By Dustin Dow
Enquirer staff writer
Xavier athletic director Dawn Rogers said she knew from watching Sean Miller the last three years that he was head-coach material.
Xavier University athletic director Dawn Rogers said she often envisioned Sean Miller as the Muskies' head basketball coach some day. That day arrived Thursday, when the university named the assistant coach to replace Thad Matta.
The Enquirer/MICHAEL E. KEATING
So when Thad Matta said Wednesday he was leaving to become men's basketball coach at Ohio State University, the Xavier administration didn't hesitate to name Miller as his replacement.
Matta, who leaves Xavier after three years, is scheduled to be formally introduced today as OSU's new head coach.
Miller received a five-year contract at Xavier, the terms of which were undisclosed.
He is a 12-year veteran of the college coaching ranks, with stints at Wisconsin, Miami University, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State and the last three years at Xavier under Matta.
"He's a superstar," said Herb Sendek, Miller's former boss at North Carolina State. "He's one of the brightest coaches I've ever been around."
Miller has been described by coaches who know him well as a mild-mannered type, not likely to spend a lot of energy shouting on the sidelines, but more interested in teaching the game.
"He's very easy for players to approach," said Miami coach Charlie Coles, who coached with Miller at Miami under Sendek in 1996. "But he works the players very hard.
"He thinks like a player because he played at a high level in college."
Coles cited Miller's work with XU's Lionel Chalmers as an example.
Miller helped make Chalmers one of the most productive point guards in the NCAA Tournament last year, Coles said.
Miller was also instrumental in freshman Brandon Cole's production at the end of last season by continually emphasizing to Cole that he needed to work harder.
"There were many times that I envisioned Sean as our head coach some day," Rogers said. "I don't think I envisioned it after three years, but in my mind, he really was a good fit for us."
Miller had interviewed for jobs at the mid-major level in previous years, but he said his interest in other jobs declined every season he was at Xavier because he could see himself as XU's coach if Matta were to leave.
"I look at (Xavier) as the highest level of college basketball," Miller said. "I look forward to embracing the Xavier fans and making sure they know they have a coach who wants to be here."
Miller said he is considering opening Xavier's practices to media on a limited basis to improve communication between the team and the media. Practices had been closed to media during Matta's three seasons.
"Anybody who's close to the program could foresee this happening if Thad left," Xavier radio analyst Byron Larkin said of Miller's hiring. "This was automatic. It was a no-brainer. He has head coach written all over him, from his demeanor on the sidelines to when we interview him on the radio."
A native of the Pittsburgh area, Miller was a standout basketball player at Blackhawk High School, where he played for his father, John Miller, a legendary Pittsburgh-area prep coach.
A former point guard, Miller preaches the need to be a good ball handler to all of his players.
As a youngster, Miller was something of a ball-handling wizard, traveling the country, putting on dribble shows at summer camps. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he flew Miller and his dad in one weekend to Wisconsin when Miller was 11 and said Miller dazzled campers and coaches with his ball-handling expertise.
Miller went on to set the career assists record at Pittsburgh, where he was an All-Big East performer his senior season in 1992. Just last week, Miller put on yet another ball-handling show for campers at the Thad Matta Basketball Camp at Xavier.
A foot injury might have prevented him from pursuing an NBA career.
Three bones in his foot are fused together, and that began to cause pain as Miller grew older. Putting weight on the foot became problematic at times, which made coaching a better option than continuing a basketball career.
"He thought about it," Miller's father, John, said of the possibility of playing professionally.
"I was thinking he might be able to take a crack at the NBA. He called one day, and said 'Stu Jackson offered me a position at Wisconsin.' He said, 'This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. ' "
Miller and his dad talked after last season about the possibility that he could be in the right place to be Xavier's next coach.
"He feels like Xavier is a really special place," John Miller said. "Last year, when some jobs were popping up, I said, 'If you ever get that Xavier job, you might just stay there for 15 years. It would be a great job to stay at.'
"He laughed and said: 'You're right. It's a really great place.' "
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