UD Basketball Coach Archie Miller brings his passion to the game.
It’s been 48 years since the University of Dayton’s first and only appearance in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four—a 76-64 loss to UCLA in the 1967 national championship game.
But the school, Flyer Faithful and the school’s head basketball coach don’t plan on waiting that long for the next appearance.
Since arriving on UD’s campus four and half years ago, Ryan “Archie” Miller, 37, has reignited the franchise with five wins in two consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, including an Elite 8 appearance in 2014. As the UD media guide points out, only six other teams have as many tournament wins in the same period: Arizona (where his older brother, Sean, is head coach), UConn, Kentucky, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
“What we wanted to do here was very simple,” says Miller sitting in his second-floor office in UD’s Cronin Center. “We wanted to recreate a brand of basketball. We wanted to compete for championships and we wanted opportunities in March to make memorable moments.”
A national coach of the year finalist after last year’s team finished 27-9, despite a depleted rooster of just seven players, Miller entered his fifth season at UD this year with a record of 90-47, just five wins from having the third most wins in school history behind legends Don Donoher and Tom Blackburn.
“Basketball is critical to the University of Dayton’s athletic brand and what Archie’s been able to do over the last four years and particularly the last two years has been critical,” says retired UD athletic director Tim Wabler, who hired Miller in 2011.
“What we were looking for was someone who believed they could be an annual team in the NCAA, win an Atlantic 10 championship and make a run in the tournament,” Wabler says. “I think that’s what he’s about, and that’s certainly what we want here.”
Miller says he was familiar with UD after serving as an assistant at the Ohio State University from 2007 to 2009 and from his brother who was head coach at rival Xavier University from 2004-09.
“To me it was just very intriguing place,” he says. “A place you could see yourself not only coaching for a long time but also really wanting to be there for a long time.”
What makes UD unique, Miller says, is its tradition and its fan base.
“It’s generation based. What I mean by that is it didn’t just happen in the last five or six years that this place started to love ball. They’ve been loving basketball here for a long time. The crazy thing about it is some of the same people who were attending games in the 50s, 60s and 70s are still coming to the games.
“The community has really grown-up around it. You have not only a passionate fan base, but also you have an educated fan base and you have the support of everybody around you that cares deeply about the program. I think that’s the difference in UD’s program. It’s different than a lot of places. “
Miller already has been mentioned as a candidate for other coaching vacancies and after last season UD extended his contract through the 2021-22 season. Wabler says having a coach sought by other programs “is a great problem to have.”
UD wants its men’s basketball coach to be a destination-type of job, Wabler says, and Miller says that’s the way he sees it.
“Being in a basketball crazy community and having the ability to coach in front of 13,000 people and bring national attention to a place with 7,500 students,” he says, “that means a lot more to me than coaching at a place with a big stadium.”
Miller is no stranger to big-time college basketball programs. Before coming to UD he was an assistant under his brother at Arizona as well as OSU, Arizona State and at North Carolina State, where he was a point guard before graduating in 2002.
Basketball is the Miller family business. Beside his brother Sean, his sister Lisa played Division 1 basketball, and his father, John Miller, was a legendary high coach at Blackhawk High School in Beaver Falls, Pa., compiling 675 wins in a 35-year coaching career before retiring. Miller and his wife, Morgan, have a 10-year-old daughter.
“Basketball is a unique game,” says Archie. “It’s chemistry. It’s developing a system. It’s bringing people into the system you feel can help do the job. At the same time you’re developing them. It’s a year-round process. You just don’t coach the games and go away. The games are really won and lost in some ways by who you’re signing [to scholarships] and are they getting better.”
He says playing and coaching basketball is all he’s ever wanted to do.
“The thing I love about basketball is that it’s one of the sports where you can’t take time off. You’ve got to be working at it all the time. I think the most exciting thing for me has always been seeing some of your players grow up and do well knowing where they started. To me, those are the things that mean the most.”
UD’s success has been both exhilarating and hard work, Miller says, and maintaining that success will be just as difficult.
“None of the moments we’ve had has happened by accident,” he says. “To sustain it takes the drive, improvement and the quest to keep getting better. “
He says he marvels at how successful college coaches manage the challenges of coaching, recruiting and being the face of their programs for years without burning out. He says he’s still learning how to cope with the 24/7 demands of the job.
“I’m not the best at it, to be honest with you,” he says. “One of the things I’ve tried to do here of late is enjoy the process more. You don’t win or lose on every decision or every game or every practice. If you do that you’ll lose more than you’ll win. The big thing is to enjoy your players as much as you can. “
A few moments later a visitor leaving Miller’s office mentions he hopes to see UD in the Final Four.
“One day,” Miller says. “That’s the goal.”