TUCSON, Ariz. - Arizona lured Xavier’s Sean Miller to Tucson with a five-year contract that pays him a base salary of $2 million per year plus a $1 million signing bonus.
The 40-year-old coach was introduced Tuesday as the replacement for Hall of Famer Lute Olson at a news conference on the basketball court at McKale Center.
With his family sitting nearby and Olson looking on, Miller said it was “humbling, very humbling” to take over from a coach who had been successful for so long.
“It’s also what drives you to come and take this opportunity,” Miller said, “because very few programs have a single coach with the legacy that coach Olson left.”
The contract includes incentives that could add as much as $985,000 to Miller’s annual salary. Those include $175,000 for reaching the Final Four and another $375,000 for winning the national championship.
State rules limit the length of the contract, but athletic director Jim Livengood said the school would work to add two more years to the deal after a season or two. If Miller stays at Arizona for seven seasons, he would get a one-time payment of $2.1 million.
The money comes from funds generated by the athletic department, including booster donations. Still, the contract must be approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.
In 23 seasons at Arizona, Olson led the Wildcats to four Final Four appearances, winning the national championship in 1997.
But Miller inherits a program that’s been in turmoil for two years. Olson took a leave of absence in the 2007-08 season and was temporarily replaced by Kevin O’Neill. Olson planned to return last fall, but shortly before the season began he announced his retirement for health reasons. Russ Pennell took over as interim coach.
“I’ve known Sean a long time,” Olson said. “I think he’s a young man of great character. I think he’s a community kind of guy, he’s a family kind of guy, and an outstanding coach, obviously. He’s stepping in to a tough situation, but I think if you look back on it, we stepped in to a tough situation, too.”
The Wildcats made it, barely, to the NCAA tournament for the 25th consecutive season and made a surprising run to the Midwest Regional semifinals before being routed by Louisville.
Junior Chase Budinger announced Tuesday that he was leaving school to make himself available for the NBA draft. Fellow junior Jordan Hill is expected to do the same. Junior point guard Nic Wise also might not be back.
Miller mentioned Wise by name when he talked about wanting a coaching staff that already knew Xavier’s system.
“I want our staff to be able to teach people like Nic Wise our system,” the new coach said.
When Livengood said, “I feel reasonably sure right now that we have a phenomenal head basketball coach,” Miller interrupted and said, “You should be very sure.”
In five seasons at Xavier, Miller compiled a 120-47 record and took four teams to the NCAA tournament. His last three teams won the Atlantic 10 championship. In 2008, his Musketeers advanced to the Elite Eight. This year’s team made it to the regional semifinals, and he had potentially his best team yet coming back next season.
He said it was a wrenching decision to leave a place that meant so much to him.
There were reports that he initially turned down the Arizona job before deciding Monday to take it, but he said Tuesday that “I don’t know if I ever said no.”
“It just takes some time as the person making the decision to be able to figure out what’s right, what’s wrong, and take a deep breath and really reflect on it,” Miller said. “Jim was more at the mercy of me just trying to take a little bit longer, not necessarily changing my mind as much as making sure because this is a great decision. A new coach shows up here, you want him to be ready to go.
“I know what the expectations are. I wanted to make sure I was that guy.”
As for his new staff, Miller said he would wait to see if his lead assistant Chris Mack would replace him at Xavier.
“I’m hopeful that that happens. I think it would be a great choice,” Miller said.
Miller said he would recruit nationally but would not rush to fill available scholarships.
“We’re going to be selective. Most importantly we have to take the players that can do what we want to do,” he said. “If that’s not the class of 2009, we’re going to be patient and take the right ones in the class of 2010.”
He said he planned to work out the remaining Arizona players over the next few days. For Wise, Miller would be his fourth coach in four seasons.
“One of the things that I take great pride in and our staff will is there’s nothing more important than the players, nothing,” Miller said. “It’s not even close. If you treat the players the right way, they’ll run through a wall for you. If you do everything you can to make sure they develop on and off the court, in return the team will build itself.”
Miller recalled playing at McKale as a point guard for Pittsburgh.
“Sean Elliott had about seven dunks in a row,” he said. “It was so loud in this building.”
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