Sean Miller may have only one year left on his contract, but his boss made it clear Monday he wants him to stick around and keep coaching the Wildcats in 2021-22.
During a weekly news conference that mostly concerns COVID-19 issues, UA president Robert Robbins said he met with Miller last week and wanted to “continue to make progress and keep our team together” while the school awaits a resolution to its still-pending NCAA infractions case.
Robbins did not say if he would move to extend Miller’s contract, which would make the Wildcats’ recruiting and retention easier, but he is not expected to while the Independent Accountability Resolution Process is still handling UA’s case.
An extension would have to be approved by the Arizona Board of Regents at a time when Miller’s program is facing multiple allegations of academic misconduct and improper recruiting.
“I’m not sure what the timing is going to be but we hope as soon as possible that we can get past this as a university, that coach Miller, his family and his basketball program can move forward,” Robbins said. “You know, he’s out there recruiting. I think signing day is coming up soon. We’ve got a really good team. They’re young.
“And we’re eager to move forward and get the final chapter of this now almost four-year saga over. But coach Miller is our coach.”
Arizona’s issues began in September 2017, when FBI’s investigation into college basketball became public, but the NCAA investigation into Arizona didn’t begin until 2019 after the ensuing federal proceedings took place.
The NCAA’s investigation ended in October 2020, when it issued a Notice of Allegations to Arizona, but the process was further drawn out when Arizona requested it move off the NCAA’s standard resolution track to the IARP, which is mostly made up of investigators, attorneys and executives not involved in NCAA sports.
Arizona’s case was accepted in December, and Robbins said he still hasn’t heard from it. The IARP already had cases from four other schools when Arizona’s was accepted and it has not finished one yet.
A new alternative to the NCAA’s standard resolution track that was created from a recommendation by a commission that reviewed college sports in the wake of the FBI investigation, the IARP first takes an accepted case into its system and assigns a “Complex Case Unit” of independent investigators and attorneys.
The CCU can then accept the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations fully, add or subtract allegations, or rip it up and start completely over.
Even though the IARP’s final decision does not allow for an appeal, it will give UA due process beforehand.
“We’re very eager to find out all of those allegations,” Robbins said. “We have not heard from the IARP and there’s no appeals process, but we will have a chance to address the new notice of allegations that will come from the IARP.
“It’s an ongoing investigation. They have the ability to go back and re-investigate this case and they could have new findings and we just have to wait and find out what the final word is gonna be. They could also eliminate some of those allegations ... that came in the current (NCAA-produced) notice of allegations. They could be reduced.”
Arizona refused to release the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations for four months before a court ordered it to do so last week. The Wildcats were charged with five Level I (most serious) violations, along with three Level II (including two involving the UA swimming and diving program) and one Level III violation.
Robbins and UA athletic director Dave Heeke were also listed under aggravating factors for having “compromised the integrity of the investigation.”
The NCAA said on or about Oct. 1, 2017 — about a week after Richardson was arrested and the FBI made public its investigation into college basketball — that Heeke and his head of compliance discussed and drafted “talking points related to the external and NCAA investigations that demonstrated from the outset a lack of commitment to cooperation and acceptance of responsibility.”
In addition, the NCAA alleged that on May 20, 2019, that UA’s outside counsel and UA’s head of compliance — at Robbins’ direction — conducted an unrecorded interview with Richardson without first notifying the NCAA enforcement staff “despite being engaged in a collaborative investigation and knowing Richardson was a key individual the enforcement staff wanted to interview.”
Those allegations were among the 10 “aggravating factors” listed that could push UA’s case into the most serious Level I aggravated category, in which the Wildcats would be facing a postseason ban between two to five years if the charges hold up. A standard Level I case would merit only a 1-2 year ban, which is consistent with Arizona’s self-imposed one-year ban this season.
Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who represents schools with NCAA cases, said the NCAA enforcement staff clearly presented the case as Level I aggravated, noting that “the enforcement staff has also promoted the narrative of UA being institutionally uncooperative, or even somewhat deceptive, during the investigation.”
There is no time limit for the CCU, other than the rough “case management plan” that is agreed on at the outset. Once the CCU is done, the case moves to the IARP Independent Resolution Panel and a hearing is set. The resolution panel is made up of 15 people with legal, higher education and/or sports backgrounds, with five of them assigned to any one case.
“Every case is going to be different,” said Naima Stevenson Starks, the NCAA’s VP for hearing operations. “Having that case management plan as opposed to boxing anything into legislative timelines is a real reflection that this process is different.”
Meanwhile, Miller is heading into a spring signing period that begins on April 14 searching for one or two players, depending on how many losses the Wildcats have, and a summer recruiting period when he will be chasing high school players in the classes of 2022, 2023 and 2024.
Miller may not need many players in the short term because many of his current ones are expected to stick around for a year or two. But with his contract expiring in May 2022, he could face a challenge telling high school players he’ll be around to coach them in 2022-23 or 2023-24.
Robbins indicated he wants to help Miller get it done anyway.
“We want to move forward, continue to make progress and keep our team together, give him the ability to go out and recruit players and plan for next year,” Robbins said. “We’re gonna be playing basketball in six months. It’s hard to believe. But it’s a constant recruiting process. He’s recruiting high school juniors now and he’s starting to think about recruiting sophomores in high school.
“So it’s a complex process. Once we hear from the IARP, which unfortunately I think is going to be many weeks if not months away, then we can move forward with responding to these new allegations and finally find out what is the final verdict in this very long, very taxing, complex and very sad chapter in the history of the University of Arizona.”
A history of what Sean Miller has said about the federal investigation
Oct. 3, 2017
Miller issues a statement saying he is “devastated” to learn of the allegations made against assistant coach Book Richardson, who was arrested the previous week as part of the federal investigation into college basketball corruption.
“As the head basketball coach at the University of Arizona, I recognize my responsibility is not only to establish a culture of success on the basketball court and in the classroom, but as important, to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance. To the best of my ability, I have worked to demonstrate this over the past eight years and will continue to do so as we move forward.”
Oct. 5, 2017
Miller reads from a prepared statement saying he fully supports investigations into the allegations against Richardson.
“As that investigation proceeds, I’ll continue to work hard and enforce a culture of compliance in our organization, just like I have for the last eight years. ...
“I’ll also continue to work hard at the University of Arizona to bring us the most successful basketball season we can have this year.”
March 1, 2018
Miller addresses an ESPN report that he discussed a $100,000 payment to top prospect Deandre Ayton. Reading from a statement, a defiant Miller says he is “sickened that we are in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons,” and calls the ESPN report “inaccurate and completely false.”
“Contrary to what has been written this past week, we do our very best to run a clean program at the University of Arizona. I have done that since the first day I stepped on this campus. Compliance with NCAA rules is extremely important to us and we work hard to create, maintain and monitor a culture of compliance within our program.
“I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program. I have never paid a recruit or prospect or their family or representative to come to Arizona. I never have and I never will. I have never arranged or directed payment or improper benefits to a recruit or prospect or family or representative and I never will. …
“Let me be very, very clear: I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona. In fact, I never even met or spoke to Christian Dawkins until after Deandre publicly announced he was coming to our school. Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false and defamatory. I’m outraged by the media statements that have been made and the acceptance by many that these statements were true. There was no such conversation. These statements have damaged me, my family, the university, Deandre Ayton and his incredible family. The only attempted corrections by the original source of the media statements are still inaccurate and completely false. …
“I also want you to know that the one time someone suggested to me paying a player to come to the University of Arizona, I did not agree to it. It never happened and that player did not come to the University of Arizona. Out of respect for this ongoing investigation and the privacy of the student-athlete and his family, I’m not going to share further details concerning this matter.”
Miller praises UA president Robert C. Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke for their support, and says he has been “open and transparent” with them.