Arizona had stuck by men's basketball coach Sean Miller through an NCAA infractions investigation that stretched nearly four years.
When the school didn't extend his contract beyond next season, it became clear a decision would need to be made.
The wait came to an end Wednesday when the school announced Miller was leaving after 12 seasons and associate head coach Jack Murphy will serve as interim head coach.
“We’re evaluating the overall position of the program, and that includes on-court and off-court elements,” Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said. “When you step back and evaluate where the program is, we have incredibly high standards to have success on and off the court. We evaluated it and we decided at this time it’s the appropriate time to make a change so we can restore and rebuild the overall status of this world-class basketball program.”
Miller and the Wildcats have been in the NCAA’s crosshairs since being ensnared in a 2017 FBI investigation into shady recruiting practices.
The NCAA issued a Notice of Allegations last year and the case is currently going through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process. Arizona issued a self-imposed postseason ban this year and finished 17-9, 11-9 in the Pac-12.
Miller became the third Wildcats coach to reach 300 wins with the program and went 302-109 in 12 seasons. Arizona reached the Elite Eight three times, won five Pac-12 regular-season titles and three Pac-12 Tournament titles under Miller.
But Arizona failed to reach the Final Four under Miller and had not won an NCAA Tournament game since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2017. The school said it will honor the final year of Miller's contract.
“After conferring with Dave Heeke since the season’s end, it has become clear that our men’s basketball program – and our University – needs to write a new chapter in our history, and that begins with a change of leadership,” university President Robert C. Robbins said in a statement. “Arizona Basketball means so much to so many and, as stewards of the program, we must always act in the best interests of the university. I believe our future is bright, and I look forward to welcoming a new head coach to the Wildcat family.”
Miller routinely pulled in some of the nation’s top recruiting classes after being lured from Xavier in 2009, but his recruiting methods came under scrutiny when assistant coach Emanuel Richardson was among 10 people arrested as part of a federal corruption investigation into college basketball.
Richardson was fired by the university and later pleaded guilty to accepting $20,000 in bribes from aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins. He was sentenced to three months in prison in 2019.
Miller sat out a game in 2018 after ESPN reported that he was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to future No. 1 overall NBA pick Deandre Ayton. Miller vehemently denied the report and Robbins announced a few days later that Miller would remain the Wildcats’ coach.
The NCAA Notice of Allegations sent in October had nine counts of misconduct, including a lack of institutional control and failure to monitor by the university, and lack of head coach control by Miller.
“It was obviously a difficult and very important decision,” Heeke said. “I wanted to take the time to consult, have the appropriate conversations to understand the direction and then ultimately that's why we landed where we are today.”
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