It’s no secret that Illinois head coach John Groce is on the hot seat. Despite a good road win at Northwestern earlier this week, the Illini still find themselves in third-to-last place in the conference and have a fan base that is growing impatient with Groce’s failure to produce wins. Many are calling for AD Josh Whitman to find a replacement for the fifth-year head coach. Despite their recent struggles, Illinois has a rich basketball history and could potentially be the most attractive job available this offseason, given nothing shocking happens at a place like Indiana.
So who are some candidates to replace the head honcho in Champaign? As a part of our coaching profile series, today we examine current Dayton head coach Archie Miller.
Miller is a very young head coach, which means he doesn’t have as much past experience as other popular fan choices. He was born in Pennsylvania but played his college ball at N.C. State, where he led the Wolfpack in three-pointers and three-point shooting percentage from 1998 to 2002. The following year Miller was hired as an assistant at Western Kentucky, and from there he bounced around to several different programs as an assistant including Arizona State and Ohio State.
In 2009 he was added to his brother’s staff at Arizona and worked with Sean for two years before getting his first head coaching gig at Dayton in 2011. Since then Miller has led the Flyers to three NCAA tournament appearances (including an Elite Eight run) and an NIT bid. Miller’s teams have also managed to pull off some impressive upsets, including downing Ohio State, Syracuse, Gonzaga and VCU.
Dayton won their conference championship last season and look poised to have a similar run at the Atlantic 10 crown this year. The Flyers currently sit at 18-5 overall, with four of those losses coming on the road against respectable teams (including Northwestern and Nebraska). Expect Miller’s squad to have another solid finish to their season and potentially make another NCAA tournament run.
While there aren’t any direct ties to the University of Illinois, Miller knows the midwestern recruiting landscape well and has managed to pluck several highly-touted prospects out of the Chicagoland area. His brother Sean is also well-known in that area, so it wouldn’t be a situation where no one knew of Archie if he were hired. He also does boast some Big Ten experience, having been assistant on Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State, the same place John Groce started out at. Even though it was just three years, Miller knows the Big Ten landscape which can’t be discounted when considering him for the job.
Dayton also agreed to play in this season’s Chicago Legends doubleheader, and they actually had a better fan turnout at the United Center than the hometown Northwestern Wildcats did. So although Miller may not have a direct line to Champaign, he certainly isn’t uncomfortable or unknown in the Chicago and other midwestern areas.
1. Proven recruiter
This is definitely one of Miller’s best qualities. Even though Dayton hasn’t landed any five-star talents (yet), Miller has managed to turn around the program and consistently identify underrated players in the midwest that fit in his system. Miller, unlike some of the potential candidates on our list, doesn’t come with the concern of not being able to recruit Chicago, which is a huge plus for his potential at a power-five Big Ten program like Illinois.
2. He’s young
Miller has led teams to the Elite Eight and three straight tournament appearances. And he’s only 38 years old. He’s young and charismatic, not unlike Illinois’ current head man, and excels at pushing his players to the limits of their talent. This would be the type of hire that is in it for the long haul, assuming Miller doesn’t exceed expectations so much so that an even bigger-name school comes calling.
3. Strong basketball family
The Miller family’s blood runs deep in basketball. It’s never a bad thing to have a brother coaching one of the best basketball programs in the west (Arizona). Archie’s connections to that state and his family mean that some different and interesting areas of recruiting open up if he were to be hired at Illinois. His strong familial presence that is rich with basketball history may connect Archie to some pipelines that Illinois had never before considered.
1. Committed to Dayton
This is the biggest obstacle. Miller is getting paid a nice salary to coach at a place he loves and he’s publicly stated he’s not going anywhere. That said, money can change all that. But Whitman and the Illini would need to offer a boatload of it if they want to pique Miller’s interest. Teams like Texas, Pittsburgh and Florida have reached out to Archie when they had vacancies but he declined to leave the Flyers in all three cases. It would take quite a lot to pull Miller away from Dayton, which is probably Illinois’ biggest obstacle when it comes to this candidate.
2. He’s young
This is a pro and a con. Obviously there are a lot of benefits to hiring a young head coach, but there are a few potential downsides as well. As much success as Miller has had in his young career, he’s only been a head coach at one school. There’s no telling how a change of scenery and change of systems could effect him. While the energy and passion that young coaches like Archie bring is great, it also means they’re a little less experienced and haven’t “been through the ringer” as much as other potential candidates on the Illini’s list have been.
3. Comes from the Matta/Groce tree
This isn’t necessarily a con, and I’m admittedly nitpicking with this one. However I could see some portion of the Illinois fanbase getting upset if the first hire made after firing a former Ohio State and Thad Matta assistant was a former Ohio State and Thad Matta assistant. While there have been some bright spots to Groce’s time in Champaign, his struggles have been well-documented, and Matta might actually be on the hot seat himself in Columbus. It might not make the most sense to go right back to that well.
Russell Steinberg of the SBNation site Mid Major Madness weighed in on the likelihood of Miller moving on from Dayton:
Miller is one of those dream candidates that every major school puts on their list when they have a vacancy. By now we know Miller’s not going to jump ship unless the offer is really, really enticing. What can Illinois offer that bigger schools have not? Nothing that I can see. But if, somehow, the Illini were able to get this done, they’d get a coach who is a proven winner and who has had recruiting success in the Chicago area, having brought in Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis. But it seems very unlikely at this point.
Although Archie would be a fantastic hire for the Illini, I have to side with Russell on this one. Miller has been offered big salaries by power-five programs before and hasn’t budged. It would take a massive financial commitment to get Miller to even pick up the phone. His brother Sean, head coach at Arizona, has been mentioned in some Illinois rumors too, but having just signed a contract extension he won’t be on Whitman’s radar. In fact, Arizona SBNation writer Jason Bartel wrote us a few words about Illinois’ chances of landing Sean Miller:
No chance. Good luck. Not trying to be a jerk, just being realistic with you. Miller never even entertained the thought of leaving for Pitt, which is his alma mater. Personally, I believe there are three jobs he would leave Arizona for: Duke, UNC, and Kentucky. Don't think the list is any longer than that.
So it doesn’t look like either of the Miller boys will be viable options in Champaign.
Have thoughts on Archie Miller’s (slim) chances of becoming the next head coach at Illinois? Drop by in the comments section below and let us know what you think!