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Copyright 2018 The Arizona Daily Star. All Rights Reserved.

Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)


UA officials spent five tense days in a bunker with Arizona coach Sean Miller late last season. Friday, they made it publicly clear how they exited: together.

In a move that appeared to be largely symbolic, considering Arizona can fire Miller and completely withdraw his $4.1 million longevity bonus in many cases of wrongdoing, the Arizona Board of Regents approved a $1 million reduction in longevity funds if Miller is charged with a crime or found to have committed a major NCAA violation.

UA President Robert Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke said it was a move to demonstrate a united commitment to the program, which has been a subject of the federal investigation into college basketball and of a Feb. 23 ESPN report that said Miller allegedly discussed paying a recruit $100,000.

"We'll only know the end of this when all these investigations are over," Robbins said after the measure was approved. "This is a firm commitment on both our part and coach's part that we're supporting him."

Miller did not coach the Wildcats in their Feb. 24 loss at Oregon, one day after the ESPN report was released, and spent four more days away from the team while UA officials spoke with him. He returned on March 1 after stating he had "done nothing wrong."

Heeke declined to say when the idea hatched of taking away $1 million in longevity funds if Miller was found guilty of wrongdoing, but said both sides discussed how to move forward before Miller returned on March 1.

Heeke said Miller agreed to sit out the Oregon game "to make sure the focus was on the basketball team" while the two sides talked.

"It was a conversation between human beings saying, 'What's the right thing to do?'" Heeke said. "There wasn't some aggressive give-and-take where someone has to win. We're all in this together and I think too often people want to make these win or lose."

Miller was not at the regents meeting and was not available for comment. Heeke said both sides wanted to "illustrate our strong position," with Miller agreeing to the potential $1 million penalty.

"Sean was supportive of putting a hard marker on the table, saying 'I'm willing to stand behind this,'" Heeke said. "This was moving forward together as partners and representing our university and our basketball program."

ESPN is standing behind its report, though it has changed the timeline of the alleged discussion several times, from 2017 to fall 2016 and back to 2017. ESPN quoted sources familiar with federal evidence, though that evidence remains sealed.

"We deal with the information we have on the table," Heeke said. "There's only so much of that and we make our decisions based on that."

Robbins and Heeke told the regents Friday that they were pleased with the agreement they ultimately reached with Miller.

"I'm appreciative to coach Miller for stepping up and, shall we say, putting some skin in this," Robbins told the regents. "He put his money where his mouth was.

"We obviously supported coach Miller through a very difficult time and we look forward to him having great success and being our coach for a long time."

Before the regents voted to pass the amendment to Miller's contract, Regent Ron Shoopman said he gave credit to Robbins, Heeke and Laura Todd Johnson, UA's senior VP for legal affairs and general counsel, for not rushing to judgment.

Both the Sept. 26 federal complaint, which resulted in the arrest and firing of former UA assistant coach Book Richardson, and the ESPN report have led to considerable speculation about Miller's future at Arizona.

"In these emotionally charged situations, it's very easy to get caught up in all the hysteria," Shoopman said. "Rather than do something, this group was thoughtful, fact-based and unemotional, very pragmatic in moving forward.

"I think it really speaks well that we moved in a methodical way rather than an emotional way."

The regents also approved a provision detailing Miller's obligations as a "responsible employee" under Title IX, which includes reporting requirements, cooperation with Title IX investigations and participation in Title IX training. Johnson said the Title IX language wasn't just for Miller and will be added to all of the UA's coaching contracts.

"It's just a best practice that we're committed to," she said.

Miller's contract, which runs through 2021-22, already says he will lose all of his longevity fund shares if he is fired for cause. The new provision simply means he could be penalized even if he remains on the job and is charged with a crime or found guilty of a Level 1 NCAA violation.

A Level 1 violation involves what the NCAA calls a "severe breach of contract" and is the most serious of four levels of violations. Examples of Level 1 violations include lack of institutional control, academic fraud, failure to cooperate in an NCAA enforcement investigation, unethical or dishonest conduct.

Miller's longevity fund, made up of 91,557.5 shares of Andeavor Logistics stock, is currently valued at $4.11 million. He became vested in the shares on May 31, 2017, and he is scheduled to receive them on May 31, 2020. Miller can also receive another $1.18 million worth of Andeavor shares in May 2022 if he stays until June 2020.

In a sense, Miller is already paying a penalty for the off-court questions that surround his program. The UA has lost all three of its 2018 recruits, while several other four-and-five-star prospects dropped the Wildcats, leaving Miller with only six scholarship players on board for next season.

The spring signing period begins Wednesday, and the UA is already pursuing many incoming freshmen and grad transfers. Four-star forward Devonair Doutrive is scheduled to visit campus this weekend.

Whatever happens in recruiting, Heeke said he is confident the Wildcats will "be ready to go" when McKale Center's doors open again next season.

"I don't view us as under a cloud of anything," Heeke said. "This is a tremendous basketball program and a fabulous athletic program and a world-class university. It will continue to be that going forward."

April 7, 2018


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