A sweet time for NCAA coaches Sean and Archie Miller
March 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
The Sweet 16 can mean different things to different programs. John Miller’s two sons epitomize that.
Archie, the third-year coach at Dayton, has his 11th-seeded Flyers into the round of 16 for the first time in 30 years. This is a revelation.
Sean has No. 1 seed and title contender Arizona in the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. This is expected.
Together, they’re also historical. It’s the first time two brothers have coached in the same Sweet 16. And the whole situation led to their father John experiencing some mixed emotions — beyond his overall excitement.
He’s giddy when he’s talking about Archie’s surprising run at Dayton: “With Dayton right now, it’s like icing on the cake every time he wins one. It’s really fun, and the program is just exploding right now.”
On the other hand, he’s a bit stressed out when he’s asked about Sean’s postseason run and a team that was No. 1 in the polls for much of the year.
“It’s almost like you’re supposed to get there,” John said in a phone interview Monday. “Watching the team right now, it’s a lot more nerve-wracking with Arizona. They’re a No. 1 seed. They’ve been doing pretty well. They’re expected to get to the end. I think there’s pressure.”
Despite the differences — and their varying effect on their father watching the games – there’s one thing that’s undeniable about having two brothers in the same Sweet 16.
“It’s very special,” Sean said after beating Gonzaga on Sunday, a day after Archie punched his ticket. “We’re both the product of a great family, but in particular our dad being who he is, not only a great high school coach, maybe one of the best, ever, at least in our opinion but also a great dad. It was that combination of so much time spent that you know he gave us an understanding of the game, a love of the game, and I think we’re both probably coaches because of him.
“Today is a special day in my mind more for him.”
John was a longtime and legendary high school coach in western Pennsylvania who won four state titles and more than 650 games at Blackhawk high school and Riverside. At Blackhawk, he coached both sons, who each went on to have terrific college careers — Sean at Pittsburgh, and Archie at North Carolina State — before they followed their father’s footsteps and picked up a whistle.
Looking back now, the sons aren’t surprised.
“Five years old, six years old, he’s teaching us how to play one-on-one, how to keep score when you’re playing a pick-up game when you’re seven years old,” Archie, 35, said in a phone interview Monday. “He was always teaching us the game. Before you realize it, you’re a coach, too. It’s just a natural fit. It’s what you talked about at the dinner table, what you talked on the car ride home, at camps, in the car heading to practice. There were no summer vacations for us. It was all basketball every day.”
Day by day, practice by practice, John’s boys tried to improve their game. They worked to work harder than everyone else, particularly when they didn’t have the size or athleticism others had. They learned, as all of John’s players did over the decades, that he required you to have a strong work ethic.
“My program was pretty much, ‘We’re going to outwork you,’ ” John said. ” ‘We’re going to try to rack up extra hours on you and get an advantage by being flat-out more determined and passionate about the game.’ I think those guys have picked that up and taken it into their own programs. There aren’t too many people who can outwork them.”
That is evident in everything from recruiting to scouting opponents. The two brothers haven’t spoken on the phone since the NCAA tournament began; they’re too busy preparing their own teams. Instead, they text.
“When (Sean) sent me off and I got the opportunity at Dayton, I really stuck to the blueprint that we created at Arizona,” Archie said. “To watch it work here, it’s kind of proof in the pudding. … We’re very similar in our styles. We approach the game the same way — versatility, love offense, love to teach, all about toughness.”
There are a few differences in their demeanor on the sidelines or in practice, but they’re hard to detect because the brothers — though 10 years apart in age — look like each other, have similar mannerisms and speak with the same inflections.
“I think he probably rolls with the punches a little better right now,” Archie said. “Being a little younger, I’m probably a little more antsy, ready to jump on things quicker, a little more aggressive with my players. I think he’s more calm.”
Said John: “Arch is a little more outgoing, wears his emotions on his sleeve a little more than Sean does.”
And both ways work, apparently. John’s seen it firsthand; he spent the season’s first couple of months with Archie in Dayton, then the cold winter months in Arizona, and now he’s back hanging around the Flyers.
Dayton will take on No. 10 seed Stanford this Thursday at 7:15 p.m. ET in Memphis — John will be there — while Arizona is set to tipoff later that same night against No. 4 San Diego State in Anaheim. Thursday will be a special night for one of western Pennsylvania’s most famous coaching trees.
“Right now, we’re benefactors of growing up in a world a lot of people probably couldn’t imagine, being entrenched in the game of basketball,” Archie said. “It’s what we do.”