DAYTON — When the name was brought up, John Miller started to laugh: “Ever hear of Archie Bunker? Man, that’s how he got that nickname. He was ornery, just a tough little guy growing up. But my wife has a hard time with that. She says, ‘His name is Ryan. Why do they keep calling him Archie?’ And I tell her, ‘Well, he’s just a nasty, tough little bugger. He doesn’t back down from nothing.’”
When you want to know about the kid, talk to the old man. Especially when that man is John Miller, the legendary basketball coach from Blackhawk High School in Beaver Falls, Pa. He’s a guy who won four state titles, once won 111 straight games, and now is someone who can boast he has two sons who are Division I college basketball coaches: Sean — the former Pitt point guard and Xavier head coach — is now the successful head coach of the Arizona Wildcats. Archie — as of this weekend — is the new Dayton Flyers coach.
Although, at 32, he’s one of the youngest D-I head coaches in the nation, Ryan “Archie” Miller not only has quite the pedigree, but if you talk to UD Athletics Director Tim Wabler — the man who hired him — you’ll hear how he has a pretty good vision of what Flyers basketball is ... and could be.
Wabler — with the help of associate AD Dave Harper and university president Dr. Dan Curran, who is in China but stayed in constant phone contact — needed six days to find a replacement for Brian Gregory, who left for Georgia Tech.
When he headed out of Dayton last Tuesday, eventually making his way to the Final Four in Houston, Wabler had a short list of names that included Miller’s. He said he interviewed five coaches and that Miller stood out as an obvious choice.Miller has been on his brother’s Arizona staff the past two years. Before that he worked two seasons for Thad Matta at Ohio State, spent three seasons on Herb Sendek’s staffs at Arizona State and his alma mater North Carolina State and also spent a year at Western Kentucky.
He has a reputation as a top recruiter and played a big part in luring what is considered one of the Top 5 recruiting classes in the nation next season to Arizona.
“When we went out there (to the Final Four) it became real obvious we needed somebody who embraced the challenge of getting us to the point where we’re annually in that NCAA tournament,” Wabler said. “With his experiences at a number of different places, his enthusiasm, you just saw that look in his eye that he’s ready.”
John Miller said he’s seen that look since Archie was little: “I’ll tell you right now, you got yourself a pit bull for a coach. He’s one of the hardest working dudes in America. I know for a fact he’s already been recruiting for Dayton.”
That is some dogged work considering Miller was just introduced as the Flyers new coach late Sunday afternoon at a UD Arena news conference.
At the podium, Miller spoke of his bond with his older brother Sean, once considered by many Flyer Faithful to be the head of the enemy camp at Xavier: “You all know him well in this room,” he said with a grin. “He’s not a bad guy.”
The crowd roared. Miller also spoke with pride about his dad, who coached him: “I’m the son of a coach and I’m proud to say that. He shaped me not only as a basketball player, but on how to conduct myself the right way to be responsible and how eventually to be successful.”
He said he wished his dad was there for the news conference, but “he’s at the Final Four moseying around with the rest of the basketball world.”
Reached by phone Sunday night, his dad said his Final Four trip actually had begun with a bit of subterfuge.
“My wife and I flew into Houston, and we were sitting there at a Starbucks in the airport about to head to the shuttle when I was like ‘Holy Cow, there’s Archie.’ He said he’d take us to the hotel. On the way I said, ‘Hey, what do you hear about the Dayton job?’"
Although his son already had interviewed with Wabler once, he never tipped his hand. “He said, ‘I haven’t heard anything.’” John said. “He said, ‘I think that’s a little above me maybe.’ He didn’t give us a thing. I thought Dayton might be interested, but he didn’t give us a clue. Then the next thing he’s calling us and telling us he’s flying up there to check out the job.”
Archie said he didn’t want any family drama. John said he and his son — “he’s 5-foot-9, I’m 5-8” — are a lot alike.
“The kid scraps,” John said. “And I’ll tell you what, I got two state titles with him running the point. And then you talk about a kid 5-9 and 156 pounds playing four years at N.C. State. You say how the heck did that happen? How could a kid like that go against Carolina, Duke and Wake and those guys? He’s just a tough kid.”
He said it will be the same deal at Dayton.
“He knows where he’s coming and what the place can be. It’s a great school with a great basketball tradition. He knows what the expectations are ... and he knows one other thing that’s important.”
John paused for a second — for effect and because he was getting a kick out of it.
“He’s coming after Xavier,” John said.
John can work the needle because he knows plenty of the Xavier folks. Many are his friends, but he knows some things are about to change.
“I tell you what, I know the rabid fans you have up there," John said. "They love that team. I’ve been to UD Arena when Xavier has shown up. I’ve been down in that corner sitting behind the visiting team. And the students are there and the band comes in with that guy marching with ’em. It’s a tough place to play. I’m telling you it’s gonna be good to finally get to sit on the other side of the fence now. Archie called me up Saturday night and said, ‘I’m not signing this contract unless you burn the rest of your Xavier stuff. All of it.’ Like I said, he’s just a tough, nasty little bugger.”