By Dustin Dow
Enquirer staff writer
Sean Miller advanced for 12 years as an assistant coach at five different schools to get to this point: Xavier University's men's basketball coach.
It will take him a lot longer, though, and quite a bit more success if he is to match his father's record, said Miller, who at 35 got his first head coaching job Thursday.
John Miller might be the most famous person from Beaver Falls, Pa., right after Joe Namath. The Blackhawk High School coach has won more than 500 games and four state titles at Blackhawk since 1976, two of the titles coming while coaching Sean's younger brother, Archie.
Though Sean did not win a state title during his high school playing days at Blackhawk, he absorbed the game of basketball from his father.
"What he did inspired me," Miller said. "In my family, basketball is a topic of conversation at breakfast, lunch and dinner . . . My dad has had the biggest impact on me as a coach. In my opinion, he's a legendary coach, and I've learned my way through him."
Miller entered the college coaching ranks immediately after graduating in 1992 from Pittsburgh, where he was an All-Big East point guard. His first job was at Wisconsin, coaching under Stu Jackson in 1992-93. The next year, he joined fellow Pittsburgh-area native Herb Sendek at Miami University. During the 1994-95 season at Miami, Miller, Thad Matta and current Miami coach Charlie Coles were all assistants under Sendek. Miami went 23-7 that season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"That was a really special year," Coles said. "We were all really good friends, and really close."
In 1995, Miller took an assistant-coaching job at Pittsburgh under Ralph Willard but rejoined Sendek at North Carolina State in 1996. He stayed there until 2001 when Matta took over at Xavier and hired Miller as his associate head coach.
"He's not a rookie," John Miller said of his son. "He sat in game after game against Bobby Knight and against the Michigan State people. He's been on that bench many times with (Duke) coach (Mike) Krzyzewski on the other side."
Over the past decade, working with defensive-minded coaches Sendek and Matta has helped shape Miller's coaching philosophy.
"I am going to embrace the Xavier system with the fundamental ideas of being defensive-oriented," Miller said. "We will be an attacking defensive team. We've developed a strong team chemistry the past two years on the defensive end."
Living with basketball his entire life has taught Miller that winning and losing is about more than drawing up plays or instituting a full-court press. By observing his father early on and by experiencing Xavier's run to the Elite Eight last season, Miller noticed that coaches are secondary figures in determining the outcome of games. Yet, a good coach still must work tirelessly to prepare his players.
"In order to be a good coach, you have to love the sport you coach," Miller said. "And you have to realize that what really makes the game special is the players . . . I want to be a coach that understands the value of the players in our program."
It appears Miller has the support of his players, who overwhelmingly approved his hiring Thursday. Many said Miller's presence was that of a second head coach during the three years under Matta and that promoting him was the only solution to replacing Matta, who left for Ohio State.
Xavier athletic director Dawn Rogers didn't hesitate.
"From my standpoint, it's something I'll never forget," Miller said. "How they handled it is very meaningful to me."
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