Arizona Wildcats hoops coaching turnover never because of leaving to other program


Even before Jamie Dixon officially accepted TCU’s offer to become the head coach at his alma mater on Monday, fans and media types started to hypothesize about Sean Miller possibly returning to his roots in Pittsburgh.

The Panthers now have a vacancy for head coach of the program in which Miller starred as point guard from 1987-92.

History suggests in a distinct way that Arizona does not lose head coaches to other programs. Jim Young left for Purdue and Larry Smith bolted for USC in football, but that has not happened with Wildcat hoops.

In fact, the only man to depart for another head coaching job was way back in 1924, when Basil “Chick” Stanley left Arizona athletic director and football/baseball coach J.F. “Pop” McKale to become the San Mateo (Calif.) Union High School boy’s hoops coach.

Stanley left after only one season in Tucson, returning close to where he completed his graduate work at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. Two years after his departure from Arizona, Stanley became the freshman football coach at Notre Dame, where he earned an undergraduate degree almost a decade earlier playing on the offensive line for Knute Rockne.

Stanley is the only coach who had visions of grandeur beyond Arizona … well, except James Pierce who moved in 1923 to Hollywood after two seasons as coach to become an actor, paving the way for Stanley to join the program.

Coach Years Rec Reason for change
Raymond Quigley 1912-14 10-4 Became physical ed director of L.A. playgrounds
J.F. "Pop" McKale 1914-21 49-12 Concentrated on being AD & coaching UA football/baseball
James Pierce 1921-23 27-5 Resigned to become actor in Hollywood
Basil Stanley 1923-24 14-3 Became head coach at San Mateo (Calif.) High School
Walter Davis 1924-25 7-4 Became Arizona freshman football/basketball coach
Fred A. Enke Sr. 1925-61 509-324 Retired after 36 years
Bruce Larson 1962-72 136-148 Forced to resign after 11 years
Fred Snowden 1972-82 167-108 Reassigned within athletic department
Ben Lindsey 1982-83 4-24 Fired after worst season in Arizona history
Lute Olson 1983-07 589-187 Retired because of health reasons after 24 years
Kevin O'Neill 2007-08 19-15 Not retained after interim season as coach
Russ Pennell 2008-09 21-14 Not retained after interim season as coach
Sean Miller 2009-now 188-61 Still active/just completed seventh year

Lute Olson was tempted by Kentucky twice but realized his legacy at Arizona was too strong. Miller was courted by Maryland after Arizona’s 2011 Elite Eight season but became more devoted to the Wildcats when charter flights were promised as part of the program’s perks shortly thereafter.

The Miller to Pittsburgh talk will still come about despite heavy odds against that happening.

Miller presently coaches a program that draws five-star talent, reigns supreme in the Pac-12 annually from talent on the floor to fans in the stands, and has plenty of former players who either are on NBA rosters or have reached that level.

And this: The high temperature in Tucson on Monday was 88 degrees with a near-perfect low of 57 degrees. In Pittsburgh, it was 40 degrees as the high with an expected low below freezing at 29 degrees with rain in the forecast.

Arizona has four Final Fours and a national championship, albeit the Wildcats have not advanced beyond the Elite Eight since 2001, the last time Lute Olson coached his team to a national title game.

Pitt has one Final Four appearance in 1941 with two Elite Eights in 1974 and 2009.

The Panthers have only one NBA player — Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Arizona has 13.

The Wildcats first became a national name in recruiting circles with Olson. Miller has maintained contacts in fertile nearby California. Arizona and UCLA have long been the prominent programs on the West coast.

Pittsburgh has no such recruiting base. The Panthers must compete for talent with similar programs in the Big Ten, ACC and Big East in the Midwest and Atlantic coast.

Miller to Pitt? Make that Archie Miller of Dayton, Sean’s brother, to Pitt and it makes more sense. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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