Pac-12 coaches reveal little about scandal
UA’s Miller, USC’s Enfield dodge tough questions
SAN FRANCISCO – On the eve of college basketball season, Pac-12 media day normally is a time for coaches to sell optimism, which comes free of charge this time of year. That wasn’t the case here Thursday afternoon.
The FBI investigation into college basketball has cut deeply into the Pac-12. The top teams in the preseason media poll — Arizona and USC — both have assistant coaches who face felony charges of bribery and fraud. What effect this will have on those programs, as well as the sport, is not yet known.
The NCAA this week formed a commission to examine possible solutions to clean up the sport. On Thursday, the Pac-12 followed suit, announcing the creation of a task force that will both supplement the NCAA’s efforts as well as offer proposals.
“The FBI charges that we’ve all read are deeply troubling, not just to myself and to the conference, but to all of our schools,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said.
Arizona has a solid chance to open the season No. 1. USC could be in the top 10. Yet nervousness has replaced excitement among their respective fan bases.
Since the scandal broke Sept. 26, Arizona coach Sean Miller and USC’s Andy Enfield have dodged questions about their potential involvement. Thursday was no different. On Oct. 3, Miller issued a statement through the university saying he was “devastated” to learn of the allegations surrounding assistant Emanuel "Book" Richardson and that he supported the university’s efforts to investigate them.
Here, Miller stuck to a similar script. Asked about the responsibility a head coach has in knowing everything about his program, Miller said, “I’m going to stand by the statement that I’ve given.” He had similar responses when asked if he had talked with the FBI or whether current Arizona players might face suspension.
Miller’s relationship with Richardson dates more than 10 years, eight at Arizona and two at Xavier. That’s the hurdle that will be difficult for him to clear. Of all the Pac-12 assistants – 36 in all – only Oregon’s Kevin McKenna has worked with his head coach longer.
Has he talked with Richardson recently?
“I’m not able to share anything about that,” Miller said.
This is different territory for Miller, a likable coach who’s had success at every step of his coaching career. He took Xavier to four NCAA tournaments, including the 2008 Elite Eight. Over eight years at Arizona, he has lifted the program to elite levels, winning 30-plus games four times, advancing to three Elite Eights.
Perhaps the event that offers the best illustration of Miller’s program is the annual McDonald’s Red-Blue Game, a preseason scrimmage that has turned into a signature event, selling out McKale Center each season. On Oct. 20, however, the Tucson residents filling those seats may for the first time question the coach's methods.
“No one loves the community in Tucson more than me and, really, my family,’’ Miller said. “They have embraced our family from the very second that we came to Tucson from Ohio. They give us their heart and soul – 14,500 every game. They love the Arizona Wildcats. It’s a cult following. Anytime we lose a game, I feel for them. When anything negative happens, you certainly feel for them. By the same degree, I think they understand that there’s certain ups and downs that accompany sports."
Approaching his fifth season, Enfield also revealed little. Asked when he first knew that assistant Tony Bland had possibly accepted bribes and funneled money to recruits, Enfield said he found out when the news broke, just like everyone else.
“Tony Bland has been with us fourand-a-half years,” Enfield said. “He’s part of our USC program and USC family. We all love Tony. It’s very difficult on a personal level, it’s very difficult on a program level.”
Other conference coaches chose their words carefully but got their points across. Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak refused to say if a head coach has a responsibility to know how his staff interacts with recruits. But when asked about the profession’s code of silence, the Utah coach said rather than get involved, he’s simply always been “a believer in karma.”
“There are always rumors and things that go on that you hear, but you have no evidence of,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “You just try to run your program the best way you can, and you don’t tolerate anything that goes beyond the rules. You hope that’s being executed by your entire staff every day.”
No one expects this to go away anytime soon. Former Pac-12 coach Mike Montgomery – who’s on both the NCAA and Pac-12 commissions – said he doesn’t think the entire sport is dirty, but added that rumors have been around for as long as he's been in the sport, more than four decades.
““There’s more (schools involved) than just the programs you’re hearing about,” Montgomery said. “There’s probably people running a little scared out there, rightly so. It’s probably good the FBI is involved. It probably has some people rethinking their position on this stuff.”
How Arizona responds over the next few months will be interesting to watch. Miller excels at staring down adversity. Last year, then-sophomore Allonzo Trier – one of his best players – missed 19 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. In addition, forward Ray Smith suffered a careerending knee injury and point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright missed six games with an ankle issue.
Yet the Wildcats still won 32 games. “Sean is such a process-driven guy,” said Pac-12 Networks analyst Matt Muehlebach, a former Arizona guard. “He’s going to stick to his process, and his team is going to stick to his process. Obviously, it’s a serious issue. And I remember this as a player. There were times when things were going on with the team, or even yourself, but your sanctuary is the gym. Your sanctuary is practice. I think that’s what you’ll see with Arizona.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller listens to questions during the Pac-12's media day on Thursday in San Francisco.