The Drive with Jody Oehler

The Drive with Jody Oehler

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Its Time For an Awkward Talk With Sean Miller

It's time to say something that no one really wants to say.

And I think I need to be the one to say it because not only am I a member of the sports media, I’m also an alum and lifelong fan of Arizona basketball.

It's time for Arizona to move on from Sean Miller.

I know that’s hard for some Arizona fans to admit and I understand why.

Sean Miller saved Arizona. Twelve years ago, Arizona fans were worried that after Lute’s messy exit and the desperation of watching Russ Pennell, Mike Dunlap and Kevin O’Neill that the program was going off a cliff...until we were saved by a knight in sweaty armor,

Our fears of spending years of our college basketball prime alone and lonely disappeared when Sean Miller said “Yes!”

When our marriage to Sean Miller first started, his tenacity and single mindedness were the perfect combination for the Herculean task of maintaining the prestige Lute Olson built for the Arizona basketball program.

Every time Miller answered questions in post game press conferences or in the rare one on one interviews he granted we swooned, pinching ourselves that the rebound from Lute Olson was someone so perfect.

Every recruiting victory was celebrated. Every draft pick was a momentous occasion. Every regular season win was joyous. Every conference title, tournament appearance and tournament win was the beginning of something special. Sure, we knew Miller wasn’t perfect but he beat Duke. He was ours, we were his and forever would we be doodling his name in our trapper keeper.

But things have been different the last few years. Whereas Arizona basketball used to bring my alum friends and I so much joy, there hasn’t been much joy in Arizona basketball land recently.

Our text threads don’t reflect a healthy relationship with a coach but a toxic one.

Every recruiting victory is a reminder of wasted talent, every game is a reinforcement of how far the program standards have fallen and every tournament is a lesson in how to lose relevance.

It’s not that Sean Miller has changed, it’s that we have.

In fact the bigger problem is that Sean Miller hasn’t changed. His lovable quirks when he first started twelve years ago are now annoying habits that drive us crazy. 

It’s the timeout usage. It’s the bland offense. The countless NBA draft picks that could never quite seem to maximize the team’s potential. The consistent griping after games about officials or fouls or missed calls that now felt more like excuse making than truth telling. The unhinged sideline persona. 

On top of all that, Arizona fans have been telling Sean they loved him for over a decade. Even when he flirted with Maryland on our honeymoon, we forgave him. When he couldn’t draw up a play to get a shot off to beat Wisconsin in the Elite 8, we were still there for him. When Buffalo emasculated the program, we still were waiting with a hug. 

But he’s no more accessible, successful, open, inviting or transparent than he was twelve years ago. This has always been the deal when Sean Miller has been the coach. Now it's part of the reason you don’t feel the same way about Arizona basketball that you always have.

Miller has failed to create a deeper bond with a fan base as loyal as any in college basketball aside from the obligatory press conference shout out to the crowd or awkward Senior night speech at McKale Center.

It’s like most relationships. The average marriage lasts eight years. The majority of failed marriages don’t end because of a shocking affair or a singular moment. Most end because over time things that once felt special begin to feel ordinary before eventually feeling like an anchor.

We can be happy without Sean Miller. And maybe even Sean Miller can find the basketball happiness he’s been chasing his whole life somewhere else. 

Staying in a relationship out of fear you won’t find anyone else is hardly a reason to stay in a relationship. Staying in a relationship that has clearly deteriorated because you’re convinced that NEXT year will be different tricking yourself into believing that AGAIN is a sure sign it's time for a change.

Sure, next year’s team could be really fun to watch and if Miller leaves, maybe many of the players do too. But maybe there’s a way for some continuity AND a fresh start. Could Jason Terry convince some of the talented freshmen to stick around? Could other notable UofA alum’s?

Turning the program over to a famous alum like Jason Terry, Damon Stoudamire, Josh Pastner or Luke Walton isn’t so much about reliving the glory days of the Lute Olson era but more about just starting over. Like getting a divorce and then dating a high school sweetheart. Something about it sounds healing and refreshing but we also have the life experience to know it’s not going to be perfect.

The relationship with Sean Miller has run its course. We tried. We circled wagons. We tolerated tournament heartbreaks. We waited through investigations and trials. We suspended our sense of belief. We believed you. We defended you. And sure, we weren’t doing this through some altruistic sense of what was right. We did it because we were betting it would be worth it. We anticipated more success, not less. And we have been wrong.

The most damning stat of Sean Miller’s tenure is the 29-27 record Arizona has amassed in Pac 12 play over the last three years. That’s absolute mediocrity during a period where the Pac 12 has been as winnable as any year in the last 35. Arizona should’ve been the team saving the conference from mediocrity not defining it. 

Saying goodbye to Sean Miller is only partly saying goodbye to Sean Miller. It’s also saying goodbye to a part of our Arizona basketball fandom that we allowed to become tainted with the same zealotry that we used to deride other programs for having. I don’t like what we’ve become as a fan base under Miller. Twisting ourselves into pretzels with the kind of mental gymnastics required to believe media conspiracy theories and implausible realities where head coaches know everything and nothing at the same time. 

So here we are twelve years later and instead of saying “It’s not you, it's us” to Sean Miller what I’m really saying is “It IS you but it’s also us.”

It's time to start over at Arizona basketball and rediscover what it is to be in love with a college basketball program all over again.

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