Programs looking for hire wise to pursue Archie Miller sooner than laterby Javier Morales on Mar. 16, 2011, under Sports
How long it will take for mid-major and high-profile programs to get a piece of the Sean Miller coaching magic?
That does not include hiring Miller. He has too much of a good thing going at Arizona, the least of which his lucrative $2 million-a-year contract through 2014. Miller should become a fixture in Tucson, especially after landing a top five recruiting class (with many more like it to come) after winning the regular-season Pac-10 title a year ahead of schedule.
Miller, 42, is the second-coming of Lute Olson and I don’t mean that in a grandiose way. He became the leader of a national championship-caliber program at the right time. Olson’s leave of absence, abrupt retirement and two seasons of interim coaches preceded Miller’s opportune arrival. It is in the same realm of Olson’s hire from Iowa after Ben Lindsey almost sent the program back to the Ice Age with a 4-24 record in 1982-83.
This is ascension time for Miller at Arizona, but with consequences. With coaching vacancies an annual occurrence — this year’s lot includes openings at Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech to name a few — athletic directors will come calling, not for him, but his staff.
Atop Miller’s rank and file of assistant coaches is younger brother Archie Miller, a recruiting and strategist extraordinaire. Archie Miller’s official title is associate head coach, which signals that he is a head coach in waiting for a program somewhere.
Archie Miller is 32, the same age when Josh Pastner got his first head coaching job with Memphis before last season. Hiring young should be the trend — Jeff Capel‘s firing at age 36 at Oklahoma an anomaly — as a way for the head coach to relate better to today’s AAU-generated prospects.
Moreover, an athletic director who does his homework will realize Archie Miller comes from the esteemed coaching pedigree of father John Miller, a legendary high school coach in Pennsylvania. Archie Miller also has plenty of input into what his brother does with Arizona.
Arizona All-America candidate Derrick Williams told the Associated Press last month that “sometimes Archie tries to take over.”
“But Coach Miller has his own opinions,” Williams added. “Sometimes they head butt each other, but they’re two great coaches and they always end up doing what’s best for the team.”
It took only three years for Olson to lose his first assistant coach after resurrecting the Arizona program. Ken Burmeister, who came to Tucson with Olson from Iowa in 1983, departed before the 1986-87 season for Texas-San Antonio. A year after that, another Olson aide from Iowa — Scott Thompson — took the Rice job.
Ricky Byrdsong (1988 to Detroit Mercy) and Kevin O’Neill (1989 to Marquette) were the next Olson assistants to land head coaching jobs within Arizona’s formative years under Olson.
Archie Miller’s time is now if you go by these examples of Wildcat assistants advancing in their profession. Their ages at the time of their hire after leaving Arizona — Burmeister 39, Thompson 33, Byrdsong 32 and O’Neill 32.
Some may argue that perhaps they were hired too early — especially Thompson, who never found his niche at Rice, Wichita State or Cornell. That argument has no substance with his own brother Sean Miller as an example. He was hired as head coach at Xavier at the young age of 35 after 10 years of work as an assistant. He coached the Musketeers to an Elite Eight appearance in 2008, four years after his hire.
Archie Miller, completing his sixth year as an assistant at N.C. State, ASU, Ohio State and Arizona, has the smarts, intensity, recruiting ability and work ethic to be similarly successful before he reaches 40. When he talked to the Associated Press last month, Archie Miller sounded like a coach working his way up and out of Tucson.
“We grew up in the same house, we coach the same way in a lot of aspects, and him being able to teach me and help run a program, why you do certain things, I felt like that would be the final piece to understanding what it’s all about,” Archie Miller said.
How soon will Archie Miller climb the ladder? It could happen after the season concludes, or possibly after next season. Don’t count on him being around too much longer.
The same can be said of UA assistant coaches James Whitford and Book Richardson, both of whom will likely ride the wave of Sean Miller’s success at Arizona into their own gigs down the road, possibly within five years.
Richardson already was reported as a potential assistant coach at Kentucky, Rutgers and St. John’s last summer. The rumors should continue this offseason.
“We have a great staff that is very loyal,” Sean Miller said last summer when asked about the rumors involving Richardson as an assistant coach elsewhere. “Our staff knows that Arizona is a great place to coach and Tucson is a nice place to live.
“The coaching opportunities are flattering and they are to be expected. What’s best for the individual is what’s most important.”