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Xavier coach Miller ‘follows heart’ to Arizona

Sean Miller fights back tears after telling reporters he is leaving Xavier for Arizona.

Sean Miller fights back tears after telling reporters he is leaving Xavier for Arizona.

Sean Miller says he is following his heart – leaving Xavier University to become the head basketball coach at Arizona.

“I would never leave Xavier unless it was a place where I really felt you could win a national championship,” Miller said Monday at a news conference in Cincinnati. “When I say that, it does not mean you can’t win one here.

“(UA) is a place that has done it before, and has had a quarter of a century worth of excellence.

UA announced it would introduce Miller at noon Tuesday at McKale Center. Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood and school president Robert Shelton are expected to be present.

“If you watch and look at Arizona, you see they have done some amazing things in 25 years under one coach,” Miller added, referring to Hall of Famer Lute Olson, who retired before the season started. UA has gone to 25 straight NCAA tournaments, the nation’s longest active streak.

The 40-year-old Miller, considered one of the nation’s top young coaches, later teared up while talking about leaving Xavier after five seasons. He met with his players beforehand and said it was one of his toughest decisions.

“I did my best to follow my heart,” he said.

Arizona big man Jordan Hill, who is debating whether to declare early for the NBA Draft, said Miller’s hiring won’t affect his decision either way.

“Wow,” Hill said when told Miller took the UA job.

Livengood, in a statement released by UA, said he was “pleased the coaching-search process has been completed.”

“It’s been an exhaustive week, but it’s a good day to be a Wildcat. We believe we’ve brought in the best young coach in the country, a proven winner who will take this program into the future,” Livengood said.

Added Shelton, in a statement:

“Sean Miller is a perfect fit for the University of Arizona. Sean has had tremendous achievements on the court, but he has also done an extraordinary job of ensuring that his players succeed in the classroom. Arizona fans are going to be very proud of the way he approaches the game. He is absolutely the right person to lead our program forward.”

Various media outlets are reporting that Miller’s annual salary could be more than $2 million a year, with a possible $1 million signing bonus. It’s unclear if Miller would have a five-year contract, or longer.

CBS Sports.com, citing an unnamed source, reported that Livengood called Miller early Monday and “significantly changed” UA’s offer, which was initially around $2 million annually for a seven-year contract.

Miller also received assurances on schedules and the way the team would travel. (UA travels commercial, but books charter flights for certain occasions, such as the NCAA Tournament.

Livengood and Shelton met Sunday with Miller in New Mexico to persuade Miller to replace Olson, who was replaced last season by Russ Pennell on an interim basis. Miller returned to Cincinnati on UA booster Paul Weitman’s plane.

Miller apparently had told FoxSports.com late Sunday that he would not take the UA job, but changed his mind Monday.

Miller said he and Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski were still talking about the Xavier job Monday morning in the coach’s kitchen. Miller added that he did not decide for sure to take the Arizona job until early afternoon.

“I respect his decision,” Bobinski said. “That doesn’t make me any less disappointed.”

Bobinski said coaches moving from job to job is simply a fact of life.

“If you’ve got coaches that other people aren’t interested in, you’ve got the wrong coaches,” he said. “The reason our coaches are in demand is we’re killin’ it.”

Miller said he wanted to make sure he left Xavier in the right way.

“I cannot say enough good things about this place. It defines who I am to a large degree,” Miller said.

He said he was grateful to Xavier for his three years as an assistant and five years as head coach and felt he had made a contribution.

“The legacy will certainly continue,” Miller said. “I know this machine will continue to move in a very positive direction.”

Bobinski called Miller “a terrific coach, a great friend.”

“He has helped bring us to the point where we are poised to be the very best we’ve ever been in our history,” Bobinski said. “We believe we are on the cusp of our greatest basketball ever.”

He said he realizes coaching at Xavier can be very different from a large state university.

“We’re not for everybody,” Bobinski said. “We need to find somebody who knows who we are and what we are all about.”

Miller will inherit a program with an elite reputation but short on talent because of its tenuous coaching situation. Olson took a leave of absence in the 2007-08 season but planned to return last fall. Just before the season started, he retired for health reasons.

Miller signed a contract extension at Xavier through the 2017-18 season, reportedly worth more than $800,000 a year.

Xavier advanced to the Sweet 16 in this season’s NCAA Tournament before losing 60-55 to top-seeded Pittsburgh. Xavier reached the Elite Eight in last year’s tourney before falling to UCLA.

Miller wasn’t Arizona’s first choice to succeed Olson. Tim Floyd rejected an offer to stay at Southern California.



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