The Sean Miller era at Arizona came to an end on Wednesday when the school announced it was parting ways with its men’s basketball coach after 12 seasons.
While the move wasn’t particularly surprising, that it happened more than five weeks after the Wildcats played their final game of the 2020-21 season is. About 50 Division I jobs have opened up this offseason, many of which came open and got filled between the time the UA lost at Oregon on March 1 and it decided to move on from Miller.
School president Dr. Robert C. Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke have released statements about the decision to part ways with Miller, citing a need for a “fresh start.”
Heeke expounded further on the move, speaking with reporters via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon. Below is a rundown of what the UA AD had to say. The full presser can be watched at the bottom of this story.
On why the decision was made now: “Why now? These are difficult decisions. There’s never a perfect time. But after the conclusion of the season, taking some time to evaluate all the factors, considering that very closely, having the appropriate conversations, and consulting with President Robbins, we just concluded it was time to for a fresh start, so it was time to make a change. Ultimately that decision was made late last evening or early this morning, prior to arriving at the office and meeting with Coach Miller.”
On what factors went into the decision: “We’re evaluating the overall position of the program, and that includes on court and off court elements to it. And then when you step back and evaluate where the program is, we have incredibly high standards to be a program that has success at all levels, on and off the court. When we evaluated it, at this point in time, we feel like it’s the appropriate time to make a change, so that we can again restore, begin to rebuild, the overall high-caliber status of this incredible world-class basketball program. We have very high standards for our basketball program, for all of our programs here. Alignment with the you know the values of this university. Success is important, high performance is important, again, both on and off the court. And we’re constantly evaluating that. We have been, on the competitive side, probably as successful as we’ve wanted, but there are a number of factors that impact that. As we look at those in totality, we make an evaluation. And today, as we stand, it’s time for a change in that direction, and a change in leadership is the first step.”
On if a contract extension was considered, and if the Arizona Board of Regents had a say in the decision to terminate: “Extension was one of those factors and something we considered. I’m not going to speak on behalf of the board or for the board in any way. We considered those things and we got to the point where we felt that it was best to move forward and change direction of our leadership.”
On the timeline to find a successor: “Jack Murphy is our interim head coach, he will navigate the program with the support of the current staff through our search period. We will be in an active search, and it’s an optimal time to find a new head coach. We will move forward with that. We’ll move swiftly and hire someone as quickly as we possibly can. We’ll be going at it 24/7.”
On the overall expectations for the program: “Our expectations and our desire is for our program to be at the national level. To compete for championships here in this conference, an outstanding basketball conference, obviously, as was showcased this year in the NCAA Tournament. Yes, the expectation is to be a nationally caliber program that can compete to be in the Final Four. That’s what we want to do. We just saw our women’s basketball program do that, it was a remarkable run by Coach Barnes and our women’s program, that’s the type of run we want to be on in this men’s program as well. Very high standards. We’re one of the best programs in the country. One of the most respected programs in the country. We want to compete at that level as well.”
On if Adia Barnes’ recent success, and the early impressions of new football coach Jedd Fisch impacted the decision: “Our men’s, women’s basketball program and football are distinct in their own way. I don’t think there’s a linkage to it. Our programs across the board are doing great things, we want all of our programs to do that. We’re looking forward to the future. The timing is what it is, and we need to move forward in our men’s basketball program.”
On if Arizona will look to stay within the Arizona ‘family’ for its next coach, as Indiana, Michigan and North Carolina have all recently done: “There’s certainly some incredibly outstanding individuals that are in the game of basketball that have had a huge impact on our program here, and continue to do that throughout the coaching ranks. I would assume that they would be very viable candidates for this. There’s been those that have stayed in (the family) and those that have done it differently. I think it’s inspiring what they’ve done. Each place is unique in its own way, has its own unique circumstances. The moment, the time, the individuals that are connected to it begin to dictate or begin to lead you in a direction.”
On the importance of head coaching experience for the new coach: “I think we’re looking at everyone that can bring something to the table. I think there are outstanding head coaches, that are sitting head coaches, that have had head coaching experience. At the same time, I think there are outstanding assistants who have been parts of programs that are excellent, that bring a lot to the table. It’s about looking for the right fit, finding where we really need to go, and then developing that plan with those ultimate candidates, kind of seeing, is that the right plan? Is that where we want to go together in a partnership, as an athletic department to support a program? And whether that’s a head coach or an assistant, we will get the right person.”
On the ideal characteristics of the next coach: “I think we need an outstanding leader. A high-level basketball coach that understands how to run a program of success in this day and age of basketball. But we need a person that can lead the program with great integrity. That’s what this program this athletic program is about, and we look forward to attracting that kind of individual. Be the leader of our student-athletes. We need someone who understands the full college experience and wants to help our student-athletes grow. At the same time, student-athletes come here in all of our sports want to compete at the very highest level and beyond, beyond the college level. So, we want you know people that come in and have those aspirations and we want a head coach that can design a program for that. This is a world-class basketball program, tremendous history, that goes back many many years, and we need someone who can embrace that and help vault us going forward.”
On making a change while under NCAA investigation: “We’ve continued to let the NCAA investigation process play out. And quite frankly it’s played out far longer than any of us could have expected. The timing of that process does not preclude my continual evaluations of the program, and the very high expectations we have for it. I think we’ve been very clear, we’ve wanted to allow the process to go as long and as far as it can. That doesn’t mean that, along that timeline, that we aren’t continually reviewing our program and the status of that program. On, off the court, all of the issues around a major college basketball program. And so the while those are factors, those are just some of the factors. We feel like we’ve allowed that process—we didn’t think it would take this long. But at this point we need to move forward. We think that’s best for a fresh start, and that’s best for everyone involved.”
On if the investigation could impact interest from top candidates: “I think that experienced candidates that will come into this pool and evaluate this job will understand the process and understand what the ultimate outcomes will be. We’ll still have the opportunity to attract and design a package and a contract with a coach that will be very acceptable.”
On what was said to the players: “I don’t think I’m going to get directly into the specifics of that meeting. We had our coaches there as well as our student-athletes and some other members of the staff around the program. These are difficult times, it’s a challenging time when you have to make a change. This is part of the adversity, but to stay focused, that we will move quickly, we will hire an outstanding coach. Our goal is, again, to help them with their experience here, in all facets of their college experience and beyond. We want them to meet their goals. We want them to play for championships. We want them to excel at a high level, and so I told them that we are 100% committed to that and we will go out and find an excellent new head coach for this program.”
On how Miller took the news, and if he was caught off guard: “Sean was, as always, very professional and respectful. They’re difficult conversations but he was, again, professional and very respectful. I’m not going to specifically talk about the contents of our meetings. As I mentioned before, every time I’ve been with Sean, he’s an incredibly respectful and professional person, and that was no different today, or any of the previous meetings that we have had. And we have talked through the time, this time period.”