ANAHEIM, Calif. — There was a predictable voice on John Miller’s cellphone earlier this week, and it wasn’t John Miller’s.
“The voice mailbox … is full,” it said.
Of course. That’s what happens when two of the 16 remaining head coaches in the NCAA tournament are your sons, Sean Miller of Arizona and Archie Miller of Dayton.
Phones ring. Text messages ping. Hugs, backslaps and handshakes come in numbing waves.
It’s a blitz. A happy blitz.
“That’s pretty much the way it’s been,” John Miller said. “The phone’s been ringing off the hook all day.”
Finally, on Tuesday morning, the elder Miller had a chance to reflect on it all via telephone, as he and wife Barb drove from their home in the Pittsburgh area to Dayton, Ohio, where he was planning to rejoin the 11th-seeded Flyers (25-10) to their surprising Sweet 16 game against No. 10 Stanford (23-12) in Memphis. It was the trip he did not expect to be making, given it’s only Archie’s third year with Dayton.
Sean’s Wildcats (32-4), of course, are a much less of a surprise as the No. 1 seed in the West, where they’ll face No. 4 San Diego State (31-4) on Thursday in Anaheim.
Their programs are in different places, but the brothers do a lot of the same things that have allowed their teams to keep playing — a lot of things that John taught to them both as a legendary high school coach in the Pittsburgh area.
“We’re both the product of a great family but also our dad being who he is, not only a great high school coach but maybe one of the best ever, and also a great dad,” Sean Miller said. “It was that combination of so much time spent that he gave us an understanding of the game, a love of the game, and I think we’re probably both coaches because of that.”
Archie also had the benefit of learning as a player at North Carolina State, where Herb Sendek was the head coach and Sean was an assistant, and as an associate head coach at Arizona under Sean in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
They split after that season, with Archie taking the Dayton job, but remain tightly connected.
“To be honest, they’re very similar,” John Miller said of his sons. “Sean’s a little quieter when he’s intense, whereas Arch kind of wears his emotions on his sleeves a little more.
“They don’t quite have quite the same kind of player. But in terms of their preparation, the way they go about it on the court and in the hotel, they’re pretty similar. And Sean is more of a mentor to Arch, being 10 years older, so Arch sort of always has looked up to his big brother and now, as coaches, they keep tabs every day, talking and texting each other.”
The brothers are so close that Sean Miller elicted laughter in the Viejas Arena media tent when he suggested he would not offer Archie scouting tips on Stanford because the Cardinal is a member of the Pac-12.
“Of course, you know I’m not going to do that,” Sean said.
Whatever the case, the fact Sean and Archie have a chance to talk about their respective Sweet 16 games is something John Miller hardly expected. This season anyway. The still-rebuilding Flyers went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational, beating Gonzaga and Cal, but lost 5 of 6 games early in Atlantic 10 play.
Since then, Dayton won nine of 10 at the end of the regular season, went 1-1 in the A-10 tournament, and beat Ohio State and Syracuse in the NCAA tournament last weekend.
“They had a pretty good (nonconference), but you kind of knew for the first couple of league games that they would hit some bumps in the road,” John Miller said. “Once they got past that, they kind of found themselves and all of the sudden his schedule and RPI sort of carried them.
“I liked the draw against Ohio State because it was 6 and 11 (seeds), but Ohio State hasn’t been quite as powerful as they’ve been. Then (the Flyers) beat Syracuse, and that really put some zip into their whole program.”
Sean Miller, meanwhile, already had plenty of zip. Thanks in part to Arizona’s Elite Eight run in 2011, he was able to assemble three straight powerhouse recruiting classes that fueled the Wildcats’ 21-0 start, Pac-12 regular-season championship and a date in the Sweet 16 with the Aztecs.
“I just think Arizona is at a different sort of level in terms of the recruiting and whatnot, and Arch has to approach it a little differently,” John Miller said. “He went right down to the end with two big recruits, but one went to Michigan State and the other to Pitt, even though within a week of the signing period we thought we had them.
“It was the same thing at Xavier with Sean. But when they hit the Elite Eight (in 2008), all of a sudden the recruiting really took off. Sean was getting high priority guys. I think that’s sort of where Arch is at with Dayton.”
Of course, there are other reasons for Sean’s recruiting success.
“He’s been fortunate and very smart to surround himself with some high-quality assistant coaches,” John Miller said. Former UA associate “James Whitford, (and current associate head coach) Joe Pasternack — I thought that was a tremendous find because Joe’s an excellent recruiter. On top of that, your head coach has gotta be able to close the deal and Sean’s been able to do it. He has a great personality, and when you talk with him he identifies pretty well with the recruits.
“He’s been able to get into Southern Cal quickly, and now we’ve got a player from New Hampshire (Kaleb Tarczewski) and Pennsylvania (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) and now even Wilmington, N.C. (juco recruit Kadeem Allen). We have a pretty good recruiting base nationwide.”
John Miller speaks in “we” for both the Dayton and Arizona programs because, of course, he’s a part of both of them. He and Barb traveled to Maui with the Flyers in November, spent January and February in Tucson with the Wildcats and are now back with the Flyers.
They won’t be shuttling any farther this weekend, no matter who wins Thursday, not after all that in-season travel already.
“The fact that you guys are over there (Anaheim) makes it a lot tougher for us,” he said. “We’ll stick with these guys and hope Arizona makes the Final Four.”