Miller embraces legacy established by Olson
First impressions from Sean Miller’s introductory news conference:
It took less than 15 seconds for Miller to get it right.
Miller entered the McKale Center court and walked toward an impromptu press area. Before he reached the interview table, he stopped and made a quick right turn to where former UA coach Lute Olson was sitting behind the media.
Miller walked up, giving Olson a light embrace. They spoke briefly.
When Miller had a chance to make his opening remarks he acknowledged the presence of the 74-year-old Olson, who retired due to health reasons before last season.
“Before I even thank the appropriate people, I want to make sure I thank coach Olson for being here at this press conference. It means the world to me,” Miller said, turning to face Olson.
“Just so you know, one of the reasons I sit here today is because of the great legacy you built. The feeling that the world and nation have about Arizona basketball stems from you.”
Former UA star Steve Kerr, the general manager of the Phoenix Suns, sat next to Olson.
“I’m glad to see coach Olson here, and I’m glad to see Sean reached out to him,” Kerr said. “It’s important to keep that connection to the past, for sure.”
It sounds like a no-brainer that a new coach would figuratively – and literally – embrace Olson, who had a Hall of Fame career than spanned 24 seasons in Tucson.
But let me say this: Not all coaches – perhaps because they’re too self-absorbed or because they would want to run from comparisons – would have made Miller’s gestures.
• • •
I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of athletic director Jim Livengood’s recent e-mails.
When the coaching search seemed to be spinning sideways, Livengood was taking a beating on Internet message boards.
“The multitude of e-mails that I received . . . that referred to my ancestry and where I came from is brutal,” Livengood said. “It’s absolutely brutal.”
Now that the process is over and Livengood delivered the goods, it would be nice if he got a few e-mails of thanks.
He said after the news conference he felt “fulfilled.”
“Not fulfilled for me, but for our community and for our university,” he said. “It’s worth going through all of the agony and all of the criticism. I think (Miller) is that special.”
• • •
One more thing about Livengood. He seemed to have a bit of a thin skin early in the news conference when he emphasized that the only coach to officially reject Arizona was USC’s Tim Floyd.
“Let me tell you how I feel in terms of how that stands,” he said of Arizona’s name being linked to other coaches. “That is absolutely, completely false. Nobody (else) turned that job down. You need to know that.”
Livengood is playing some word games, though, when he talks about having made only two official offers.
There was a lot of window shopping and flirting with other coaches. Just because none of that rose to the level of an official interview and offer doesn’t mean UA didn’t have a wandering eye before smartly putting the full-court press on Miller.
• • •
True confession: I was a big fan of Miller when he was the point guard at Pittsburgh. He was on the 1988-89 team that lost to Arizona at McKale Center in the Fiesta Bowl Classic.
“Sean Elliott had about seven dunks in a row. It got loud in this building,” Miller said.
“One thing I thought about when Jim and I first talked is McKale Center and what it means. I didn’t realize that recently we have won 71 home games in a row.”
Note the use of “we.”
Miller used a lot of “we” and “our” in regard to Arizona on Tuesday.
It’s his program now.
• • •
Good line from Miller about arriving at McKale Center for the first time as a coach:
“When you make a right and go down a street called National Championship Drive, I think that says it all about where you’re at.”
• • •
Arizona distributed two pages detailing Miller’s compensation – $2 million per year, plus perks and incentives.
Knowing that such a lucrative contract can be sensitive in tough economic times, the university took the unusual step of noting at the top of its release that all the compensation comes from a self-sufficient athletic department. Livengood said that was a message “we’re probably going to repeat over and over again.”
Good. It needs to be repeated, because it is a fact that hasn’t sunk in over the years.
Bottom line: The market is the market, and Arizona is not underpaying Miller according to the market.
Is it fair he is making so much during belt-tightening times on campus?
To use a popular phrase among athletes and coaches, it is what it is.
• • •
Miller spent eight years at Xavier, five as a head coach, and the Musketeers sent five players to the NBA in that time.
“He’s got an excellent reputation league-wide,” Kerr said. “All the people I talked to in the last week just raved about his teams and his coaching ability.”
• • •
UA assistant coach Reggie Geary was at the Final Four and didn’t arrive at McKale Center until after the start of the news conference.
Geary waited until Miller fulfilled all his media obligations and then approached Miller to introduce himself. Geary wants to stay on as an assistant.
Miller, however, could bring his entire staff with him from Xavier, although he would have at least one opening if Musketeers assistant Chris Mack is promoted to head coach.
If not, Miller sounded inclined to stick with assistants who know him and his system. He didn’t appear concerned about the staff’s lack of West Coast recruiting connections, which is part of Geary’s appeal.
As Miller noted, Arizona usually recruits nationally anyway.
The upshot of it is, there simply might not be room for Geary.
• • •
Miller teams are known for defense, but he likely put some fears to rest when he said this:
“I love the fact that we can play slow when we need to defensively, but we can also play against teams that can push it and play fast.”
• • •
Final impression: Keeping in mind Livengood’s stated desire to “win the press conference,” Arizona should have lit up the scoreboard as Miller left the court.
It would have read: Sean Miller 1, Press Conference 0.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org