Brian Keeter played basketball at N.C. State, but just about all the gear he wears when he goes through workouts and treatments for a spinal-cord injury at a rehabilitation center in Louisville, Ky., is a different shade of red. Everyone there thinks Keeter went to Dayton.
He got all of it from Archie Miller, his former teammate with the Wolfpack, now the head coach of the Flyers and the No. 1 name on just about every N.C. State fan’s wishlist for the basketball coaching vacancy. Keeter used to come up for one or two games a season once Miller got the Dayton job in 2011. After Keeter moved to Louisville for treatment in July – he was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident in 2008 – he became a regular visitor to Dayton, hanging out with the coaches before games and watching Miller work.
And as Keeter watches, he understands why N.C. State fans want Miller so badly – and also just how good the 38-year-old Miller has it at Dayton.
“He’s in a great situation where he is. They love basketball. He’s done really well there,” Keeter said. “I feel like he would consider it. I just do not know. With them coming down the stretch of another successful season, he hasn’t had a lot of time to devote to thinking about it.”
This much is true. Dayton moved to 23-5 after an overtime win at Davidson on Friday, coming back from 13 points down in the second half for an 89-82 win, battling with Virginia Commonwealth for the Atlantic 10 title, and a coaching search at his alma mater couldn’t have come along at a worse time for Miller.
“As a player, to stay focused, I was always taught to be a day-to-day guy,” Miller said Friday. “As a coach I’ve tried to do it the same way. We have a special group of guys that have been here from the beginning, so for me to spend any time on anything other than them would be unfair.”
If N.C. State is looking for a coach, there always seems to be a Miller in the mix. When Sidney Lowe was fired in 2011, Archie’s older brother Sean occupied the same position in many fans’ minds. A former assistant to Herb Sendek at N.C. State, Miller was established at Arizona and had no interest in a rebuilding project in Raleigh.
At that point, Archie was an assistant coach for Sean at Arizona, but he was never seriously considered for the N.C. State job. He landed instead at Dayton in that cycle – replacing Brian Gregory, who went to Georgia Tech – while N.C. State hired Mark Gottfried, who was fired Feb. 16 and will exit after this season.
Like his brother the last time around, Archie Miller’s success may well have moved him beyond the reach of the Wolfpack. Potential openings at Ohio State and Indiana may look riper to a coach whose current roster is loaded with players from Ohio and Chicago, and he can afford to wait. If N.C. State wanted a Miller, six years ago was probably the time.
“Arch at the time hadn’t had a head-coaching job yet, but we all loved Arch,” former teammate Will Roach said. “That was the joke: ‘When is Arch coming back?’ ”
Miller’s connections to the Wolfpack run deep: An undersized point guard, he spent five years on campus as a player, graduating in 2002, and another as a graduate assistant before later returning for a three-season stint as a Sendek assistant.
“Clearly, N.C. State’s a tremendous place for me and did a lot for me,” Miller said.
As a player, he exuded a preternatural toughness, born of the constant on-court wars with his brother under the careful supervision of their father John, a longtime Western Pennsylvania high school coach of the oldest school. Whenever anyone talks about Miller, the word “toughness” comes up sooner rather than later.
“That comes from his family – a lot of wars with Sean, who was a little bigger than Archie,” said Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter, who both coached and worked alongside Miller as a Sendek assistant. “He had that toughness he absolutely had to have to play in the ACC at his size, with his talents.”
The way Miller innately understood Sendek’s offense and defense, his Wolfpack teammates just assumed he would be a coach, and not merely to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother. He was just wired that way. It didn’t take long: He got his start immediately after his playing career ended as a graduate assistant at N.C. State.
Graduate assistants are often seen and not heard, there to learn as much as participate, but Miller flourished. By the end of the season, with two minutes to go in a game at Clemson, Miller rocketed off the bench to take over a timeout.
“He was the first one out on the court, grabbing everybody, bringing everybody in, firing everybody up,” Roach said. “He kept saying, ‘Finish strong, finish strong, we gotta go!’ He just has this conviction in his words. People follow him. We always have. I loved being on his team.”
But Miller’s time at N.C. State cuts both ways. He was there when things started to go sour in the final years under Sendek, an experience that tends to stick with those who went through it.
After being passed over once by his alma mater, Miller has been successful enough at Dayton – five 20-win seasons, an Elite Eight, a 137-60 record and a contract that runs through 2023 – to call his own shot, which may mean a different power-conference job that avoids the inherent pressures that come with coaching at N.C. State.
“I feel like he would be successful (at N.C. State) or if he stays here or at some of the other places he’s been rumored to go,” Keeter said. “I hope he’s in Raleigh, personally, but I’m not sure my opinion carries much weight.”
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
Dayton, 6th season (137-60, 66-33 Atlantic 10)
Alma mater: NC State (2002)
Annual salary: $1.16 million*
Previous stops: Arizona (assistant coach), Ohio State (assistant coach), Arizona State (assistant coach), N.C. State (assistant coach), Western Kentucky (assistant coach).
Record as head coach:
Note: *according to 2014 tax return obtained by Dayton Daily News