Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats are back in the headlines this week, thanks to some developments at the college basketball corruption trial ongoing in New York.
The biggest news surfaced Wednesday when recording played for jurors captured ex-UA assistant coach Book Richardson telling Christian Dawkins that Miller paid Ayton $10,000 a month while he was on campus.
Naturally, the allegations led to a wave of op-eds from Yahoo!, CBS, The Athletic and other major outlets, wondering what Arizona’s next move will be—or if the school will continue to let this drag on.
Here is what some of our editors and staff writers think the UA should/will do. Feel free to share your perspective in the comment section below.
Do the new allegations matter? Probably not. To those who want to support Sean Miller, Book Richardson is just a “convicted felon.” The fact that the convicted felon was Miller’s associate head coach and has been on Miller’s staff since his days at Xavier are all forgotten, and have no bearing on the matter from this viewpoint.
From the other view, they don’t matter, either. If they are true and 100 percent accurate of course, Miller needs to be fired. But even if they aren’t, Miller needs to go. Under NCAA rules, he is responsible for his staff and the state of the program. Multiple members of that staff have broken rules that have resulted in them being fired or pleading guilty to federal crimes. Even if Miller is only guilty of being a poor supervisor and leader, it’s enough for him to lose his job and it’s more than enough for the NCAA to slap Arizona with major sanctions.
Is he guilty of what Book claimed on the wire tap? None of us can say for sure. Is it likely that he at least knew that his assistant coaches were breaking rules that ranged from academic fraud to paying players? It’s difficult to believe that multiple assistants just happened to take it upon themselves to commit major NCAA infractions and he had no idea. Possible? I guess, but not likely.
And if it is the case that he had no clue whatsoever that all of this was unfolding in his program, how does the University trust him to continue to lead their cash cow when he’s been so utterly clueless about what was going on under his nose—not just with one assistant, but two or three?
There is not a single scenario that indicates Arizona’s best option is continuing along the same path. The landmines just keep exploding, and there’s no sign that the University is emerging from the minefield. There will never be enough evidence to convince what national media are calling the “true believers” among the Arizona fan base and, perhaps, even among the boosters.
It’s not reasonable to keep “monitoring the situation” when we already have all the information we need, though. If Miller knew, he should be fired for what he intentionally engaged in. If he didn’t know, he should be fired for failing to adequately monitor his staff and allowing this to happen. The NCAA is going to show up regardless; Arizona’s only option is to show that they’re working to clean up the mess. They should have done so almost 18 months ago.
The easy move would be to fire Miller and hit the reset button, but that would contradict everything the UA administration said in February when athletic director Dave Heeke gathered the media (at halftime of a game!) to reassert his support for Miller.
And why would the school’s stance be different now? Nothing has changed. There is still no hard evidence that directly connects Miller to paying Deandre Ayton or any other player.
Remember, independent attorney Paul Kelly declared in response to the initial ESPN report that there is “not a shred of evidence” that suggests Miller or Arizona paid Ayton, which “federal investigators and NCAA officials have acknowledged.”
The allegations from the wiretapped conversations between Richardson and Dawkins are only hearsay until proven otherwise.
If actual evidence is presented, then, yes, Arizona has to part ways with Miller immediately. At that point, the UA would look incredibly foolish for standing by him and letting this situation drag on as long as it has, costing the school hundreds of thousands of dollars and damaging the brand in the process.
At minimum, Miller has shown a lack of institutional control, as two of his assistants—Richardson and Mark Phelps—broke NCAA rules, which will likely lead to significant sanctions.
Is Miller a good enough coach to survive that? Arizona has only won two NCAA Tournament games in the last four years, so one could easily argue that he is not. But the UA thinks he is or else it would not be employing him.
Here is how I think this situation will be resolved: Arizona will stick with Miller, the 2019-20 team won’t live up to expectations, and the school will part ways with him after the season, citing the on-the-court struggles rather than the off-the-court trouble.
The 2019 recruiting class might be the only reason that didn’t happen this spring.
Now, if the 2019-20 squad makes a deep run in March, the calculus changes. In that case, assuming there are no new legal developments, Miller probably stays on board and the Wildcats would just have to embrace their status as college basketball’s villain.
Because as long as Miller is running the show, the Arizona brand will carry a negative stigma, fair or not.
Brian J. Pedersen
Much like the band on the Titanic, Arizona’s administration is willing to go down with the ship. And at this point there’s no reason to expect them to change their minds and shove Sean Miller out if the way trying to get those last seats on the lifeboat.
The knee-jerk reaction to each and every accusation against Miller is to cut bait and hope the NCAA will factor that into whatever they determine whenever they finish their investigation into Arizona (which could take years if their past efforts are any indication). But once you take a breath and really look at what’s come out, there’s still a lot of uncertainty.
The federal college basketball trial has included defendant Christian Dawkins testifying, and saying on tape, things about Miller. It’s also had tapes of former UA assistant Book Richardson saying things about Miller. But you know what it hasn’t had? Miller saying anything.
Remember, his connection to all this first surfaced in February 2017 when ESPN reported he was on tape with Dawkins. Yet no such tape has been played publicly anywhere.
Is that because it doesn’t exist? Who knows. One thing that’s for certain is that it wasn’t relevant to the bribery charges that Dawkins and Merl Code are on trial for, just like any testimony Miller could have given.
Will such a tape leak out after the trial? That’s entirely possible, and if that happens then all bets are off regarding Miller. For now, though, there’s no reason to get rid of him if Arizona didn’t feel the need to do so already.
I think we are the past the point of no return when it comes to Sean Miller, and it pains me to say that. Could there be new evidence that buries Miller? Maybe. Does the shady, borderline legitimate claims from conmen and people who made their living in an industry that is incredibly questionable help Miller’s case? Maybe. But when it comes down to it, I’m just sick of reading the same details that have been available for the last year or longer. I feel like I am stuck in some sort of twisted reality where I have to relive the same day over and over again.
Heeke and President Robert C. Robbins have already shoved all of their chips to the middle of the table, and look like they have no intention on folding, and that could be their downfall or their making when it comes to their time at Arizona.
Is there a part of me that just wants Arizona to cut ties with Miller and the dark cloud of negative PR and the seemingly tarnished identity that is Arizona basketball? Absolutely. Even if Miller survives this, every success that he and his teams have is always going to have snickers and snide comments following right behind it by the neutral viewer. Arizona, in the country’s eyes, is the dirty program that doesn’t care that it’s dirty, and even if that’s not true, I feel like that identity will not go away unless Miller does.
Even if Miller survives, his success might be limited down the road once the NCAA takes a look at proceedings and finally decides to hand out punishments. From first glance it looks like the classic case of lack of institutional control. And you can say what you want, but when you are a high-end Power-5 head coach, you don’t get there by not overseeing the smallest details of every aspect of your team and program.
Head coaches, especially Miller, are complete control freaks, and for Miller to try and plead that Book Richardson went rogue and started feeding money to players without Miller’s knowledge isn’t going to fly with me. Miller has his fingertips on everything that happens in McKale, his handful of hand-picked assistants and the 15 or so players that he coaches. If this was the case with Sumlin and the football team, I would give him a break since you have to oversee 15 or so coaches and about 100 players including another handful of staffers and advisors. That is a much larger operation than the basketball team, with many more moving parts and that’s where my perspective comes from.
I hope Miller is innocent as an Arizona student and fan, but my cynical side tells me that Arizona is hoping to get by on some technicalities and pray that the NCAA lets them off easier than they would since they have complied and cooperated throughout the entire process. All I know is that this is far from over and probably going to get much uglier.
I’ll keep this short. I’ve been seeing all the tweets about what’s happening with Sean Miller, the program, and it’s all tiresome.
President Robbins and Dave Heeke are riding or dying with Miller on this. Those two are in too deep at this point.
Until something concrete comes out that directly connects Miller to something, fans and higher ups within the university will probably await to see how the chips fall.
And no one knows if those chips will fall for or against Miller and the program. There’s so much talk of wiretaps and conversations that utter Miller’s name, but not his actual voice. Until a conversation or money trail is unearthed, school officials should remain on Miller’s side.
The program is taking hits, but I think those can be overcome (see 2019 recruiting class) as long as Miller is found not to have had his fingers dirty.