In just five years as the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Arizona, Sean Miller has not only proven himself to be one of the elite coaches in all of college basketball, but has also successfully restored UA to its place among the premier programs in the game.
Highly respected by his peers as a member of the NABC Board of Directors, a rising talent on the international basketball landscape and a rallying figure for Wildcat fans, Miller has continuously showed elite abilities to evaluate talent, develop players toward the fulfillment of their potential and mold young men who represent the university with pride.
A bona fide winner at every level, Miller owns a 249-95 (.724) record in 10 years as a head coach, while attaining a 129-48 (.729) mark at Arizona and a 63-27 (.700) record in Pac-12 play. In 22 years on the collegiate sidelines, Miller’s teams have produced 19 winning seasons and averaged better than 20 wins per year. He also has a pair of gold medals with USA Basketball, one as a player and one as an assistant coach with the U.S. squad at the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
Miller has been a part of 13 NCAA Tournament teams as a player, assistant coach and head coach, including seven in his 10-year head coaching career. He has guided teams to five Sweet 16s and three Elite Eights, and owns a 14-7 (.667) record as a head coach in the NCAA Tournament.
Success at Arizona didn’t happen overnight, but is instead a product of a tireless first year of work that instilled a process of daily hard work and dedicated effort that has been followed by each member of the program since those early days.
From an initial team meeting that featured just six players, Miller worked exhaustively to build from within and fashion an attacking system in which defensive intensity and offensive cohesiveness form a relentless unit on both ends of the court.
Additionally, Miller has reestablished and rejuvenated recruiting ties that have aided the Wildcats in assembling four-consecutive recruiting classes that have each ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Arizona is averaging 25.8 wins per seasons under Miller’s guidance, best in program history for a coach with at least four years at the school. The Wildcats have reached the 20-win mark in four of Miller’s five seasons at the helm, including a pair of 30-win campaigns.
Two of the top-five single-season win totals in program history – 33 in 2013-14 and 30 in 2010-11 – have come under Miller’s direction. The Wildcats’ class of 2014 finished its tenure at UA with 113 wins, the second-best four-year run in program history.
Miller’s “A Player’s Program” philosophy has been a guideline that has tied together the program’s reemergence. Under the plan, everything that takes place within the program is geared toward three focal points: honoring the past players and coaches who laid the groundwork, ensuring that the current student-athletes have the best means and opportunities to maximize their potential, and attracting high-level prospective student-athletes who will embrace the challenge of building on the program’s storied tradition.
Though the first season of the Miller Era was trying, it didn’t take long for the larger benefits of that initial struggle to be felt within in the UA program.
The 2010-11 squad had a banner year by even the lofty standards of the Arizona program, winning 30 games, capturing the regular-season Pac-10 championship and roaring to the Elite Eight with convincing victory over top-seeded Duke in the regional semifinal.
The overall improvement of the program from year one to year two was personified by the rise of the forward Derrick Williams. A late addition to Miller’s first UA recruiting class, he garnered Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors in 2010 before blossoming into a consensus All-American and the conference Player of the Year as a sophomore.
Miller’s 2011-12 UA team win 23 games and earned a postseason berth in the NIT, securing back-to-back 20-win seasons for the Wildcats for the first time in five years. For the second-straight season, UA finished in the top five nationally in three-point field goal percentage defense and limited opponents to an average of 62.7 points per game, a figure that was, at the time, the lowest for the program in more than two decades.
The Wildcats placed three players on the All-Pac-12 teams following that season, as Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill garnered first-team recognition and Jesse Perry was an honorable mention honoree.
The 2012-13 edition of the Wildcats captivated the nation with its electrifying 14-0 start before tying for second in the Pac-12 and earning the second NCAA Tournament berth of Miller’s tenure. UA reached its second Sweet 16 under Miller, where it fell to Ohio State in a back-and-forth affair to finish with a 27-8 record.
Hill was rewarded for a stellar senior season with his second-consecutive inclusion on the All-Pac-12 first team and was joined by teammate Mark Lyons, who led the Pac-12 in free throw percentage in his lone season at UA.
With high expectations swirling around the program prior to the 2013-14 campaign, the Wildcats didn’t disappoint. Instead, UA turned in its finest season under Miller to date. Arizona finished the season 33-5, the second-best single-season win total in school history, claimed their 13th regular-season Pac-12 title, secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second Elite Eight of the Miller Era.
Miller’s charges won the Pac-12 regular-season title by three games in a tightly-contested year that saw just three games separate the second and ninth places in the league.
The Wildcats spent eight-straight weeks during the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, establishing a new program record for longevity in the top spot, and its No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament was a first for the program since 2003.
Arizona was a major factor in the national statistical rankings in 2013-14, ranking fourth nationally in field goal percentage defense (38.0), sixth in scoring defense (58.6) and ninth in rebound margin (+7.1). The 2013-14 squad was the first UA team to lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense since the school joined the conference in 1978, and its mark of 58.6 points allowed per game was the program’s best since the 1950-51 season.
In a tribute to both Miller’s pedigree and that of the coaching staff, the Wildcats established a program record with an average of just 10.2 turnovers per game and ranked 12th nationally with a 1.48 assist-to-turnover ratio.
As would be expected following a season of that caliber, individual accolades were forthcoming for numerous Arizona players. Foremost among that group was Nick Johnson, whose hard work and dedication paid off with a meteoric rise from all-conference-caliber player to first-team All-American, Pac-12 Player of the Year and a finalist for all three major national Player of the Year awards.
Aaron Gordon was rewarded for a thunderous rookie season with third-team All-America and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors, as well as first-team All-Pac-12 accolades. He was also one of six finalists for the Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Year award.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was honored as a member of the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team along with Gordon, while T.J. McConnell was a second-team All-Pac-12 performer. Both Johnson and McConnell were also named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team.
At Xavier, Miller helped mold Indianapolis product Justin Cage from a little-used freshman into a three-time All-Defensive Team selection in the Atlantic-10. While with the Musketeers, he also did the same for Justin Doellman and Derrick Brown, who went from seldom-used reserved to a first-team All-A-10 pick and the No. 40 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, respectively.
That track record has more than been extended during Miller’s time at Arizona, starting with a player who would go on to become the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Williams was considered to be the least prolific player in Miller’s first UA recruiting class. However, from the time he set foot on campus, Williams steadily improved to the point where he was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year following his first season. In 2010-11, his explosiveness and ferocity on the court made the nation take notice, and before submitting his name for the 2011 draft, he has consensus All-America honors and Pac-10 Player of the Year accolades to his credit.
Hill became the second member of that recruiting class to hear his name called during the first round of an NBA Draft when he did so in 2013. Hill steadily evolved from a role player as an underclassman to the Wildcats’ undisputed leader as a senior, finishing his career as one of the most statistically well-rounded players in program history.
Johnson followed a path similar to Hill’s, adding to his game each year before breaking out as one of the nation’s most versatile and explosive players as a junior in 2013-14. The first-team All-American nearly doubled his scoring average from his freshman year by the time he was a junior, and was taken 42nd overall by the Houston Rockets in the 2014 NBA Draft.
The Next Level
In a testament to the player-development prowess of Miller and his UA coaching staff, Williams became the first Wildcat drafted under Miller’s watch when he went No. 2 overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011. In just two years’ time, Williams went from the least heralded of Miller’s initial five-man recruiting class to matching Mike Bibby as the highest overall draft picks in Arizona history.
Williams was named to the NBA All-Rookie second team in 2012 and recently completed his third NBA season, where he currently plays for the Sacramento Kings.
The 2013 NBA Draft was a significant night for the UA program under Miller, as Hill became the 18th first-round pick in program history when the Indiana Pacers selected him 23rd overall. Grant Jerrett gave Arizona two picks in a single draft for the first time since 2009 when his name was called with the 40th overall selection.
Miller and the UA staff sent two more Wildcats into the NBA ranks via the 2014 draft, when Aaron Gordon was taken fourth overall by Orlando to become the second lottery pick of the Miller Era and Nick Johnson was chosen 42nd overall by Houston.
The first player to be drafted during Miller’s head coaching career came in 2009, when the Charlotte Bobcats made Brown a second-round pick.
Numerous players who have been part of Miller’s programs at both Arizona and Xavier have forged successful professional careers overseas. In 2014, Fogg was named Player of the Year in Finland after averaging 27.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for Lapua, while Doellman was named MVP of La Liga Endesa in Spain the same year.
Honors and Awards
Miller has been named Pac-10/12 Coach of the Year twice in the last four years, receiving the honor in both 2011 and 2014. Combined with his Atlantic-10 Coach of the Year honor in 2008, Miller has been a conference coach of the year three times in the last seven seasons.
His coaching peers in the NABC have also recognized Miller’s coaching prowess three times in his career, naming him District 10 Coach of the Year in 2008 and District 20 Coach of the Year in both 2011 and 2014. The 2014 season also saw Miller recognized by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) as its District IX Coach of the Year.
Prior to Arizona
Following one season in Madison, Miller spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio). During his time at Miami, Miller helped lead the Red Hawks to a 42-18 (.700) record, the 1995 MAC regular-season title, a 1995 NCAA Tournament appearance and a 1994 NIT berth. Miller spent the 1995-96 season as an assistant at his alma mater, Pittsburgh.
Starting with the 1996-97 season, Miller had a five-year term as an assistant coach at North Carolina State. During his tenure in Raleigh, NCSU made four postseason appearances, including a run to the 2000 NIT semifinals.
Miller made the move back to southwestern Ohio in 2001, joining the staff at Xavier as the program’s first-ever associate head coach. In three years as the top assistant on Thad Matta’s staff, Miller helped lead XU to a 78-23 (.772) record, two regular-season A-10 titles and a pair of A-10 Tournament championships. The Musketeers made the NCAA Tournament in each Miller’s three seasons as associate head coach, reaching the program’s first-ever Elite Eight in 2004.
Miller took over as Xavier’s head coach prior to the 2004-05 season and proceeded to embark on one of the best five-year runs in program history. Miller led XU to a 120-47 (.719) record, winning at least 25 games in each of his last three seasons at the helm. The Musketeers captured three A-10 regular-season crowns and one conference tournament title during the Miller Era, while making four NCAA Tournament appearances that yielded two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight run.
In total at Xavier, Miller helped the school post a 198-70 (.739) record, make seven NCAA Tournament appearances and win seven conference titles (four regular season/three conference tournament). His 120 wins as XU’s head coach still rank third on the program’s career list for coaching victories.
Focus on the Total Person
In Miller’s 10 seasons as a college head coach, all 29 players who have completed their eligibility under his direction have earned their college degrees. Sixteen of those graduates came during his time at Xavier, and he has helped 13 players earn their degrees in five years at Arizona.
Under Miller’s watch, Arizona has also experienced Academic Progress Rate (APR) success, as evidenced by its most recent multi-year score of 984, which reflects the first four years of Miller’s tenure. The Wildcats produced single-year APR scores of 1,000 in both 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Part of Miller’s philosophy is also centered on community involvement and giving back to those who support the UA program. To that end, the Wildcats have been frequent visitors to Diamond Children’s Hospital at the University of Arizona Medical Center during Miller’s tenure, as well as taking part in activities with other local organizations.
Miller has also been active in the annual Coaches Charity Challenge, competing against other coaches across the nation for votes to raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona.
The International Stage
In June 2014, Miller served as an assistant coach with U.S. Men’s U18 National Team at the FIBA Americas Championship, helping lead the United States to a gold medal and a place in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship. During that tournament, Miller helped mentor current Wildcat Stanley Johnson to tournament MVP honors and his third international gold medal.
In 2013, Gordon claimed tournament MVP honors at the FIBA U19 World Championship after leading Team USA to a gold medal. Current Arizona forward Brandon Ashley was also invited to the team trials for that U19 National Team squad.
Miller got his USA Basketball coaching start in 2011, when he was a court coach at the USA Basketball Men’s World University Games Team training camp.
Miller’s first gold medal with USA Basketball came as a player in 1991, when he helped propel the U.S. to gold in men’s basketball at the World University Games in Sheffield, England.
Miller helped lead the Panthers to the 1988 Big East regular-season title, as well as three NCAA Tournament appearances. He was an integral part of one of the most famous plays in college basketball history, delivering the assist to Jerome Lane for “The Dunk,” which Bill Raftery immortalized with the phrase, “Send it in, Jerome!”
A member of the Pitt All-Centennial Team that was convened in 2005, Miller currently ranks 18th on the program’s career scoring chart with 1,282 points. He also ranks 10th on the NCAA Division I free throw shooting list at .885 and stands third on the Big East’s career assists chart (744).
He served as the Panthers’ team captain for the 1991-92 campaign.
A legend at Blackhawk High School in the Pittsburgh area, Miller was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League Hall of Fame in June 2012.
The Miller File
Career Record: 249-95 (.724)