CINCINNATI — Sean Miller talked about excellence, humility and lessons learned when he was introduced on Friday as the latest Xavier University head men's basketball coach, his second stint at XU.
Miller replaces the outgoing Travis Steele, with whom the university parted ways "mutually" two weeks ago following consecutive misses of the NCAA Tournament.
"Today is one of the happiest and most exciting days of my life," Miller said.
Miller was the head coach of the Musketeers from 2004 to 2009, guiding the team to four NCAA tournaments. He moved on to the University of Arizona, where he coached 12 years, continuing his run at excellence making three Elite Eights in 7 NCAA Tournaments and winning at least a share of five conference championships. Ironically, in one of Miller's best years with Arizona when the team was 32-4 and a Number 1 seed, he was beaten in the NCAA Tournament by Xavier.
He has had a year off from basketball after being fired by the University of Arizona in 2021. The "fresh start" that Arizona said it needed came after allegations of multiple NCAA rules violations, including that Arizona illegally offered extra payment to student athletes for choosing to attend the school. Miller has denied any allegations lodged against him. The investigation into that case remains ongoing.
Miller did not address any of the allegations directly, but referenced "lessons learned" from mistakes and "humility" multiple times throughout his time at the podium during his announcement ceremony at the Cintas Center Friday afternoon and in his post-ceremony press conference.
You can watch the entire announcement ceremony here:
Miller thanked Steele for his work with the team, saying that he has known Travis since he was 14 years old, and that what Xavier has accomplished over the years, including the Number 1 seed and Big East champion team of 2018, was accomplished, in part, thanks to Steele's 14 years of work with the team.
"He's an excellent recruiter, an excellent basketball coach," Miller said.
"I want to thank him and wish him well."
Miller thanked his wife, Amy, for being by his side through his years of coaching and also thanked Xavier's President and Director of Athletics for making his return possible.
"Today became a reality for us because of the belief in efforts of (Xavier president) Colleen Hanycz and (Director of athletics) Greg Christopher," Miller said.
Miller said he met with those two in Atlanta and was "awe-struck" by the conversation that revolved around the importance of the basketball program to the university and to Cincinnati.
The returning head coach talked a great deal about the importance of the education of student-athletes, recounting an important member of the Xavier community, Sister Rose Ann Fleming. He called her "one of the most remarkable people that I have ever met in my life."
"I had a bobblehead of you sitting in my office the last 12 years," Miller said.
He also talked about the biggest lesson he got from former university president Father James Hoff. Miller said Hoff told him "Coach, you have one job: Do better."
Miller gushed over the 2007 team he coached at Xavier above all else - a team that made it to the Elite Eight, losing to a UCLA team that had four future NBA Stars on its roster.
Even though he joked that backup point guard and now assistant coach Dante Jackson "couldn't dribble," Miller said that they "were the ultimate TEAM," emphasizing the way the players played together in that season and the surrounding seasons.
"I don't know that any team meant more to me than the one in 2007," Miller said in his post-ceremony press conference.
Fan: Coach, are you gonna wear a suit on gamedays?— Caleb Noe (@CalebNoeTV) March 25, 2022
Sean Miller: No way! pic.twitter.com/zAAmUbYvX0
So how has Sean Miller changed since his last stint at Xavier?
"I learned a lot of lessons at Arizona," Miller said.
He also reflected on how much "wiser" he is than when he began at Xavier, no longer the "young, wild" head coach he once was.
Miller said his year off allowed him to reconnect with his wife and kids more than he has in years past, prompting him to open up his previous "one-track mind" outlook on life to find a better "balance."
"You have to find time for joy," Miller went on to say.
He used an example that when Miller did lose to Xavier in the NCAA Tournament as Arizona's head coach, he said he took about 10 minutes and then got back to recruiting for the next season. He said he never got to relish in the accomplishments of that season. He says he's more prepared to do that now.
"Xavier taught me how to win," Miller said.
Miller remembered some guiding principles he learned under head coach Thad Matta.
"Treat players fair. Make practice and everything we do competitive but fun. Make the players always our focus. Most importantly, nobody is more important than the players that we already have," Miller said.
Miller has some work to do to get the team back into NCAA Tournament shape, with three key outgoing seniors and next season's top recruit Tyrell Ward having reopened his commitment of where to play college basketball next year upon the news of Steele's departure. Ward, the 40th-best ranked high school basketball player in the country according to 247 Sports, said Xavier is still an option, but felt it prudent to explore his options given the change.
It's a challenge Miller is aware of, stressing player fit and evaluation of skills as a priority for recruits going forward and not just looking at the "ranking" of where they are among their peers.
"I look forward to building a roster (like this year's Number 2-seed Arizona team), right here at Xavier," Miller said.
Speaking of recruits, Miller said he had a conversation with DeAndre Ayton, 7-foot center for the Phoenix Suns who played for Miller at Arizona. Ayton said that his 1-year-old is coming to play for Miller.
"So if I can hang on for 17 or 18 years, our frontcourt is set," Miller joked.
Through the excitement, the Arizona investigation lingers over the new hire for Xavier, with CBS Sports Insider Jon Rothstein saying could lead to game suspensions when it concludes.
"The matter at Arizona is separate from today here at Xavier. There will be a time when that topic can be talked about ... When that day and time comes, I look forward to sharing more," Miller said in his post-ceremony press conference.
Xavier had a trust in Miller to get the job done regardless, and Miller affirmed the different culture of a school like Xavier that "does things the right way."
"This will be the best version of myself," Miller said.
"I am so anxious to lead, teach and uphold the values of Xavier on and off the court."
Standing ovation as Sean Miller takes the stage.— Caleb Noe (@CalebNoeTV) March 25, 2022
One fan just yelled “Welcome home Sean!” pic.twitter.com/iHNfSSaQH8
Miller closed his remarks with a message for the fans to help fill the 10,250-seat Cintas Center and restore XU to its previous status as one of the toughest places to play in the country.
"Tell your neighbors, tell your family members: You make sure you buy as many tickets as you can," Miller said.
And yes, Miller is looking forward to having Skyline again.
"I love those things, man."
Xavier continues post-season college basketball play in the NIT this weekend, making it to the Final Four of the secondary tournament with a recent win over Vanderbilt. They play St. Bonaventure next Tuesday at 7 p.m. for a shot at the NIT championship.