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The Arizona Republic


The Arizona Republic

Look at what’s become of our little blood feud. The well of hate is drying up. A vicious rivalry has become an episode of “Friends.”

Arizona State is coached by Herb Sendek, who once recruited and twice hired Sean Miller, the new Arizona coach who was once best friends with Doug Tammaro, the sports information director for the men’s basketball team at ASU.

They all grew up in Pittsburgh. They share history. They have stories. You want proof?

Miller wore a G.I. Joe costume to Tammaro’s 6th birthday party, and quality video is still available. He also spilled water over Tammaro’s suit when they double-dated to a teen dance in Pittsburgh.

“He ain’t perfect,” Tammaro cracked.

Once, this intrastate basketball competition was all hiss and vinegar. Arizona was big brother, and ASU bore the welts.

In worst of times, it was Lute Olson pointing at the scoreboard, mocking the sparse crowd at Wells Fargo Arena. In times of peace, it was Olson poking fun at Bill Frieder in a friendly, condescending kind of way.

This shifting landscape was strange enough last year when Russ Pennell took over as Wildcats interim coach one year after serving as radio commentator for the Sun Devils. Now, these two programs are more connected than they’ve ever been.

“Back in the day, you would’ve thought that Herb and Sean might end up coaching against one another,” said Archie Miller, who is Sean’s younger brother, once played for Sendek and is currently an assistant under Thad Matta at Ohio State. “But to have two guys from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who grew up in the same coaching tree battle head-to-head in the state of Arizona . . . now that’s ironic.”

The two became acquainted when Sendek was in his first year under Rick Pitino at Providence and Miller was the best high school player in Pittsburgh. Sendek recruited Miller, but Miller sensed Pitino was a short-timer and instead chose Pittsburgh.

Miller was right. Pitino soon left to coach the Knicks.

“When I got the job at Miami (Ohio), Sean was the first guy I called to join our staff,” Sendek said.

After working together at Miami (Ohio), Sendek again hired Miller when he took over at North Carolina State. Since then, Sendek’s coaching tree has continued to grow, spawning Matta, Miller, Drake’s Mark Phelps and many others. It underscores just how special and underrated Sendek is as a head coach.

“It also illustrates what a small world the college basketball scene is,” Phelps said.

Yet there’s a strange new dynamic happening here.

While Sendek is only six years older than Miller, he has coached 509 games compared to Miller’s 167. That should give Sendek some kind of psychological edge, except Miller is considered one of the hot young coaches in the industry, and not the type to get tripped up by reverence for a mentor.

“Herb’s an amazing guy, and I know my brother respects him at a great level. My whole family does,” Archie said. “But are you going to see them going to watch the Steelers together when they play the Cardinals? Probably not.”

Said Sean Miller, at his debut news conference in Tucson: “I respect (Sendek) a great deal and I consider him a fantastic coach. At the same time, I know where I’m at.”

Finally, there’s this: Miller will reportedly earn $2 million a year over his five-year contract, including a $1 million signing bonus. Sendek makes about half of that and lost a chunk of his salary in 2009 due to furloughs at ASU.

Sendek brushed off the discrepancy on Wednesday, but you wonder if that inequity will make him uncomfortable in the future.

“Herb’s not overly concerned with what people want him to be or expect him to be,” Phelps said. “He’s very confident in who he is and has his own philosophy on how to live life. If other people perceive him to not have the polish of X, Y or Z, I don’t think that’s a great concern to Herb.”

So welcome to a new day in a changing rivalry. Sendek has a brilliant mind, meticulous attention to detail and a brand new practice facility opening in a few months. Miller is dynamic and polished, a great communicator with a great fan base and a national brand to sell.

This will get interesting.

One other thing: As a boy, the new coach at Arizona was something of an instigator. Tammaro said Miller had a great arm when it came to throwing tomatoes at moving objects and showed great leadership skills when choosing what houses to cover in toilet paper.

We’ll see how much trouble he causes for ASU basketball.


Miller Sendek

School UA ASU

Age 40 46

Career W-L 120-47 308-201

Percentage .718 .605

Last season 27-8 25-10

Years as head coach 5 16

NCAA tournaments 4 7

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