A look back at former Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller’s career in Tucson


Sofia Moraga

Sean Miller, head coach of the Arizona men’s basketball team, welcomes the fans to the Red-Blue game on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Ryan Wohl

Former Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller spent 12 seasons in Tucson. He had some success, some struggles, but he always put his players first and valued his relationships with them as the phrase “A Player’s Program” was born.

After legendary head coach Lute Olson finished 22 seasons as the Wildcats’ head coach and decided to retire, the next season was a rough one as they went 19-15 and lost in the first round of the tournament under Kevin O’Neill. Russ Pennell stepped in as the new coach for the 2008-09 season and won 21 games in his first season, but the program was still unsure that they had found their overall leader since Olson retired.

Then they found a young 36-year-old, former coach of the Xavier Musketeers, who made the March Madness tournament with them in four of his first five seasons there. Miller built Xavier up to a very good program in the Atlantic-10 conference and had them playing in March every season — but he didn’t just get them there either. In his final two seasons there, he took them to a Sweet Sixteen and an Elite Eight.

That was enough for the Arizona higher-ups to believe that Miller had what it took to bring this program back to prominence and continue on the legacy of Olson. During his first season in Tucson, everything didn’t go as planned right away as the team struggled where they finished the season a little bit over .500 (16-15).

But in 2010-11, it seemed as if the Wildcats of old were back as an elite team. They finished the season 30-8 which was their first 30-win season in six seasons, while also winning the Pac-10 regular-season title and making the Elite Eight in the March Madness tournament that year.

The following season, Miller had recruited a top-10 class in the country and, during his time at Arizona, that has been his strength all along. During his 12 seasons as the Wildcats’ coach, he has recruited 25 four-star prospects and 16 five-star prospects, according to 247sports.

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Miller has also had eight recruiting classes inside of the top-10 in the country while also having five of those in the top-five in the country.

Miller made it to the NCAA tournament seven out of his 12 years as the head coach of the team, where he made it to three Elite Eights and two Sweet Sixteens. He totaled 30 or more wins in a single season four times and over 20 wins in every season except two of them.

Miller’s last two seasons in Tucson didn’t go as planned. In 2019-20, the season was stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing every NCAA team to end their season early. In this past season that ended a little over a month ago, the team finished the year 17-9 in a conference-only year, but the team wasn’t eligible to secure a March Madness berth because of a self-imposed postseason ban.

Miller’s career at Arizona will for sure be remembered for winning three Pac-12 Tournaments, producing many quality NBA players, his sweaty shirts and for the overall culture that he brought to Tucson while bringing the Wildcats back to prominence among the great college basketball programs in the country.

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