Going home is such a pleasing concept that since 1986 at least seven music groups released albums that included the song “No Place Like Home.” Randy Travis did it. So did Subterranean Masquerade. Big Country had an album with that name.
In 2002, Barbara Samuel wrote a novel called “No Place Like Home.” Not to be outdone, Mary Higgins Clark wrote her own “No Place Like Home” book in 2005.
Over the last 35 years, there have been at least 10 TV films titled “No Place Like Home,” including episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Rugrats.”
But as far as I know, only one person, Thomas Wolfe, wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
Since the April day, 2009, that Sean Miller accepted a $1 million bonus to become Arizona’s basketball coach, Tucsonans have worried about the “going home thing.”
Sooner or later, the Pitt coaching job was going to be available and on that great and dreadful day, the point guard from Pitt was going to have to choose between No Place Like Home and You Can’t Go Home Again.
You might’ve saved a lot of worry by remembering that Miller said “I’m here for the long haul” five years ago. That was after a weekend fling with Maryland, which, to Miller’s credit, he returned to Tucson, stepped in front of a media audience and ate humble pie.
Lots of coaches go home again.
In 2003, Kansas’ Roy Williams, who had grown up in North Carolina and served on Dean Smith’s Tar Heels staff for 11 years, left one of the Big Four jobs in college basketball to go home.
In 1989, Ohio State coach Gary Williams, a former Maryland point guard, left the Buckeyes to coach his alma mater Terrapins.
Both have since won NCAA championships on their home turf.
I suspect that’s why Miller chose not to return to Pitt. At 47, in the prime of his career, he has four times coached teams to the Elite Eight. He is one agonizing step shy of basketball’s paradisiacal glory.
The path to paradise is much shorter from Tucson than it is from Pittsburgh.
As the coach at Xavier and Arizona, Miller’s average season record is 25-9. That’s precisely what Arizona was this season. Average, get it? At Arizona, 25-9 is middlin’.
In college basketball, Arizona rules the 1,600 miles west of Lawrence, Kansas, to the Pacific Ocean. By comparison, Pitt plays in a conference with Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville, Virginia, Miami and Notre Dame.
Pitt isn’t going to rule anything there. It isn’t going to out-coach anyone, either.
Granted, ACC Hall of Fame coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino are nearing the final days of their careers, but if Arizona continues to spend time in the top 10 every season, a better job than the one at Pitt will inevitably manifest itself.
If Carolina or Louisville comes knocking, Tucsonans are apt to discover there is an expiration date on Miller’s “long haul” pledge.
Gonzaga’s Mark Few declined a chance to coach the Oregon Ducks in his hometown of Eugene, Oregon. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins left Kansas State to return to his alma mater.
I believe that Ohio State is one of the few jobs that would turn Miller’s head. The recruiting turf in Ohio is so fertile that you don’t have to fly to Georgia in midseason to get a commitment from a five-star player like Kobi Simmons, as Miller did last month.
Do that for 10 years and you’re running on fumes.
As a 1988 freshman at Pitt, on a team that rose as high as No. 2 in The Associated Press poll, Miller got an education that went beyond readin’ and writin’. The Panthers climbed to power because coach Paul Evans recruited the territory as well or better than old Big East powerhouses Georgetown and Villanova.
The ’88 Panthers had two starters from Pittsburgh, Miller and Darelle Porter. Another, Jerome Lane, is from Akron, Ohio. Distance from Pitt: 100 miles. Star big man Charles Smith is from Bridgeport, Connecticut, or about 400 miles east. That’s closer than it is from Tucson to Los Angeles.
Demetreus Gore, another key starter on that team, is from Detroit. Distance: 250 miles. That’s about the same as Tucson to Prescott.
Miller learned early that it’s all about recruiting.
Pitt hasn’t been able to consistently match its 1980s recruiting success. The competition got better and Evans was pushed out. But the population density of the ACC’s footprint remains the most coveted recruiting region in the country.
The problem is that Pitt has to stand in a long line to get those top prospects now.
One of the reasons Miller toyed with the idea of coaching Maryland in 2011 is because the greater Baltimore area is teeming with prospects. But since that time, Miller has grown Arizona’s recruiting boundaries so effectively that there are no boundaries.
He doesn’t have to go home to win the Big One.