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Friday, April 10, 2009

Arizona Daily Star - Greg Hansen : Miller, Pastner quite different but so similar

Greg Hansen : Miller, Pastner quite different but so similar
Opinion by Greg Hansen
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona

During Xavier's run to the Sweet 16 last month, the Cincinnati Enquirer described Musketeer coach Sean Miller as "the man behind the scowl."

It didn't suggest that he was mean-spirited, but rather intense in a good way. "He's an extremist," his brother, Ohio State assistant coach Archie Miller, told the Enquirer.

A few days ago, at the press conference introducing Josh Pastner as Memphis' basketball coach, the former Wildcat assistant used the term "rockin' and rollin'" three times. Maybe more. I lost count. Since Pastner arrived in Tucson in 1997, he has been scowl-free. He's a smiler.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. He's 31. Those words and his mannerisms link him to a generation more familiar with happy than sad.

"Age is overrated," Pastner said at his press conference.

By comparison, Miller, 40, who grew up in a steelworker town, Ellwood City, Pa., spoke in serious tones about his "system" during an all-business news conference at McKale Center.

Miller coaches. He has a system. He has won 120 games.

Pastner recruits. He has won no games. His system is in the to-be-determined stage.
And yet there is no one "right way" to coach at the highest level of college basketball. Both men begin their new assignments 0-0. It will be fascinating to follow their journey.

Miller knows how to deal with the refs and the media. He has spent five years as a buck-stops-here disciplinarian.

Pastner is about to be introduced to those often unkind variables. You ask yourself: how will he handle a 2 a.m., phone call from the constables when one of his Memphis Tigers invariably runs afoul of the law? How will he spin it? Is he a zero-tolerance guy? Or is he a long-leash guy?

Can he be tough? At Arizona, he was a gee-whiz guy, a good cop to Lute Olson's bad cop.

Miller and Pastner are different. They are the same. Both were basketball prodigies, destined to be coaches by the time they were 15. Their paths did not cross at Arizona, but they will forever be linked because of their association with the UA and the fact they were hired — Miller at Arizona, Pastner at Memphis — within 24 hours of one another.

I ask: Which would you hire?

A few days before Miller was introduced at McKale, as an unspoken tension gripped Tucson, I convened an unofficial screening committee at the UA Student Union.
I asked: Would you hire Pastner to coach the Wildcats? Is he ready?

Former Pac-10 athletic directors Mike Lude of Washington, Joe Kearney of Arizona State and Norv Richey of Oregon gathered to attend the Southern Arizona chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame banquet.

"I've never believed in OJT," said Lude.


"On-the-job training," he said. "Let the other guy take that risk. I want someone who experienced all of the issues a head coach encounters: the pressure to win, the pressure to deal with the public and the administration, and all of the other daily variables, such as recruiting, game strategy and being a leader."
Kearney agreed.

"You don't want to be surprised," he said. "There's too much at stake. Athletic departments today are huge corporations."

I asked if it was necessary to hire someone with geographical ties to the Pac-10.
"I hired Montana's Jud Heathcote when I was at Michigan State," said Kearney. "Before that, he spent about 20 years in Spokane and at Washington State. It took him all of three years to win the national championship in the foreign territory of Michigan. Jud knew how to coach; it didn't matter where he was."
Lude nodded.

"When I got to Washington, Don James was our football coach. He was from Kent State. He had gone to school in Florida and coached in Michigan and Colorado. Geography didn't matter. He went to the Rose Bowl in his third season at Washington."
So I don't think it's going to matter a whit that Sean Miller has never played or coached a basketball game in the greater Los Angeles area, which is Arizona's most important recruiting turf.

As first-year UA women's basketball coach Niya Butts, a Georgian by way of Tennessee and Kentucky told me: "The first time I went recruiting in L.A., I made sure my rental car had a navigation system. I found my way."

I suspect both Miller and Pastner will find their way, too. One is a beginner, the other is at the beginning of a new mission.

One is the man behind the scowl. One is the man behind the smile.

I'm betting that it works both ways.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or

1 comment:

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