Arizona president backs Sean Miller amid federal investigation into bribery, corruption

Sean Miller broke his silence on Tuesday (AP)
Sean Miller broke his silence on Tuesday (AP)

It’s at last apparent what Arizona’s position on Sean Miller will be.

School president Dr. Robert C. Robbins released a statement Tuesday backing Miller barring new evidence implicating him in the federal investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball.

“Sean Miller has not been charged with, nor accused of any misconduct and he has been fully cooperative and supportive of our efforts to determine the facts in pursuit of the truth,” Robbins said. “In a message that he shared with the community earlier today, Sean expressed his own devastation at the revelations last week and acknowledged his responsibility as the head coach to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance. Based on the facts that we know at this time, we support Coach Miller and intend to provide him with all of the tools necessary to meet our goals and expectations.”

Robbins’ support of Miller comes one week after longtime Arizona assistant Book Richardson was arrested on charges of bribery and fraud. A federal complaint alleged that Richardson received $20,000 in bribes in exchange for steering current Wildcats to a sports agent and used some of that money to bribe recruits to play for Arizona.

It’s no surprise that Arizona is standing behind Miller given his clean track record and impressive win-loss record. Miller brought stability to a proud yet floundering program when he arrived eight years ago, leading the Wildcats to a 220-66 record and six appearances in the Sweet 16 or beyond.

Richardson has played a key role in that success, persuading some of the East Coast’s elite prospects to head West to Tucson. Among the players the former New York Gauchos AAU coach has recruited include Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kevin Parrom, Mark Lyons and Rawle Alkins.

Even though it strains the bounds of credulity that a coach as detail-oriented as Miller would not know how his longest-tenured assistant was allegedly operating, the federal investigation has not yet produced any evidence incriminating Miller. In his first public comments, Miller released a statement Tuesday that did not specifically address what he knew or didn’t know.

“I was devastated to learn last week of the allegations made against Emanuel Richardson,” Miller said. “I have expressed to both Dr. Robbins and our Athletic Director Dave Heeke that I fully support the University’s efforts to fully investigate these allegations.

“As the head basketball coach at the University of Arizona, I recognize my responsibility is not only to establish a culture of success on the basketball court and in the classroom, but as important, to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance. To the best of my ability, I have worked to demonstrate this over the past 8 years and will continue to do so as we move forward.”

Arizona has not yet said whether the federal investigation could impact the eligibility of any current members of a team expected to begin the new season in the top three in the polls. The federal complaint describes Richardson telling an agent that a current Wildcats player has already been paid in exchange for eventually signing with a different agency.

In Robbins’ statement, he announced that Arizona has hired the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson to conduct an independent review. Robbins said the university has also retained lawyers to handle the federal probe and any subsequent NCAA investigation.

Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke described himself as “angered and disheartened” by the allegations in a letter to Wildcats fans. But Heeke, like Robbins, is for now standing behind Miller.

“I promise that I, along with our staff, will work tirelessly to ensure this department operates with the highest of ethical standards,” Heeke said. “With basketball practice underway, I ask that you join me in supporting Sean Miller, the staff, and our student-athletes as they work towards the start of the season.”