UA strikes gold in coach huntby Anthony Gimino on Apr. 07, 2009, under Local
Citizen Staff Writer
It’s a new day, a new era for Arizona basketball. Got your shades ready?
The forecast is for clear skies and lots of sun.
Sean Miller has saved the day and chased away the clouds.
For the first time in 26 years, Arizona has a new full-time head basketball coach, and the university, after a meandering search with ulcer-inducing fits and starts, got it absolutely right.
Miller is a great hire.
You will hear in the next hours, days, weeks, months that Miller is a coach’s son, a basketball prodigy, a student of the game. You will hear how he preaches toughness and defense, how much his players love him, how highly he is praised by the national media.
Perhaps the most casual of Arizona basketball fans aren’t familiar with the name, but, trust me, you will like him.
“He’s an up-and-coming star,” said former UA All-American Sean Elliott.
“It’s exactly what the program is looking for.”
Miller isn’t as accomplished (yet) as coaching rock stars Rick Pitino or John Calipari, to name a pair, but he’s also a lot younger than those guys. If you were making a list of the best coaches 40-and-younger, Miller stands on top.
And now he belongs to Arizona.
So, due credit to athletic director Jim Livengood and university president Robert Shelton, who came up with a last-minute save.
Up until Miller changed his mind Monday morning and accepted an enhanced contract offer – a reported seven years for $18 million – it appeared Livengood and Shelton were headed toward a “Thelma and Louise” ending.
For various reasons, some of the top coaches in the country turned down Arizona’s overtures. USC coach Tim Floyd, after visiting with UA officials in Tucson last week, gave a very public rejection of the Cats.
When Miller, 40, indicated Sunday night that he was staying at Xavier, Arizona’s reported new targets included Utah’s Jim Boylen and Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg.
Fine coaches, but if the Wildcats had to go there, this would have been the slogan for next season: Good Tickets Available.
“To me, it seemed like we were settling,” said former UA player Gene Edgerson.
“Ask any of the former players at the University of Arizona, we view this program with the highest regard. And we’re like, ‘Coaches should want to come here. This isn’t right. We have coaches turning down our great city and great basketball program?’
“It baffled me,” Edgerson said. “But now I’m proud and happy. Our ship was just sailing along; we didn’t have a skipper. Now, we have a really good skipper.”
We’re all going to end up crying over repeated “Miller time” references – you’re on notice, headline writers – but, oh, man, was it ever time for Miller.
Arizona’s elite status hung in the balance.
The Wildcats weren’t just looking for a good coach, they were looking to send a message: We still matter. We’re a top program, not just a program that had a top coach, Lute Olson, for all those years.
The athletic department had to spend a lot of its own money to do it, but UA delivered that message.
Miller confirmed that to the rest of the college basketball world at a news conference at Xavier on Monday afternoon, talking about Arizona as a place where you could win a national championship.
Arizona wasn’t shy, instantly making Miller the highest-paid coach in the Pac-10. And that right there sends a message, too.
No coincidence that Arizona, atop an online news release of Miller’s hiring, included links to season-ticket information. Gotta spend money to make money.
Think of it this way: Would you have paid good money to see Boylen coach?
“Coach Miller has had a number of opportunities over the years . . . and none of those were right to him,” said Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski, who was open about his disappointment over losing Miller.
“I trust him and trust who he is as a person that if he has made this decision, then this is the one that feels right to him. And who are any of us to say that is a bad move on his part?”
It was a good move.
For Miller. For Arizona.
And for the fans, who almost assuredly will greet Miller with open arms that stretch from the Rincon Mountains to the Tucson Mountains (consider this your first local geography lesson, coach).
Best of all, after two seasons of uncertainty within the program, let’s retire the use of the word “interim.”
It is with renewed hope and optimism that we look forward to that day next fall when Miller walks on to the McKale Center court before a game for the first time.
The band will wave.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: