Arizona basketball plentiful with options to replace coach Sean Miller

Apr 7, 2021, 1:01 PM | Updated: 1:10 pm
Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire, right, speaks with guard Jalen Brown during the second half of the ...

Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire, right, speaks with guard Jalen Brown during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Gonzaga won 95-49. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

(AP Photo/Young Kwak)

The Arizona Wildcats finally decided to move their basketball program in a new direction.

Head coach Sean Miller led the team to three Elite Eight appearances and five first-place finishes in the Pac-12 over his first nine seasons on the job, but the past three included no postseason berths and turmoil as NCAA violations and an investigation followed him.

Miller was finally fired Wednesday after president Robert Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke went from standing behind their head coach through an FBI investigation and four Level I NCAA violations to pushing him out the door.

Miller leaves with a 302-109 (.735) record after arriving in Tucson from Xavier in 2009, and now the search for a new coach is on.

The school’s basketball brand remains built on the foundation of late head coach Lute Olson, and the hiring process in theory could take advantage of that.

Then again, it’s worth noting the current university leadership could take this any which-way, just as it did in firing Miller at an inopportune point and just as it did while hiring head football coach Jedd Fisch this offseason.

Let’s take a look at candidates who might make sense for the Arizona job, plus those who will be mentioned but we’re not betting on.

Former Wildcats coaching elsewhere

Damon Stoudamire, Pacific head coach

Stoudamire checks a ton of boxes. The seventh overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft went on to have a lengthy pro career after playing at Arizona from 1991-95 under Olson.

He got his post-playing career start as a director of player development at Rice in 2008, coached two years in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies, joined Josh Pastner’s staff as an assistant with the Memphis Tigers and then in 2013-14 got a sense of the modern Arizona culture on Miller’s staff.

Stoudamire then went back to Memphis in 2015 before rebuilding a down Pacific Tigers program starting in 2016. That team went 23-10 two years ago before going 9-9 amid frequent COVID-19 cancellations this year.

Maybe the only thing Stoudamire doesn’t have going for him is a ton of wins as a college head coach.

Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech head coach

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Where Pastner does not have the pro playing career as Stoudamire, he does have the experience leading, winning and recruiting at a high-pressure program like Memphis.

Pastner walked on at Arizona and played for the team during its 1997 NCAA title run.

He was an understudy for John Calipari at Memphis before taking on the full-time job when Calipari left for Kentucky in 2009. Since 2016, Pastner has been at Georgia Tech.

Though his record at Memphis (167-73) is greater than that at his current post (82-75), Pastner’s stock is higher after he coached his team to an ACC Tournament victory to finally reach March Madness this past year.

A high-energy personality and relentless recruiter, Pastner would likely have some backing from teammates and boosters. It’s likely he would also be able to pull together an attractive support staff of former players.

Miles Simon, Los Angeles Lakers assistant

The most outstanding player for the Wildcats’ single championship run surely would bring a welcoming presence for Arizona fans.

He has pro playing experience — mostly overseas — and coached under Olson for UA from 2005-08. Simon spent time as an analyst for ESPN before he returned to coach with the Los Angeles Lakers as an assistant in 2017.

Simon also has experience coaching AAU teams in California, which presumably would help him hit the ground running on the recruiting trail.

That said, his ability to be the head coach of a high-profile program isn’t something to be learned from his resume.

In-house options

Jack Murphy, Arizona associate head coach/interim head coach

(Matt Herp/Standard-Examiner via AP, File)

Murphy worked on both Olson’s and Miller’s staffs with NBA front office experience in between. He led Northern Arizona to a lopsided 78–149 record from 2012-19 but is credited with joining the Arizona staff afterward to help the Wildcats recruit internationally as the NCAA charges weighed on their priorities in the United States.

If anything, Murphy can make a case to retain his job as a top assistant to bridge a new era and keep a relatively intriguing roster intact.

Jason Terry, Arizona assistant coach

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The 1999 first-round pick’s NBA career spanned three decades, and that might hold weight to current recruits who actually might be old enough to remember him.

Terry joined the Wildcats as an assistant for this past season only, and while he might be inexperienced at coach, he does have several things going for him.

He’s got as big of a personality as personalities can get, plus has experience in the AAU ranks in Texas, where he won an NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks.

Outsiders to consider

Tommy Lloyd, Gonzaga assistant

Tommy Lloyd, right (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The 46-year-old assistant got his start in coaching in 2000 with Gonzaga and has been a part of Mark Few’s staff ever since. Stadium’s Jeff Goodman listed Lloyd as maybe the favorite among coaches who don’t have Arizona connections.

It’s likely Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who was once a favorite among Wildcat fans of people who could eventually replace Olson, would help both parties consider that possibility.

It matters that the Zags’ top assistant is part of a West Coast program that has made the Sweet 16 in every single season since 2014-15 (with last year’s canceled postseason not withstanding).

Mark Pope, BYU head coach

The 48-year-old played in the NBA from 1997-2005 and has spent the past six years as head coach at Utah Valley State (2015-19) and BYU (2019-21) in the WAC.

He’s gone 121-71 as a head coach.

Greg McDermott, Creighton head coach

McDermott knows the Midwest well with stops at North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Creighton, and he’s won 538 games in his career.

Creighton has gone to the NCAA Tournament in six of the 11 seasons McDermott has coached the Bluejays.

Eric Musselman, Arkansas head coach

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

No coach on this list has as extensive of a resume across all levels of basketball as Musselman. He also has familiarity in the state as an assistant on Arizona State’s staff from 2012-14.

Since 2015, Musselman has won 75% of his games at Nevada and Arkansas, his only college head-coaching gigs.

It would be hard to imagine him leaving a good situation at Arkansas at the moment, but he’s worth a mention.

It’s not going to happen

Mark Few, Gonzaga head coach

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

If you haven’t heard, Gonzaga is the West Coast hoops powerhouse that Arizona once was under Olson. It would be weird timing and super surprising for Few to ditch the Bulldogs after coming up just short of a perfect season, even if he has expressed respect for what Olson built in Tucson.

Scott Drew, Baylor Bears head coach

Also if you haven’t heard, Arizona might be a more traditional basketball brand, but Baylor just won the national championship.

The only link here is that Drew’s brother, Bryce Drew, is Grand Canyon’s head coach. Their father, former college head coach Homer Drew, moved to Arizona to be closer to Bryce.

Luke Walton, Sacramento Kings head coach

(AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

He looked like a lame duck coach just a few weeks ago, then the Kings were surging, and now after four losses in a row maybe the hot seat is back on the former Wildcats star. The timing of Arizona making a hire soon doesn’t look like it will match up.

Nate Oats, Alabama head coach

Bobby Hurley’s former assistant at Buffalo coached up his team back in 2018 to blow out the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, and it wasn’t a fluke. He’s gone 42-22 at Alabama, where former UA athletic director Greg Byrne locked him in through the 2026-27 season with an extension. That makes it pretty unlikely he’d depart, even for a basketball-first school like Arizona.

Matt Brase, former Houston Rockets assistant

The grandson of Olson coached for Arizona as an assistant in 2008-09, then had a stop at Grand Canyon (2009-11) before he latched on with the Rockets. He served as a Rio Grande Valley Vipers assistant in the G League, became the NBA club’s director of basketball operations and then head coach for Rio Grande. Brase then moved to the Rockets’ bench from 2018-20.

Joseph Blair, Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach

He played four years at Arizona, dropped in as a grad assistant from 2013-15 and has spent time in the NBA as an assistant. Blair just wouldn’t excite the fan base with the other former Wildcats potentially available.

Bret Brielmaier, Long Island Nets head coach

Just putting this here because the former walk-on-turned-scholarship player for the Wildcats has a neat story.

The 35-year-old got into the San Antonio Spurs front office in 2010, was a second-row assistant for the Cavaliers in 2013 and then in 2016 became an assistant for the Nets. This past year, he was moved to Brooklyn’s G League affiliate head coach.

From developing players, watching LeBron James win a title, to working under Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich, he’s got all the experience you’d need to coach college.

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors head coach

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/undefined)

Indeed the Warriors look bad right now, but tell me how to be so optimistic.

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Arizona basketball plentiful with options to replace coach Sean Miller