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Vindicated? Maybe. Off The Hook? Not Just Yet

Sean Miller’s not getting fired this week but there are plenty of land mines left for Miller and Arizona.

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Stanford v Arizona
TUCSON, AZ - MARCH 01: Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats walks onto the floor before the start of the college basketball game against the Stanford Cardinal at McKale Center on March 1, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona.
Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

What a bizarre week for Arizona. A few days ago, it looked like coach Sean Miller would be gone, and soon. An ESPN report claimed that Miller had been wiretapped discussing paying $100,00 to freshman star Deandre Ayton. The Board of Regents met to discuss the situation.

Greg Hansen, a columnist for Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, wrote a column saying that he should never coach Arizona again.

Jay Bilas said on ESPN that he thought Miller’s career was over. Bill Walton went on an epic rant while covering Arizona’s game at Oregon.

In general, it looked like Miller was toast and not just at Arizona. He was radioactive.

Now?

Arizona obviously had to investigate the situation and we’re sure the initial impulse was to can him and move forward but that didn’t happen.

On Thursday, Miller held a press conference and emphatically denied any wrongdoing. And since ESPN’s story broke, it has been corrected more than once with ESPN ultimately standing behind the original story. Jay Bilas says he has full confidence in reporter Mark Slabach.

And at Thursday’s Arizona-Stanford game Arizona president Robert Robbins very publicly visited with Miller’s wife and Miller got a standing ovation from McKale center fans.

So what gives?

Well first, here’s Miller’s statement:

“Let me begin by saying I regret all the negative attention that has been focused on our program and the difficult position that this has created for (UA) President Robbins, (athletic director) Dave Heeke, the Arizona family and especially our players and their families.

”I appreciate all the support I have received during this difficult time. Thank you to everybody. While I have done nothing wrong, I am responsible for our men’s basketball program and I am sickened that we are in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

”Contrary to what has been written this past week, we do our very best to run a clean program at the University of Arizona. I have done that since the first day I stepped on this campus. Compliance with NCAA rules is extremely important to us and we work hard to create maintain a culture of compliance within our program. I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program. I have never paid a recruit or prospect or their family or representative, to come to Arizona. I never have and I never will. I have never arranged or directed payment or any improper benefits to a recruit or prospect or their family or representative and I never will.

”I also understand that there is an ongoing federal investigation and because of this I cannot do anything that might compromise the integrity of this investigation. However, on this point I cannot remain silent in light of media reports that have impugned the reputation of me, the university and sullied the reputation of a tremendous young man, Deandre Ayton, let me be very very clear: I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona. In fact, I never even met or spoke to Christian Dawkins until after Deandre publicly announced that he was coming to our school. Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate false and defamatory. I’m outraged by the media statements that have been made and the acceptance by many that these statements were true. There was no such conversation. These statements have damaged me, my family, the university, Deandre Ayton and his incredible family. The only attempted corrections by the original source of the media statements are still inaccurate and completely false. I also want you to know that the one time someone suggested to me paying a player to come to the University of Arizona I did not agree to it. it never happened. And that player did not come to the University of Arizona. Out of respect for this ongoing investigation, the privacy of the student-athlete and his family, I’m not gonna share further details concerning this matter.

“I appreciate more than anyone can realize Dr. Robbins and the university carefully considering this matter and acting upon facts. I have been completely open and transparent and I look forward to coaching this outstanding team as we seek to capture a Pac-12 regular season championship this week. I now intend to turn my focus to basketball and my players and this team. I once again want to express my thanks to all those who have supported me, and this now completes my statement on this matter.”

For their part, Robbins and Arizona A.D. Dave Heeke issued their own statement:

“At this time we have no reason to believe that Coach Miller violated NCAA rules or any laws regarding the allegation reported in the media. Additionally, he has a record of compliance with NCAA rules, and he has been cooperative with this process.”

There’s a bit of hedging in “at this time” but everyone seems reassured - enough to overlook the fact that Miller’s long-time assistant Book Richardson is facing 60 years in prison over his role in the FBI scandal that led to the alleged wiretap. We don’t know anymore than anyone else, but human nature suggests that if Richardson is offered a deal he’ll take it. We seriously doubt he's going to risk 60 years in prison to protect anyone else. Miller understands that.

Nonetheless, at least for the moment, Miller has triumphed.

And Sports Illustrated, perhaps happy to poop on a rival, is gleefully reporting that the Slabach story is inaccurate because the wiretapping started after Ayton committed and goes on to suggest that Miller may sue ESPN.

It’s turned into a first class circus and the truth is still unclear. It appears that the university has examined the situation and believes Miller, yet ESPN, having also looked closely at the situation, stands by its report. It’s worth reminding here that Bilas is also an attorney and we’re sure he has a clear understanding of this case or as much as anyone can have without having the original FBI report.

All we can do is wait.

Well, that and mock Greg Hansen.

We’ve periodically called him America’s worst columnist. He’s not a nice man and in our opinion his columns at time verge on malicious. Here are his recent columns. You can stand the headlines or read them all but the trajectory is pretty clear: on Saturday, he said Miller should never coach Arizona again and should be terminated immediately. On Thursday, he said Miller “won the big one.”

All of the following are by Hansen except for the last one which is a general overview.

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