As the NCAA Tournament and the 2010-11 college basketball season wound down these past few days (and boy did it wind down last night), the annual movement of coaches among the college ranks started to pick up. Teams are scrambling to fill vacancies with the best talent on the market, and while some coaches have indicated an intent to stay put despite recent attention (see Shaka Smart), others seem to have entertained the possibility of moving elsewhere (see Matt Painter). Then there are those coaches who have already put pen to paper and signed on the dotted line, thus sealing their future (at least for the next few years) as the new head coach for a program.
One such coach is Archie Miller, who just signed on as the new head coach for the Dayton Flyers. The Flyers’ former coach, Brian Gregory, made the decision to leave for Georgia Tech, leaving Dayton with an opening to fill and Miller as an attractive candidate. Miller, who is coming to Dayton from the University of Arizona, where he served as an assistant under older brother Sean Miller, may be a familiar name to Ohio State followers from his days as an assistant under Thad Matta for the Buckeyes. Miller was in Columbus for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons before joining his brother at Arizona. Going one step further, the Miller family in general has some connection to Thad and Ohio State by means of the following: Sean served as Thad’s assistant at Xavier, taking the head position there upon Thad’s move to Ohio State, and younger brother Brandon Miller has remained as an assistant at Ohio State on Thad’s staff, even after Archie moved on to greener pastures.
No doubt Archie will now be looking to recruit some of the same talent that catches Thad’s eye and that used to catch Sean’s eye at Xavier. However, Dayton is an entirely different school from Ohio State (and from Xavier, for that matter), and Coach Miller (seems appropriate to stop calling him “Archie”) will be taking steps to build the program according to his mental image of how things should be. One goal that has been publicly stated already is that of making the Flyers annual participants in the NCAA Tournament. This may seem like a one-size-fits-all goal at first, but it is actually a high standard. Miller, who was noted for his feisty, all-business style of play at NC State, is probably a good pick to lead the Dayton program forward and will likely make some noise in the A-10 sooner rather than later. At 32, Miller will be one of the youngest coaches in the country, and his energy should be a positive factor in recruiting talent to a mid-level school like Dayton.
Miller’s hire at Dayton prompts thoughts of how teams “brand” themselves in college basketball. While players are recruited in part based on intangibles like work ethic and basketball IQ, there is more flexibility to be found in fitting certain players into a program than there is in trying to make a coach adapt to many different circumstances. A coach’s role is not to change their approach day-to-day, but rather to serve as the face of the team and set the tone for how basketball will be played at the particular school. A Buckeye fan need look no further than our own program at Ohio State and the transition that took place from Jim O’Brien to Thad Matta, both in terms of reputation and style of play. Coaches are obviously critical hires given the investment of resources in their positions, but the importance of getting the right person is even more apparent when considering how a coach truly shapes the image, or the “brand” of a school’s basketball program.
Some coaches across the country have a very recognizable brand. The names that quickly come to mind are names like Krzyzewski, Izzo, Calipari, Huggins, and (gag) Ryan (of the Bo variety). Others have more recently emerged: Frank Miller at Kansas State, the previously mentioned Sean Miller at Arizona, and Brad Stevens from last night’s difficult championship game. These coaches have become well known for their style and approach, and players will be attracted to their respective schools accordingly. At the same time, fans will become more or less interested in a team based on who is at the helm of the program setting the tone for the way the team plays and how much the coach engages with the school at large.
What makes some players choose a true screamer like Frank Miller over an intellectual like Brad Stevens? Certainly Miller has taken the Izzo brand of “hoarse basketball” to a whole new level, and at times it seems absurd, but you can’t deny the fact that he led his team on the comeback trail at the end of this season just past and into the NCAA Tournament.
It will be interesting to see if more and more young coaches like Archie Miller emerge on the scene over the coming years, and what brand of basketball they bring to the table. Will “the next Brad Stevens” be the preferred flavor, or “the next Frank Miller?” Is one brand more broadly appealing, or more importantly, more likely to result in success? As a fan, I can understand the entertainment of having Frank Miller as a coach, but as a player I’d be more inclined to go for Brad Stevens’ brand.
Finally, we can return to our beloved Buckeyes in this discussion of style and image. Comments about recent events aside, our football team is one of the prime examples of branding, and this has gone to new heights since Tressel has been in town. On the hardwood, Thad’s brand is a bit more difficult to define. High-energy, definitely. Fun, absolutely. Hard-working, yes. Learning about the team’s attention to fouls this year brings to light a new element that we could term “analytical” basketball, and makes me respect Thad’s leadership even more. Although this total package is hard to nail down, it seems to be working. Maybe that’s just it – the best brand of basketball is the type that you can’t easily define. You just know it’s good when you see it.