Hansen column: UA grad Craig McMillan chooses bliss of home over big money of college coaching

2014-03-19T00:00:00Z Hansen column: UA grad Craig McMillan chooses bliss of home over big money of college coachingGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Five years ago next week, Tim Floyd flew surreptitiously from Los Angeles to Tucson and spent most of a day hiding out at UA president Robert Shelton‘s house.

Floyd was going to be Arizona’s next basketball coach; all he had to do was say yes.

In the end, the players he was about to abandon at USC tugged at his heartstrings, Floyd waffled, then turned down the chance to coach at the West’s showcase college basketball program.

This year Floyd coached UTEP to a 23-10 record and is preparing to play Fresno State in the CBI, whatever that is.

Don’t feel sorry for Tim Floyd — his salary at UTEP is $600,000 annually. In earlier coaching stops at Iowa State, USC and with the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets, he probably was paid more than $20 million.

Floyd is a coaching vagabond in a business of vagabonds. By sundown Tuesday, 21 NCAA Division I basketball coaches had been fired: at Auburn, Bowling Green, even IUPUI. The list will surely grow to 40 by April.

Ben Braun is out at Rice. Mike Dunlap is in at LMU. You might make a lot of money if you bet that Ernie Kent will be recycled and introduced as the new coach at Washington State.

The college basketball industry is Double F: fluid and fascinating.

Sean Miller, Arizona’s second choice behind Floyd, recently earned a $50,000 bonus for coaching the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular-season championship. He’ll get another $75,000 if Arizona wins twice this week and advances to the Sweet 16.

The man Miller will coach against in Friday’s NCAA tournament opener, Weber State’s Randy Rahe, operates on a $175,000-a-year salary, but even small-school Weber State has been caught in the Big Money game. Rahe signed a contract through 2019 that guarantees him a $100,000 bonus every July 1 if he remains a Weber Wildcat.

Everybody gets a piece of a very big financial pie in college hoops.

But it’s likely that few are happier and enjoy what they do more than Craig McMillan, who last week coached Santa Rosa Junior College to the California state championship.

It is a story with a very happy twist.

McMillan was the first blockbuster recruit Lute Olson signed at Arizona, a McDonald’s All-American who led tiny Cloverdale High School to the California CIF-III state championship.

At Cloverdale, he played for his father, John McMillan. The Eagles went 29-0. That was perfect times two. Craig used to refer to it as something out of the movie “Hoosiers.”

McMillan became part of Arizona’s 1988 Final Four team, a four-year starter who played defense and deferred to big-name shooters Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr. That would become “Hoosiers II.”

McMillan wanted to be like his dad, who found bliss coaching and teaching in small-town Cloverdale, which is just down the street from the Redwood Highway and even closer to the Russian River and some of the world’s greatest outdoor activities.

The quality of life there is off the books.

When Kevin O’Neill left Arizona’s staff to become the head coach at Marquette, and then Tennessee, the first guy he took with him was Craig McMillan. In a business that operates on the get-your-foot-in-the-door-and-you’ll-coach-forever theory, McMillan was set.

He spent seven years with O’Neill, reaching the 1994 Sweet 16, then became a head coach with professional teams in Lebanon and Kuwait. If you are Tim Floyd, and you chase the basketball dollar, you don’t look back. McMillan did.

He married his UA sweetheart, Cheryl Weir, and they had two sons, Jayson and John, named after Craig’s father. The two are now emerging stars at Cloverdale High. The pull to get back home, back to Cloverdale and the greater Santa Rosa area, was too great to resist.

So when the local junior college had a coaching vacancy in 2001, McMillan went home.

“I like where I’m at,” he told me. “I always wanted to come back here. I was kind of burned out by those 14-hour days, six and seven days a week, as a college and pro coach.”

Last summer, McMillan invited Olson and former teammates Tom Tolbert, Joe Turner and Craig Bergman to Cloverdale. They went fishing in nearby Albion, catching so many lingcod that they almost didn’t fit in the pickup.

It was much more fun that sitting in a gym watching high school prospects at another AAU tournament.

On Saturday night in Norwalk, Calif., McMillan coached SRJC to the state championship, beating San Bernardino Valley 73-67. Ninety-one teams were eligible for the title; McMillan’s Bear Cubs won it all.

He didn’t earn a $50,000 bonus nor did he get his picture on ESPN, but I suspect no basketball coach this month will enjoy the journey the way Craig McMillan did.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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