Wildcats head coach Sean Miller not worth the trouble for Arizona
Words can get you fired in 2021. So why does Sean Miller still have a job?
His basketball program has stained and embarrassed the University of Arizona. Major sanctions are looming, based on allegations that Miller bribed, broke rules and cheated to win. Even worse, he’s not even good at the under-the-table shenanigans.
At age 52, he has more wiretap appearances than Final Four appearances.
An FBI sting snagged one of his top assistants. The university banned itself from all postseason tournaments in 2021, a clear admission of guilt and a clear request for leniency. And yet Miller remains employed. Even when there’s no payoff accompanying his alleged payoffs.
On Monday, school president Robert Robbins seemed to throw his support behind Miller, saying his head coach was already working on next year’s recruiting.
Part of this is brazen revolt among the accused. Top basketball schools are tired of the NCAA’s hypocrisy, a governing body that fully participates in the con and the grift of college basketball while also serving as clucking judge and jury to those caught in the web. Dirty programs are not even pretending to feel ashamed.
There’s a reason why Kansas and Bill Self have mocked the NCAA in outward displays of rebellion. Same with Arizona’s loyalty to Miller. The blueblood programs understand they have the real power in college basketball. They create the pipelines that draw top-flight talent to the world of academia. The NCAA is a toothless fraud that delivers very little to the bottom line.
There’s also a growing belief that paying recruits is a victimless crime. That’s mostly true. Most sports fans have come to embrace the plight of the transcendent college athletes, the ones who create so much money for everyone but themselves.
It’s also false. There are real victims. The victims are the schools that don’t have a supply chain of money from well-heeled boosters willing to ditch the moral compasses.
To wit: A Georgia high school football coach just claimed Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Alabama’s Nick Saban pay top dollar for incoming recruits, coaches disproportionately funded by alumni who care a little too much.
In Tucson, there is also a distinct fear of life after Miller. A fear that losing the sweaty bully will further loosen their grip on relevancy, maybe even for good.
Arizona’s basketball program is a national phenomenon. It was built by the late, great Lute Olson, a coaching titan who built a kingdom in the desert, who once turned down a job offer at Kentucky. There was a hope that the program would run on autopilot once Olson was no longer calling the shots. That dream died quickly with Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell.
Miller has produced NBA draft picks without much player development. The rawness of Deandre Ayton is alarming, a stark contrast to Devin Booker when he came out Kentucky as a bench player. Consecutive Elite Eight losses to Wisconsin and that punch in the gut from Buffalo speak to his in-game blind spots. He does very little to make friends and influence people. He’s very good at insulting media members who would drive 90 minutes to cover his program.
He’s not worth all this trouble. But he’s still the head coach because he’s still a quality recruiter. And because, in Tucson, they’ve grown very afraid of the alternative.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.