Tucson Twitter went from blindly supporting everything Sean Miller touched to, in a matter of weeks, calling for the man’s job. I won’t lie, I partook. But realistically, just how hot is Sean Miller’s seat?
Looking at Miller’s career, scandal aside, the results he’s getting now are nowhere near as high in the first few years of Miller’s career. It’s nowhere near where it should be. However, is it unfair to judge Miller on such a small sample size?
Miller’s first season was the first in 25 years in which the Wildcats didn’t dance in March (meaning played in the Tournament whether the appearance was vacated or not). However, the next year, the ‘Cats trounced Duke in the Sweet 16, and it felt like UA never missed a step.
Miller’s second season took a step back in the program’s progression to where maybe the university needed to be in order to fully transition between seemingly lifer basketball coaches. The ‘Cats lost in the first round of the NIT.
Nick Johnson burst onto the scene in Miller’s third season and ushered in a resurgence of Wildcat excellence. Johnson’s first season culminated in a Sweet 16 appearance. With Johnson came the transfer of TJ McConnell, who took the ‘Cats to back-to-back Elite Eights. The two Elite Eight appearances courtesy of McConnell brought Miller to the Elite Eight in 50% of his first six seasons at Arizona.
After the departure of McConnell as after his senior season, the ‘Cats transitioned to a model of sustained success at the cost of tournament success. UA has won both the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournament in two of the past three seasons. However, Arizona has also been unable to survive the first round of the tournament in two of the past three seasons, as well.
To first analyze whether or not a coach should be fired or not, the standard of excellence — What did Lute Olson win to establish Arizona as an elite program? He won conference regular season titles. He consistently won 24+ games while playing in the incredibly competitive Pac-10. He also broke through the Elite Eight to the Final Four.
While Sean Miller is doing that, what Coach Olson didn’t do is win conference tournaments. Miller is already only one conference title behind Olson despite being light years behind in everything else.
The difference between Miller and Olson is conference tournament success against national tournament success. Does winning the conference tournament excuse losing in the first round of the NCAA one?
That answer should be no. The final goal of any major basketball program should be sustained dominance on the conference level and, year after year, winning games in March.
Miller has delivered on both, but he hasn’t been able to do it all at a time. Miller needs to continue to be dominant in the regular season and compete for the regular season title year after year. Miller’s teams need to be a favorite to win the conference tournament every year.
Finally, elite programs don’t consistently lay eggs come March and embarrass themselves. Neither can the University of Arizona. Sean Miller’s teams have used up their early exits and need to produce a banner.
Miller’s been getting Arizona close to the elite level. It almost feels like Wildcat nation has been teased. That’s why there have been calls for Miller’s job. Add a few more early exits and those calls might have some validity.
Another reason to be skeptical about firing Miller is his replacement. Who better could the athletic department get? The next great round of coaches, such as Chris Mack, were just hired, so it’ll be another few years before the next great coach reveals himself.
Based on all the info, Miller’s seat isn’t yet hot, but it’s pre-heating. Arizona is still a trophy hunt behind the likes of Kansas, Duke, and North Carolina, but that’s not how it should be. The ‘Cats need to do better, and Arizona fans deserve better. The next few years better bring with them national success, and maybe a trophy.