Five Candidates to Replace Sean Miller at Arizona
Arizona fired Sean Miller on Wednesday, opting to move on from its long-time head basketball coach with NCAA issues swirling around the program. On March 5, the school's basketball program was hit with five Level I violations, including instances of academic misconduct, recruiting violations and a charge that Miller did not promote compliance. That was too much for the university to take and Miller is now unemployed.
Despite potential impending NCAA sanctions, the Arizona job will be highly attractive to perspective coaches. It's one of the best gigs on the West Coast and has been able to attract top recruits for decades. A number of coaches will be interested.
Here's our look at five candidates to replace Miller.
When things look bad for a program it's often a good idea to lean into the good times. Josh Pastner played at Arizona under Lute Olson from 1996 to 2000, winning a national title in 1997 and two Pac-10 titles during his tenure. He then coached under Olson as an assistant from 2002 through 2008. The 43-year-old has deep roots in the program and could be the guy to turn things around.
Pastner spent seven really successful years at Memphis, compiling a record of 167-73 (.696) and winning two conference titles. Georgia Tech hired him in 2016 and he's been decent at a bottom-feeding ACC program. He was the 2017 ACC Coach of the Year and Tech went 17-9 (11-6 in the ACC) this season and won the ACC Tournament to secure the first NCAA Tournament berth of Pastner's tenure.
The one hiccup in this plan is Georgia Tech's NCAA issues during Pastner's tenure. You can read about those here, since they're too complicated to spell out in this piece. This would likely be a slam dunk hire if not for Pastner's NCAA woes.
Another former Wildcats player, Stoudamire was a three-time All-Pac-10 player under Olson from1991 to 1995, and was named Pac-10 Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American in 1995. He went on to be the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1996, and played 13 seasons in the league.
Stoudamire got into coaching in 2009 and has worked for Rice, the Memphis Grizzlies, at Memphis as an assistant under Pastner twice and was at Arizona from 2013-15. He's been the head coach at Pacific since 2016 and has turned it around. The Tigers had one of the best seasons in program history during the 2019-20 campaign, going 23-10 (11-5 in the WCC) and Stoudamire was named West Coast Conference Coach of the Year.
If Arizona doesn't make a big swing for the fences, bringing Stoudamire back home seems like a great fit. His NBA experience will resonate with recruits and the 47-year-old has shown he can coach.
John Beilein seems to make all of these lists, as the 68-year-old is a wildly-successful head coach currently sitting on the sidelines. After a disastrous half-season run in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Beilein has been sitting out, waiting for the right opportunity. With Arizona's ability to recruit top talent, he might be a perfect fit for a quick turnaround.
In a 41-year coaching career, Beilein has won 20 or more games 23 times and has a record of 829-468 (.639). He's taken four different teams to the NCAA Tournament, starting with Canisius in 1996, Richmond in 1998 and then doing it twice with West Virginia and nine times during 12 seasons at Michigan. He was national runner-up twice at Michigan, Won two Big Ten titles, two Big Ten Tournament titles and the Wolverines were one of the nation's best programs when he left for the NBA in 2019.
The man knows how to coach and could likely have Arizona back in contention for a Pac-12 title tomorrow.
If you're willing to flirt with NCAA issues, why not dive right in? Kelvin Sampson is a hell of a coach and he's found a really good fit at Houston. Most have forgiven him for the dumpster fire of a program he ran at Indiana where he willfully violated NCAA rules to an incredible degree. But winning cures all and in the decade-plus since he's cleaned up his reputation and turned Houston into a high-major powerhouse.
Over the last four years, the Cougars have gone 111-21 (.822), won two AAC titles and an AAC Tournament championship, and made the Final Four this year. During a 10-year run at Oklahoma Sampson had the Sooners in the NCAA Tournament nine times and took them to a Final Four. He's been in the Pac-10/12 before as the head coach at Washington State from 1987 to 1994 and the ceiling at Houston is far lower than it is at Arizona.
As I said, on the court, there are few head coaches better than Sampson. The blemish here are his actions at Indiana that left the program a smoldering pile of rubble and led the NCAA to hand Sampson the harshest penalty it could. If Arizona is convinced he's reformed his ways, Sampson might be the best option available.
Gonzaga has turned into a powerhouse program and while most of the credit has gone to head coach Mark Few, top assistant Tommy Lloyd has largely remained in the shadows. He's been Few's right-hand man for nearly two decades and the 46-year-old is the program's coach-in-waiting if Few ever leaves.
Lloyd is an ace recruiter who has been with the program since 2000. While he's eschewed opportunities to move into a head coaching role, Arizona might be too good of a job to pass up. Lloyd has done wonders recruiting international players for the Bulldogs, and is the team's go-to guy for player development.
Lloyd isn't a big name, but he may have as much upside as anyone in college basketball right now.