The Dayton Flyers find themselves in limbo in the final week of March. Archie Miller will be introduced Monday in Bloomington, Ind., as the new head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers. The players don’t know how long they’ll have to wait for his replacement.
“Just wondering what the future holds at this point,” freshman guard Trey Landers wrote Saturday night on Twitter.
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Sophomore forward Josh Cunningham went through something similar to this as a freshman at Bradley. After Bradley fired Geno Ford, Cunningham asked for his release and transferred to Dayton. He wrote Saturday on Twitter: “Again!!!”
Sophomore forward Xeyrius Williams, the team’s most improved player last season, thanked Miller in an Instagram post for lighting a fire under him on and off the court.
“I truly wish it could have been four years,” Williams said, “but you managed to teach me a lot in a short two. I have nothing but love for you. Thank you, Coach.”
These Flyers aren’t the first players in school history to experience this. Fourteen years ago, Keith Waleskowski was a junior when Oliver Purnell left to coach at Clemson. He knows what the players are feeling.
“It’s really a kind of awkward situation,” Waleskowski said, “because there’s this intermediate time right now that they’re going through. You don’t have a coach, and you don’t know what’s going to happen or what the future holds and what direction the team is going. Obviously, when you have a coach and you have a team, you’re like a family. You spend so much time together with your family, and then someone’s gone. You miss that certainty of what’s going to happen day in and day out. Then there’s uncertainty about what the future holds. That’s difficult.”
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UD took six days to hire Miller in 2011 when Brian Gregory left for Georgia Tech. Athletic Director Neil Sullivan needed only four days in September to hire women’s basketball coach Shauna Green after the resignation of Jim Jabir.
However long it takes, Waleskowski knows it will be an emotional time for the players left behind.
“Some kids may think, ‘Well, why did this guy bail on us. Are we not good enough?’” he said. “Other guys understand the fact that it is a business, and he has to do what’s best for him, what’s best for his family. We all love Dayton and Dayton basketball, but it’s hard to argue with a historically significant job like Indiana. That’s the tough side of the business. You wish him the best.”
That’s the attitude Dayton legend Bucky Bockhorn is taking. Miller called Bockhorn on Saturday after the news broke of him leaving.
“He said we’ll get together before we get out of here for a beer and pizza,” Bockhorn said Sunday.
Bockhorn, the longtime radio analyst for the Flyers on WHIO, said he’s going to miss Miller. They grew close in Miller’s six seasons at the helm. Bockhorn not only attended most games, home and away, he was a consistent presence at practice.
“He treated me with a lot of respect,” Bockhorn said. “I was the first guy that met him when he got here, and he did a hell of a job, no doubt about it. He was one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve ever been around in my life. He surrounded himself with some pretty good people, and I’m going to miss the little (guy), It’ll you you that.”
Bockhorn said he was flabbergasted UD hired such a young coach in 2011 — Miller was 32 at the time — and Miller was shy around him at first.
“Of course, I’m a legend, you know how that goes,” Bockhorn joked.
Bockhorn would put Miller among the greatest UD coaches, right up there with Don Donoher and his own coach, Tom Blackburn. He was sad to hear Miller is leaving but said it wasn’t about the money and it was hard to blame Miller for taking such a big job.
“I called him briefly and told him he did a hell of a job and whatever he decided to do I’m 100 percent behind him,” Bockhorn said.
Miller faces a big challenge at Indiana. The program has won five national titles but none since 1987. It hasn’t reached the Elite Eight or Final Four since 2002 but did reach the Sweet 16 three times under Tom Crean. That wasn’t enough to help him keep the job when the Hoosiers finished 18-16 last season.
Miller proved a coach can win on the national stage at Dayton with five tournament wins in 2014 and 2015, but it will be easier for him to compete for national championships on an annual basis in Bloomington.
“I’m not knocking UD,” Bockhorn said, “but on the national scene when you compare Indiana and UD when you talk to recruits, you’re talking to two different people. I was amazed at how well he recruited.”
As the search for the next Dayton coach continues, UD fans may hope to land someone who will stay for the long term and not use UD as a springboard to a bigger job. Waleskowski hoped Dayton had already reached that point with Miller.
“I think everybody was hoping we had turned the corner,” he said. “We don’t want to be considered a mid-major. We don’t want to be considered a stepping stone type of school. We want some consistency. I was hoping we were a program similar to Gonzaga where you’ve got a coach who’s happy and wants to stay and take this program to the top. I think the list of schools Archie would go to was really short, and part of me hoped he was going to be that guy for us. Obviously, I think we have what it takes.”