University of Arizona president, AD put support behind Sean Miller
Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller will return to the job Thursday night as the school president and athletic director put their support behind him.
“At this time, we have no reason to believe that Coach Miller violated NCAA rules or any laws regarding the allegation reported in the media,” University of Arizona president Robert Robbins said after an executive meeting Thursday that included Arizona Board of Regents chair Bill Ridenour and athletic director Dave Heeke.
The regents meeting follows a Feb. 23 report from ESPN’s Mark Schlabach that revealed Miller was allegedly heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a payment of $100,000 to ensure a commitment from now-freshman Deandre Ayton. Miller allegedly was heard on the wiretap speaking with Christian Dawkins, who was linked to a sports agency that has been implicated in the college basketball scandal that began with 10 arrests.
Robbins said that Arizona was not allowed to listen to the cited FBI tapes as its federal investigation regarding former assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson, who was fired in September, is ongoing.
Prior to the report implicating Miller, Arizona officials and outside investigators had not been allowed by the FBI to interview Miller about the federal investigation, the UA president said.
Robbins said he believes that speaking to Miller will allow the university and its independent investigation done by Steptoe and Johnson to conclude in “a matter of weeks. The NCAA and FBI I think are going to be months away (from finishing their investigations) but of course I have no way of knowing that.”
Robbins said he does believe Miller could have been recorded by wiretaps but also believes “100s of coaches throughout this country” will also be heard on the tapes. Nothing as of now implicates Miller.
“I made the decision to move forward with Coach Miller as our coach,” Robbins added.
The president said he and Miller’s lawyers have had discussions about mitigation clauses in the head coach’s contract “that would be enacted if there are any further things that come out during any investigation about violations of NCAA rules.
“I think we will move forward with that and that will be something we discuss at future ABOR meetings,” Robbins said.
Prior to Thursday’s executive meeting, Miller, who stepped away from the team six days prior, spoke in a statement to defend himself. He said he did not have a conversation with Dawkins about securing Ayton’s commitment and has never knowingly broken NCAA rules.
“Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false, and defamatory. I’m outraged by the media statements that have been made, and the acceptance that these statements were true,” Miller said.
Robbins said that after the report, the school interviewed Miller by asking him pointed questions, all of which the coach answered. The school is comfortable moving forward with Miller coaching out the season, and the regents put its support behind the decision.
“While intense media interest in this issue has prompted much speculation, ABOR and the UofA must act in a deliberate manner rooted in facts rather than conjecture,” Ridenour said.
“I fully support (Robbins’) decision. The board fully supports his decision. I am confident he has been thorough in his assessment of the situation.”
The school said that at this time it has no plans to take legal action against ESPN, which has stood by its initial report.
A federal investigation into college basketball corruption that came to light in late September led to the firing of Richardson, who was arrested on corruption charges related to the recruitment of basketball prospects.
Along with the ties to Richardson, a report by Yahoo! Sports also listed the Arizona program as a topic of email discussion involving Dawkins in the recruitment of prospect Brian Bowen, who committed to Louisville before the school fired coach Rick Pitino for recruiting malpractice.
Robbins said Arizona will pursue all future inquiries during the federal investigation “to understand the facts.” But the school has no reason to believe Miller broke any NCAA rules, Robbins said.
“Due process is the bedrock of fair treatment and acting with integrity,” he added.
The university spent the past six days investigating the allegations.
They asked “multiple questions over the course of several days, many intense discussions face-to-face with Coach Miller,” Robbins said. “He was very forthcoming and with all the data that we have through all the multiple investigations — including the FBI investigation, the Department of Justice, consultation with the NCAA, our own internal advisers, attorneys and our outside counsel — I was convinced that there was nothing to prove, that Coach Miller had done anything wrong.”