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Years ago in a casual conversation, a Power Five coach told me of him and his colleagues, "You know, in reality we're all more arrogant than you can imagine."
I've never doubted that was true. You have to have a healthier-than-average ego to compete at a championship level, and coaches who win are never short on confidence. They are often the biggest men on big campuses, and that type of attention — sometimes bordering on worship — can make a person feel invincible.
Is that what's happening with Sean Miller?
The disgraced Arizona coach missed the Wildcats' game Saturday at Oregon after an ESPN report alleged that Miller, in an FBI wire-tapped conversation, spoke with an agent about potentially paying $100,000 to influence the recruiting decision of current Arizona freshman Deandre Ayton. Ayton and his family, through a lawyer, denied that they had ever received or solicited money from any university or shoe company.
In what was absolutely the subplot Saturday night, Arizona blew a 13-point lead and lost 98-93 to the Ducks in overtime. Associate head coach Lorenzo Romar paced the sideline at Matt Knight Arena instead of Miller. The Wildcats, who threw away a chance to clinch at least a share of the Pac-12 title, were also missing junior guard Allonzo Trier, who was declared ineligible Thursday after testing positive for a banned substance. Arizona is appealing the decision.
Suffice it to say, it's been a long week for the Wildcats.
Though it appears we're a long way from Miller actually being fired — his contract language is complicated, not to mention Arizona can't cut someone loose just because of something that was written in a report and has yet to be proven true — it's likely he's coached his last game at Arizona. In many ways, he's already been convicted in the court of public opinion.
Alums have already started to turn on Miller: Friday night when the report of the wire-tapped call published, former Arizona standout Jason Terry tweeted "it's time to clean house and bring home our own bloodlines to carry on Lutes (sic) Legacy. We have too much pride, too much tradition to allow outsiders to tear down what we built." (That tweet has since been deleted.) Saturday, current NBA player Andre Iguodala tweeted "But Book got the cuffs..." a reference to former Arizona assistant Emmanual "Book" Richardson, who was arrested in the FBI's initial sting and who Arizona has tried to paint as a rogue assistant operating without Miller's knowledge.
Also Saturday, Shareef O'Neal, a top 30 prospect in the 2018 class and Shaquille O'Neal's son, decommitted from Arizona, announcing that he would re-open his recruitment.
"Our jobs as players is to play the games and play our hardest, regardless of adversity," senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said after the loss. "There's adversity around the country on a lot of teams; nobody's feeling sorry for them. They come out and they're still playing. It should be no different for us."
Romar, who coached at Washington from 2002-2017, said he was informed by both Miller and Arizona athletic director David Heeke earlier Saturday that he'd be running the game Saturday night. The university did not respond to USA TODAY when asked if Miller, Heeke, or someone else made the decision for Miller to not coach.
Watching this play out over the past 48 hours has reminded me, in some ways, of the Lance Armstrong situation. Armstrong lied for years about taking performance enhancing drugs and in the process, destroyed the lives of anyone who got in the way of his narrative. Miller isn't malicious like that, but after saying "I will be vindicated" so many times I wonder — at some point, are you so far down the road of lies that there's no turning back? Do you convince yourself it's true?
In his statement, Ayton said he discussed the pay-for-play allegations with the FBI more than six months ago. Could the FBI have already cleared Miller? Or are the feds building a bigger case against him than we can even imagine?
Does it even matter anymore?
At some point, you become enough of a distraction that the professional thing to do is step away. Miller has already crossed that line.
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