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The Sean Miller Decision: What Happened?

May 8th, 2011 News No Comments

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AK Murthy

For the Arizona fans following the saga that unfolded around Sean Miller and the head coaching position at the University of Maryland this weekend, it may be hard to make sense of everything that just happened. We were struck by a whirlwind of information and misinformation, to the point that very few people had any idea what was going on and media sources were reporting conflicting stories.

As soon as Gary Williams unexpectedly retired as the coach of Maryland on Thursday, Miller’s name was immediately thrown into the ring. Though many thought Miller could have a high level of interest in the job, it didn’t start becoming apparent until Friday that there was a very real chance he would take the job if offered.

In what seemed like no time at all, Miller was the lead candidate for the position at Maryland and almost everyone close to the Miller camp was saying that he would probably accept the job. The combination of his east coast ties and being able to pluck players from the coveted DC/Baltimore recruiting hotbed fueled the speculation that Miller was close to moving to his third school in four years.

By Friday night, most insiders were confident in saying that if Miller received an offer from Maryland AD Kevin Anderson, he would likely take it. And when news broke that Miller was meeting with Anderson in Las Vegas Saturday afternoon, many thought it was a done deal that he was gone.

ESPN Radio 980 in Washington reported Saturday morning that Miller was taking the job and would officially be announced on Monday. The story that Miller had secretly accepted the job trickled through the twittersphere and ignited the internet message boards. Since Anderson stated that he intended the coaching search to be swift, it began to look like Miller had accepted the job and the meeting between the two was merely a formality.

However, this was not accurate. Though he was indeed leaning towards the Maryland job on Friday, Miller had been going back and forth between accepting the offer and staying with what he built at Arizona on Saturday.

After Miller met with Anderson in Las Vegas, people still didn’t know what exactly came of the rendezvous. Some expected Miller to announce that he was taking the position later in the day, while some thought that no news was good news for Arizona fans. What was certain was that Miller wasn’t going to let the decision drag on. By 9:30pm on Saturday evening, a Greg Byrne tweet confirmed that Miller would indeed be staying at the University of Arizona.

So why did the media get it so wrong? To be fair, they really didn’t. Most insiders were convinced that Miller was a lock to take the job, and that’s what they were telling people. Miller had a genuine interest in the job and listened to the offer just like people thought he would. However, certain media outlets may have been premature in calling it official, because Miller’s mind definitely changed between Friday and Saturday night.

Why did it change? People speculated that he had built too much to leave after just two years and he couldn’t leave the current or incoming players, and both were certainly factors. But the biggest reason of all was contractual.

Miller was promised a number of items in his original contract that he had not yet received, most notably chartered flights for travel and recruiting purposes. For a program that recruits so much out of state, this was a necessity to recruit at the highest level possible, but it didn’t appear feasible with the way the UA athletic department was allocating funds.

And with Maryland having perhaps the best recruiting base in the country virtually within walking distance, his long term future might have been better as coach of the Terrapins. That is, until Greg Byrne stepped up to the plate and offered Miller what he had been lobbying for in the past. Though the details of Miller’s new contract have not been publicly specified, PGU has confirmed that the chartering of flights is no longer an issue and the Arizona staff will have access to what they need to build a championship caliber program.

While some may speculate that Miller only considered the Maryland offer to put pressure on Byrne and the athletic department and gain leverage in contract negotiations, that is not true. Miller had very genuine interest in the job, and it there was a very real chance that he would indeed take it.

If any leverage was gained, it was because Maryland’s offer made Byrne aware of Miller’s market value. If Miller didn’t have the tools he needed to build the program the way he wanted to, it was only a matter of time before he left. If he didn’t take the Maryland offer, he probably would’ve taken an even more lucrative offer that would undoubtedly come his way in the future.

But Byrne was smart enough to realize that securing Miller for the long haul was of the utmost importance, and he took a huge step in accomplishing that by keeping Miller in Tucson despite a very attractive school coming strong after him.

In just the span of 24 hours Arizona fans went from the verge of despair, teetering on the brink of college basketball oblivion, to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Arizona’s staff and recruiting efforts are intact instead of shattered, and fresh off a conference championship, they are poised to be the best basketball program in the west for the foreseeable future. In every sense of the phrase, the Wildcats basketball program dodged a nasty bullet.

What a difference a day can make.

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