that the athletic season is in full swing.
It was also a struggle for Arizona to find the money to fire former head football coach Kevin Sumlin. With an already financially struggling athletic department, would it really make sense for Arizona to fire and hire another high-profile coach on-campus after already doing it with football?
I also think that another factor that needs to be taken into the department’s thinking is if you fire Miller, do you really believe you’ll get a coach that is better than him? Sean Miller has never had a losing season at Arizona. He also leads the Pac-12 in NCAA tournament, Sweet 16’s and Elite Eights appearances since becoming head coach of Arizona. He also leads the conference in win percentage since he joined, and is the third-fastest coach in conference history to get to 300 wins.
Yes, he hasn’t made a Final Four. But even without a Final Four, his accomplishments make it extremely hard for an administration to fire him if you can’t get someone as good or better than him.
The final factor I think the athletic department needs to take into account is the current team and how it’s set up. This team is not made up of a bunch of five-star guys that will be one-and-done. This team is made up of players that, as the years go on, will develop into better and better players than they currently are.
The 2020-21 team has only two players that could end up leaving after this year, Ira Lee and Terrell Brown Jr., and they technically could come back if they want to because the NCAA is granting everyone an extra year of eligibility as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
They are also adding three players in their current recruiting class and could potentially add one more through transfer as well in the off-season. This team could potentially be ranked in the top-10 or top-15 throughout next season, so would it really make sense to part ways with Sean Miller right as things are looking, they are about to get back on track?
These reasons all factor into why I believe Sean Miller needs to be extended for a few more years. If the athletic department wants to re-evaluate after that, then that would make more sense because the ruling from the NCAA would be out and you could also re-evaluate where the current status of the program is overall, in terms of wins and losses.
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