It’s pretty common for major college programs that have just fired a head coach to talk about “keeping it in the family” when they begin looking for the next hire.
The Arizona Wildcats are no different. There are a number of candidates for Sean Miller‘s job running the men’s basketball program who have University of Arizona roots, many of whom are part of Lute Olson‘s coaching tree.
Olson, the coaching legend who ran the Wildcat program for 25 years, turned out many players who went on to successful NBA careers, and some of whom then went into coaching.
There are at least a few of them who could be on the short list to replace Miller, who was fired five days ago after the administration decided to cut ties with their coach of 12 years after he got entangled in an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations.
The most high-profile coaching candidate, among those with UofA ties, would appear to be LUKE WALTON, not only a standout player at Arizona, but also the son of another Wildcat great, Bill Walton.
In his sophomore season, Luke Walton helped the Wildcats reach the 2001 national title game and was twice named to the All-Conference First Team before graduating in 2003. He has three years on his resume as an NBA head coach, two with the Lakers and the other with the Sacramento Kings, where he is coaching currently.
Walton has said he’s not interested in the job, but that response is for public consumption, not necessarily what’s going on behind the scenes.
Disregarding Walton, DAMON STOUDAMIRE would likely have to be considered the top choice among the home-grown folk. Actually, he is probably among the top three of all candidates.
The 47-year-old Stoudamire (above photo), a star point guard who played for Olson from 1991 to 1995, is still one of the fan favorites in Tucson. He led the 1994 Wildcat team to the Final Four and finished his UofA career with 1,849 points and went on to spend two years (2013-15) as an assistant coach on the Arizona bench, helping lead the Cats to a couple of Pac-12 regular-season titles.
Nicknamed “Mighty Mouse” for his 5’10” height, Stoudamire spent 15 years in the NBA and then worked his way up from assistant coach on several college staffs to head coach at University of the Pacific in California, where he just finished his fifth season. He has helped improve that program, but his overall record is 71-77. Not impressive on face value, but he did earn West Coast Conference Coach of the Year honors two seasons ago.
Others in the roots-in-Arizona group, but maybe a little farther down the list, include JOSH PASTNER and MILES SIMON.
Pastner was a walk-on at Arizona during his college playing days, but he has a place in the program’s history books because he was a member of the 1997 team that won a national championship. The 43-year-old began his coaching career in 2000 as a graduate assistant at UofA and has gone on to build a coaching resume that includes seven years as the Memphis head coach and the last five running the Georgia Tech program.
Simon was also on that 1997 national championship team, joining Mike Bibby to form a powerful backcourt tandem that helped the Wildcats take down three No. 1 seeds on the way to the NCAA title. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Like Pastner, he joined Olson’s coaching staff, where he spent three years, and was on board when the Wildcats went to the Elite Eight in 2005. After that, he spent some time as an ESPN analyst before being hired in 2017 by the Los Angeles Lakers as an assistant. He is still in that position.
JACK MURPHY, the current interim head coach, also has history with the Arizona program since he has taken two tours as an assistant coach. A UofA graduate, he spent eight years on the Arizona bench before leaving to work three years as an assistant at Memphis under Pastner. He then devoted seven years to trying to build a program at Northern Arizona University, but returned to Tucson in 2019 to become Miller’s associate head coach.
His time in Flagstaff was a downturn in his coaching career. He had one 20-win season, but that was the only winning season during his time as head coach. His 2017-18 squad set a new school record for losses. He left Flag with a 78-149 record as a head coach.
Murphy isn’t likely to be among those on the interview list.
Of course, it’s quite possible that Arizona doesn’t hire from within ‘the family.’ After all, Sean Miller was a Pittsburgh guy who had no connection to Arizona, or the UofA program.
But he did well enough to spend 12 years in that job.