Arizona AD Dave Heeke vague on timing of Sean Miller firing

Apr 7, 2021, 2:51 PM
University of Arizona athletics director Dave Heeke talks to the media during half time during a co...
University of Arizona athletics director Dave Heeke talks to the media during half time during a college basketball game between the Washington State Cougars and the Arizona Wildcats on February 09, 2019, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke did not go into detail about why the school decided Wednesday to fire head men’s basketball coach Sean Miller.

As the coaching carousel has spun nationally for a few weeks now, the Wildcats are now a month and a week removed from their 2020-21 season ending at the conclusion of the regular season. At least publicly, nothing has changed regarding the NCAA’s Accountability Resolution Process of the program’s four Level I violations it was charged with in October 2020.

Heeke said he made the recommendation to fire Miller to University of Arizona president Robert Robbins.

“He agreed,” the AD said, adding the school did so without cause.

“Why now? These are difficult decisions. There is never a perfect time. Taking time to consider all factors … consulting with president Robbins, we just concluded it was time for a fresh start, so it was time to make a change.”

The decision was curious after Robbins this March suggested that he wanted the Accountability Resolution Process to completely play out.

Despite that process having an albeit brief history of lengthy outcomes, Heeke admitted on Wednesday that the length of the review process for any allegations — the first were referenced publicly in a February 2018 report by ESPN — played out “longer than any of us could have expected.”

However, the athletic director would not say Wednesday whether it was the on-court product or the off-court troubles that had a bigger hand in the Wildcats parting ways with Miller after he compiled a 302-109 (.735) record over the past 12 years.

Though he had three Elite Eight appearances since he arrived in 2009, Miller’s Wildcats hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament for three years due to a poor resume (2019), the coronavirus pandemic shutting down March Madness (2020) and a self-imposed penalty due to the NCAA violations (2021).

“Success is important. High success is important, again, both on and off the court,” Heeke said. “We are constantly evaluating that.”

Heeke would not say whether the Arizona Board of Regents, who ultimately sign off on contracts given to head athletic coaches, played a role in Arizona’s inability to extend Miller’s deal beyond 2021-22. As it stood, entering a contract year, Miller hit the recruiting trail after the regular season without the ability to assure players he would be coaching them beyond this coming year.

Now, interim coach Jack Murphy remains aboard with the task of re-recruiting players as a coaching search begins.

The Wildcats will hire a search firm, and Heeke said there are a number of “viable” former Arizona players who could be under consideration.

Heeke listed “leadership” and “integrity” as key traits but said there is not one profile the men’s basketball program will pursue in its next head coach.

Citing the women’s team’s run to the national title game this past week, he added that competing for Pac-12 titles and reaching Final Fours was the expectation.

“I think we need an outstanding leader. We need a person who can come in, a high-level basketball coach who understands how to run a program of a high level of success,” the AD said.

“I think it goes without saying this is a premier job in the country. It’s about finding the right person, right fit, right time,” Heeke added. “I think we’re looking at everyone that can bring something to the table.”

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