In the time it took to win his first two NCAA tournament games, Archie Miller went from relative obscurity to next in line as the prince of men’s Division I basketball. Last Thursday, Miller, 35, and his 11th-seeded Dayton Flyers disposed of No. 6 Ohio State, whose coach, Thad Matta, had been a mentor and friend to Miller.
“For me, it’s tough,” Miller said when asked to describe his emotions after that game. “You line up against somebody who gave you a lot. He thinks a lot of you. He helped us just as much as anyone. He’s pulling for us at the end of the season. And then you play him.
“But at the end of the day, it is what it is. If he would have won, obviously, he’s going to say it’s tough. But the name of the game right now is advancing. This is the biggest stage you can be on. This is where our program is supposed to be. And we’ve gotten here, and we want to stay.”
On Saturday, Miller’s Flyers eliminated third-seeded Syracuse and Jim Boeheim, who became the coach at Syracuse in 1976, two years before Miller was born.
Miller probably was not as ambivalent about defeating Boeheim. And Boeheim was in no mood to praise the upstart Flyers and their rising coach. Asked, more or less, to sing the praises of Dayton, Boeheim said: “I’m not going to talk about Dayton. Why would I do that? I’m going to talk about Syracuse. I’m not going to talk about Dayton. Ask their coach. He should be very proud of his team.”
Miller was indeed proud, but he was also focused on extending his team’s success, a path that continues Thursday in the Sweet 16 in Memphis against Stanford and coach Johnny Dawkins, a former Duke standout.
Miller said that the victories over Ohio State and Syracuse gave Dayton what programs like Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kansas already have.
“I think the big thing is credibility,” said Miller, a former N.C. State shooting sensation whose older brother, Sean, is the coach of the Arizona men’s team. But Miller said the work for Dayton had just begun.
“Now we have to sustain that over the course of forever,” he said. “That’s what the talk was when we got here. We have a good program with great tradition. Now we have the ability to build, and I think that’s what it’s all about.”
Longevity for this generation of coaches will probably come in new forms, and there are multiple models from which to choose.
Brad Stevens, heralded as a young prince in his six seasons as the coach at Butler, took a job with the Boston Celtics last summer. This could become the norm for young coaches, who might be as eager as their players to jump to the NBA.
There is the model of Steve Donahue, who leveraged his success at Cornell into a lucrative job upgrade at Boston College. But Donahue was fired last week after four seasons with the Eagles.
And then there is the Boeheim-Krzyzewski model of staying with one program for decades. That model may be a luxury that few universities – or coaches – can afford to duplicate. Boeheim, the former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Louisville’s Rick Pitino are in the Basketball Hall of Fame and have commanded lucrative contracts. All were also given the time to experience ups and downs as they built their programs.
Whichever model a coach follows, the connecting thread to success is recruiting, patience and knowing when to leave. For coaches like Miller, this may be the most important piece.
When I covered my first NCAA tournament in 1985, some wondered whether Krzyzewski could win championships, whether Boeheim could stop underachieving in the postseason and whether there was any end in sight to the Big East basketball empire.
Krzyzewski had not even won an ACC championship. Pitino would soon build a program at Providence with a point guard named Billy Donovan, now coaching No. 1-seeded Florida. Calhoun was coaching at Northeastern.
Krzyzewski’s 1986 Duke team lost the national championship game to Louisville and coach Denny Crum. It took five more years and the arrival of Grant Hill for Krzyzewski to win his first national title. He followed that with three more championships.
Boeheim won his first, and only, championship in 2003 with Carmelo Anthony.
The question for this generation of young coaches is who among them will have the combination of stamina, good fortune and great players to overcome the obstacles that time and circumstances will put in their way?
“You’ve got to have a little humility,” Archie Miller said Saturday.
But when he was asked to look further down the road and to contemplate legacy, Miller said the long haul was beyond his focus.
All that he knew was that some coaches such as Matta had opened the door for him and that he planned to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be around some great coaches,” he said. “Started off in college, and somebody gives you a chance. Then you’re around good people, and they help develop you to be ready, hopefully.”
He added: “I’m grateful, and I’m thankful. But now that I’m here, I don’t think anything further than tomorrow. That’s not how I’m wired. It’s about tomorrow, and we’ll figure a way out.”
All things considered, Miller might have it right. Just stay focused on the here and now.