At Arizona, Sean Miller's recruiting talents and coaching acumen have brought the Wildcats from turmoil to the brink of the Final Four.
Now it appears the 42-year-old coach could be in position to drop what he built in Tucson to return to his East Coast roots and replace Gary Williams at Maryland.
Miller, who currently earns a reported $1.4 million in a five-year deal that might soon include a two-year extension, has quickly emerged as a leading candidate on a short list for the Maryland job, sources close to Miller and familiar with Amateur Athletic Union teams in the Baltimore-Washington region said Friday.
Miller lost star Derrick Williams to the NBA draft but will add what is rated as one of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country to a 30-8 team that reached the Elite Eight last season. So after resurrecting Arizona's program following Lute Olson's retirement, why would Miller want to replace another coaching legend in Williams?
It might come down to family and recruiting ties to the Baltimore-Washington area for Miller. He and his wife are from Pittsburgh. As an assistant at North Carolina State and later as head coach at Xavier, Miller recruited players from AAU teams in the region and nearly got one of this year's top players in Oak Hill (Va.) point guard Quinn Cook, a Bowie native who signed with Duke.
"He nearly got one of the top players in the country being almost 3,000 miles away. I can't imagine what he would do if he was at Maryland," said Damon Handon, one of Cook's coaches on D.C. Assault.
Said Keith Stevens, coach of the region's top AAU team, Team Takeover: "He would be a great hire."
According to those in the AAU community who know him, Miller is "definitely interested" in talking with Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson about replacing Williams, who announced his retirement Friday after 22 seasons at his alma mater. Anderson declined to talk about the search, saying: "This moment is for Gary. I won't be discussing that."
But toward the end of a ceremony that celebrated his coaching career, Williams cautioned that "things will be moving very quickly here -- do whatever you have to do to make that happen." Williams said that he wouldn't be involved in the search, but would offer his advice if asked. Anderson said Williams has "already has talked to me and has made some great suggestions. We'll move on from there."
Miller rejected an offer last month from former Maryland AD Debbie Yow to return to North Carolina State, where he was an assistant under Herb Sendek. Other coaches mentioned in connection with the Maryland job include Villanova coach Jay Wright, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon and Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who grew up in the area and whose family used to have Maryland season tickets.
Anderson said recruiting for the 2012 class won't reopen until early July. But it's likely that Maryland will have someone in place long before that.
One of Miller's associates, who asked not to be identified, said Maryland has already made unofficial contact through a third party. Richard Paige, a spokesman for Arizona, said Friday morning that Miller was in Tucson and was not available for comment. Paige didn't know whether Anderson has called Arizona AD Greg Byrne to ask for permission to talk with Miller.
Legendary DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten said Friday that Maryland would be in good shape with either Miller or Brey.
Wootten has known Brey since he coached him and later hired him as an assistant at DeMatha, then watched him move as a longtime assistant under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke before embarking on his own head coaching career at Delaware. He was Big East Coach of the Year last season. Wootten said he has known Miller since he used to put on dribbling exhibitions, even appearing once on "The Johnny Carson Show."
More recently, Wootten has watched Miller conduct clinics for players.
"He really relates well to them," Wootten said. "He's a great coach and a great recruiter. I think either he or Mike would be a great choice."
Montrose Christian coach Stu Vetter said of Miller: "He's a basketball guy. His dad was a high school coach, and he's been around the game his whole life. He's got a lot of energy."
Miller's teams at Xavier had a similar reputation to Williams' teams at Maryland, often beating opponents with superior talent, particularly in the NCAA tournament. Taking over for Thad Matta, Miller led the Musketeers to four NCAA tournament appearances in five years, advancing to the Elite Eight in 2007-08 and finishing with a 27-8 record in 2008-09, when they advanced to the Sweet 16.
The program at Arizona was in turmoil when Miller arrived, facing self-imposed sanctions. After the team went 16-15 in his first season, the Wildcats had their first unbeaten home record in 15 years, and Miller was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year this season. He signed four players ranked in the top 100 and also has commitments from what could be the top junior class in the country.
"He's a great recruiter," Handon said. "If he was at Maryland, he'd be involved with all the top guys in the area."