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The problem with Sean Miller

There’s no question there are problems in Sean Miller’s background. Should Xavier fans care?

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NCAA Basketball: Grambling State at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There is no question that Sean Miller is the best coach available in the nation right now. That’s why his name is the one that is appearing in every coaching search and is the first mentioned for every vacancy. In a purely basketball sense, there is no argument that any other coach available, and very who aren’t, are better than Sean Miller. That would be compelling if pure basketball were the only thing that mattered here, but it isn’t.

The reason that Sean Miller is available is that he was caught doing an awful lot of things that he shouldn’t have been. Any time you can Google a coach and an FBI investigation comes up, things have gone wrong somewhere. In case you need a quick primer, here one is, cribbed from Wikipedia:

Emanuel “Book” Richardson, an Arizona assistant since 2009, was among the individuals arrested and indicted in 2017. He was alleged to have met with agent Christian Dawkins and others in June 2017, agreeing to accept a $5,000 bribe to steer Arizona players to Dawkins’ sports management company, and was also charged with accepting an additional $15,000 in bribes and paying at least one recruit to commit to the university.Richardson was suspended on September 26, the day after his arrest, and formally fired on January 23, 2018

Nassir Little, also a five-star recruit, cited the investigation as his reason for deciding against attending Arizona. On a wiretap that was played during the trial Merl Code claims that Arizona offered $150,000 for Little

None of that is good, and all of it happened when Miller was in charge. That’s not all though, and it doesn’t get better.

On February 23, 2018, FBI wiretaps reportedly showed that head coach Sean Miller had discussed with Dawkins about paying Deandre Ayton $100,000 to facilitate Ayton’s commitment to the University of Arizona, with the monetary situation being dealt with directly to him

On March 1, Miller made his first public comments since the reporting on the wiretaps, in which he unequivocally denied any involvement in payments to players. ESPN reported that Miller would coach the team that night against Stanford, with Miller confirmed to remain the coach for Arizona throughout the rest of this season, as well as a bit further beyond that. (In part because of the continued corruption investigation, Miller would eventually be fired by Arizona in April 2021.)

In case you don’t want to read the blockquotes, that very clearly alleges that Sean Miller was involved in the payment of players. AZCentral wrote a great article detailing the entire situation. The pull quote, “The 22-page document says Miller, as head coach, is presumed responsible for five of the allegations and “did not demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance and monitored his staff within the basketball program,” pretty well lays it out.

Miller faces an unknown penalty at this point. “Other than his Level I charge for a lack of head coach responsibility, Miller was not otherwise directly named in any of the violations. The NCAA enforcement staff did not list a show-cause penalty as a possibility but it and the CCU said a hearing panel “could prescribe head coach restrictions” against Miller.”

That’s essentially it. Miller still faces punishment that could range from a game to a year. While it seems likely it will be on the lower end, that’s something that any potential employer will have to deal with. He’s also definitely linked with paying recruits at Arizona. For what it is worth, Edmond Sumner was also allegedly paid $7000 in the same scheme. You can decide whether you think anyone at Xavier knew about that.

If the way the program wins matters, Sean Miller will likely need to make some sort of statement assuring this won’t ever happen again. If keeping a program clean of every whiff of impropriety matters to Xavier Nation, Sean Miller brings them a conundrum to wrestle with. If character matters, there’s an argument that Miller’s are compromised. (An argument made, again, by the FBI.)

Morally, this doesn’t rise to the level of Pitino, Altman, Stubblefield, Wade, or Dave Bliss. Sean Miller isn’t a bad person because he may have paid a recruit or two, he’s just a dude who broke the rules to win the game. That happens at every level of the sport from likely every NCAA DI program in some form or another, all the way down to AAU.

The problem with Sean Miller is that he brings the issue to Xavier’s doorstep. Never before have the Musketeers had to deal with the idea that their coach was the one who cheated or that their coach had been caught on wiretap talking about doing something specifically prohibited by the rules.

Sean Miller is the best coach available. Whether he is the best coach for Xavier is largely a matter of personal opinion.