Commentary

The Millers' tale

The Miller brothers have paid their coaching dues in full

Originally Published: March 25, 2014
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Sean and Archie MillerAP Photo/John MillerFrom 2009 to 2011, Archie Miller, right, served as associate coach under brother Sean at Arizona. This year, the pair will be the first brothers to coach on different teams in the same Sweet Sixteen.

For Sean and Archie Miller, nothing was ever good enough.

"We'd win a state championship," remembers Archie Miller, now the coach of the Dayton Flyers, "and it was like it never happened to my dad. No: 'Hey, great job!' No: 'You did it!' Nothing. Two days later, you'd be practicing your butt off for the first AAU game of the year."

"I remember once against Beaver Falls," recalls Sean Miller, now the coach of the Arizona Wildcats, "it was this huge rivalry game. And we'd finally beaten them. I was dribbling the clock out. I held up my finger like, 'We're No. 1!' to the crowd. I looked over at my dad and it was like he was going to throw me through the wall."

Now these two are the first brothers in NCAA men's basketball tournament history to make it to the same Sweet Sixteen coaching different teams.

Will that be good enough?

Oh, hell yes.

"I wasn't expecting this," says John Miller, 70, who won four state titles and 657 games as a high school coach in western Pennsylvania, many of them while coaching his two sons. "I mean, I thought someday something like this might happen, but not this year. From Arch's standpoint, it's icing on the cake for him. He's overachieved. It's a little different with Arizona. They're a 1-seed; if they lose early, it'd be bad."

If that's as close the sons will get to an "attaboy," it will have to do.

"I could feel that [last weekend]," Sean says. "I was so happy for Archie winning, but then I realized it was upping the pressure on me. I didn't want to be the one screwing this thing up."

For Sean, 45, and Archie, 35, pressure came with the furniture. There was no Miller Light.

"Sean was his whipping boy," says Archie, whose Dayton team shocked No. 6 seed Ohio State and then No. 3 seed Syracuse to get to the Sweet 16. "Nobody knows how hard my dad was on Sean. I think about my dad now. Even just working out, getting things done, he's a psycho, almost a kamikaze. And he's 70 years old! I can't imagine him in his 30s, when he coached Sean."

Imagine The Great Santini.

[+] EnlargeSean Miller
AP Photo/John MIllerArizona's Sean Miller acknowledges the pressure of being a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament.

"I never really patted Sean on the back," John remembers. "Never once. If he scored 35 in a game, I'd be on him about his defense. I made it as hard and tough as any guy could be on a kid heading for college. I wanted him to be tough. And he became tough. He went from high school and took the reins of the starting point guard at Pitt -- at 18 years old. For four years."

"Archie had it eeeeeeeasy compared to me," says Sean, whose Arizona team coasted to the Sweet 16 with wins over 16th-seeded Weber State and No. 8 seed Gonzaga. "I can remember having to go shovel a foot of snow off the driveway because he wanted me to go shoot free throws. He'd be like, 'You're from Beaver County. Nobody's going to come just hand you a scholarship. You have to outwork every single player in the country.' And I'd go out there."

His dad even made him dribble everywhere he went, even the mile to the gym for games. Finally, one day, somebody stole his ball. "And I thought, 'Cool! I won't have to dribble to games anymore!' " Sean says. But when he got home, his dad had a new ball waiting for him, with a giant MILLER written in black Magic Marker across it.

It must've worked. Sean became such a sensation dribbler, he went on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.

"I had it easy?" Archie asks. "No way. Every car ride, every dinner table, every basketball camp, you'd look him in the eye and you'd think, 'Oh, man. He is not messing around right now.' "

Both sons say their father's Egyptian-slave work ethic is the single biggest reason they're in the Sweet 16 together. And both are thrilled for him now. Both say he's an all-new -- and much softer -- man with their kids. And both are tickled for him as much as anybody.

"Twenty years later," Sean says, "I look around and see it's my brother and I who are standing with the winners. So I guess it worked out."

They each would need three more wins before coaching against each other in this thing -- in no less than the championship game in Arlington, Texas. For dad, it would mean that for once, he wouldn't have to watch at least one game on his smartphone.

[+] EnlargeArchie Miller
Elsa/Getty ImagesArchie Miller used two upsets to get his team to the Sweet Sixteen.

"Oh, I wouldn't dread that," says John, who also has two daughters between the boys. "It'd be fun. I'd look forward to it."

Archie, who will have his dad in the stands Thursday night in Memphis, won't even broach the notion. "I've always envisioned Sean at such a higher level than me. I mean, I know that we're doing great things at Dayton, but it's just ingrained in me. Maybe someday ... But if I did have to coach against him? I don't know. I'd hate to be on that sideline."

Sean: "What if we just won one more game each? (Both coach Thursday night, back-to-back, with Dayton playing Stanford, and Arizona facing San Diego State in Anaheim, Calif.) To have the two Miller brothers standing as two of the final eight? How cool would that be?"

One person who wouldn't find it cool at all is their mom, Barb. She was in Dayton, staying home with Archie's daughter, and watched the Ohio State game until five minutes were left. Then she turned off the TV. Too nervous. "My daughter had to watch the last five minutes on her iPad," Archie says. "I don't know if she could handle the two of us going against each other."

Dayton, by the way, was the home of another set of famous brothers -- the Wright Brothers. Maybe Barb knows the same harsh rule that their mother knew.

Only one son can soar at a time.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com