Should Miles Simon’s contract have been renewed?

PRO: Recruiting will suffer


I’ll always remember – I don’t know how any Tucsonan can forget – when the Arizona men’s basketball team clinched its first-ever national championship with an 84-79 overtime win over top-seeded Kentucky. Miles Simon held the game ball above his head moments after the win and flashed a boyish smile that was imprinted on UA history forever.

Then he was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player – after all, he did score a game-high 30 points. Simon went on to have a six-year professional career before becoming an Arizona assistant. His Wildcat career, and that one game in particular, gave Simon something unique to offer to recruits, something that can’t be replaced: experience.

Having Wildcat ties for more than a decade, Simon had an edge when it came to recruiting. He knew what it was like to be a student-athlete while playing under head coach Lute Olson. He knew what it was like to wear the red and blue and win – the Wildcats went 106-27 while he was at the UA. These are all selling points to recruits and being only about a decade removed from college life helps that much more.

What’s more, the coaching staff doesn’t have any minorities anymore. As much as we want to believe race doesn’t play a part in the game of life in 2008, it does. There are certain players of certain races who respond better to coaches of their same race.

The Wildcats still have recruiting guru Josh Pastner to tell prospects about the sweet life at the UA, but Pastner wasn’t nearly as good a player as Simon and no one knows for sure just how long he’ll be at the university after all that’s gone on over the past year.

Russ Pennell, Arizona’s newest assistant coach, has 14 years of experience as a Division I assistant coach, but he has no past ties with the Wildcats. In fact, he coached at ASU for six seasons when the Sun Devils amassed a 90-89 record. That’s great incentive to be a Wildcat.

Experience is why UA volleyball head coach Dave Rubio hired former Wildcat Allison Napier – a former UA standout who went on to play at the pro level – and 2001 Pacific 10 Player of the Year Dana Burkholder before that. On top of that, Steve Walker has returned to the program after coaching the Wildcats from 2003-05.

Volleyball is just one of the several UA varsity sports that boast coaches who are former Wildcat players. And that’s the way it should be.

What good is a recommendation without any experience?

Lance Madden, sports editor

CON: Better coaches available


As I sat down to watch the Arizona men’s basketball team’s open practice the day before the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Washington, D.C., UA assistant coach Miles Simon walked across the court instructing his team.

As he shouted his commands, a veteran Tucson sports reporter joked to me that it was the first time Simon had coached all season.

Although that’s an exaggeration and only the players and staff know exactly what he contributed during practice situations, Simon did not have the best reputation for his coaching abilities – this during a season in which he had a chance to step up with Arizona down an assistant.

Simon’s status as a UA hero for earning Most Outstanding Player honors of the 1997 NCAA Tournament was expected to be a major asset in recruiting. The fact that he attended hoops hot bed Mater Dei High School was supposed to help as well.

But David and Travis Wear, top-20 prospects in the class of 2009 who also go to Mater Dei, didn’t seem to care much about Simon’s connection when they opted to commit to North Carolina.

I’m sure Simon, a three-year UA assistant, did his fair share of work behind the scenes in recruiting, but many of the committed recruits I’ve talked to attribute assistant coach Josh Pastner’s work for their commitment.

Just because Simon will forever be remembered for cradling the ball after the Wildcats won their only basketball national championship does not mean he should have a free pass as a coach.

And it should come as no surprise that UA head coach Lute Olson values finding someone he believes to be the best possible assistant over loyalty to the program after he dumped 27-year assistant coach Jim Rosborough last year for Kevin O’Neill.

Although UA athletic director Jim Livengood declined to say who made the decision not to renew Simon’s contract due to personnel issues, clearly Livengood and Olson felt there were better choices available – possibly Nuggets assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who has won a pair of Division II national titles.

This is a results business and if those who watched Simon every day did not believe he was the best option for the job, not even winning the 1997 national championship should be able to save Simon.

Michael Schwartz, senior writer