Xavier’s Miller headed to Arizona
Sean Miller of Xavier has accepted the head coaching job at Arizona, ending the Wildcats’ sometimes frustrating search for a high-profile replacement for Hall of Famer Lute Olson.
The university announced the hiring on Monday after a confusing few hours in which it was first reported by several media outlets that Miller had turned down the job.
The 40-year-old coach met with Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski and informed the school he was leaving after five years, then told the players in a meeting later in the afternoon.
“I did my best to follow my heart,” Miller said.
He was scheduled to be introduced Tuesday at a news conference in Tucson.
“It’s been an exhaustive week, but it’s a good day to be a Wildcat,” Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood said. “We believe we’ve brought in the best young coach in the country, a proven winner who will take this program into the future.”
University of Arizona president Robert Shelton called Miller “absolutely the right person to lead our program forward.”
Miller led the Musketeers to the Elite Eight last year and received a contract extension through the 2017-18 season. Xavier reached the round of 16 again this season.
The hiring came four days after Tim Floyd turned down Arizona’s offer and decided to remain at Southern California.
In an emotional farewell meeting at Xavier on Monday, Miller praised the Cincinnati school.
“I cannot say enough good things about this place,” he said. “It defines who I am to a large degree.
Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski called Miller “a terrific coach, a great friend.”
“He has helped bring us to the point where we are poised to be the very best we’ve ever been in our history,” Bobinski said. “We believe we are on the cusp of our greatest basketball ever.”
Miller indicated the chance to win a national title helped lure him to the Pac-10 school.
“I would never leave Xavier unless it was a place where I really felt you could win a national championship,” Miller said. “When I say that, it does not mean you can’t win one here. (Arizona) is a place that has done it before, and has a quarter century worth of excellence.”
Arizona won the NCAA championship under Olson in 1997 and has made three other trips to the Final Four.
In a news release, the university said terms of the contract would be available at Tuesday’s news conference. It is believed the school was offering at least $2 million per year and may have sweetened the proposal to seal the deal. Its announcement made clear that the money would come from “athletic department-generated revenue” and not from taxpayers or the school’s general fund.
Miller had a 120-47 record in five seasons at Xavier, guiding the team to the NCAA tournament four times. This year’s team went 27-8 and made it to the East Regional semifinals before falling to Pittsburgh.
He flew to Albuquerque, N.M., on Sunday to meet with Livengood and Shelton. Miller returned to Cincinnati later in the day aboard a private jet owned by an Arizona booster.
Miller will inherit a program with an elite reputation but short on talent because of its tenuous coaching situation.
Olson took a leave of absence in the 2007-08 season but planned to return last fall. Just before the season started, he retired for health reasons.
Russ Pennell took over as interim coach with the understanding that he would not be Olson’s permanent replacement. Pennell guided the team to a 21-14 record and the program’s 25th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
The Wildcats made a surprising run to the Midwest Regional semifinals before being routed by Louisville. Two prominent members of the team, juniors Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, are expected to leave for the NBA. Junior point guard Nic Wise also may turn pro.
That would leave Miller with a major rebuilding job because the program has essentially missed two recruiting seasons, not counting the current one.
Miller signed a 10-year contract extension with Xavier after the team went 30-7 and reached the regional finals in 2007-08. He was making $850,000 per year, but insisted money was not a factor in the move.
Miller was an assistant to Arizona State coach Herb Sendek and the two remain close friends. He was lead assistant to Thad Matta for three seasons at Xavier before taking over when Matta left in 2004.
AP sports writer Joe Kay and Associated Press writer Terry Kinney in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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