Next stop for Archie Miller: Memphis
After several stops -- and lessons learned -- Dayton's coach has finally arrived
Create a man cave. That was the first thing on Morgan Miller's to-do list after she and her husband, Archie, closed on their house in Dayton, Ohio.
So Morgan got to furnishing the basement straight out of the boy's dream-home catalogue.
There are two televisions, an air hockey table, a pool table, a bar, two Playstations, an Xbox and, as of October for Archie's birthday, a Golden Tee arcade golf game.
That's where the Dayton Flyers gathered on Selection Sunday to see if they actually made the NCAA tournament, loafing around on the sectional sofa, plopped in the handful of available beanbag chairs.
"When they announced that we were in [the tournament field], they started jumping around, and someone tweeted, 'I hope they don't break the couch,'" Morgan said. "I just bought it last month, but I didn't care. I would have gladly bought another one.''
The sofa survived, as have the Flyers, the closest thing to a Cinderella this NCAA tournament has left. Dayton, a No. 11 seed, is in the Sweet 16, which is glass slipperish enough on its own merits.
There's the hard way, and then, apparently, there is the Dayton way.
The Flyers, who stood at a dismal 1-5 in conference play just two months ago and were no guarantee on Selection Sunday, wound their way to a Memphis date with equally unlikely regional semifinalist Stanford by knocking off Ohio State -- their in-state big brother -- and Syracuse, hot off last season's Final Four run. And they survived buzzer-beaters from Aaron Craft and Tyler Ennis.
Comfort? That's meant for sofas, not basketball players.
Dayton is built on scrap and grit, not cushions and cozy throw pillows.
The Flyers, in other words, are Archie Miller, and he is them.
"They're so resilient,'' assistant coach Tom Ostrom said. "There's such a toughness about them. They don't care what happens in a game. They don't care what people expect. That's all from Arch. He's a leader. That's how he leads, and they all follow by example.''
This, of course, is where you would insert the requisite little-brother complex, the one that fostered Archie to work so hard. Sean, 10 years older, is coaching the Cadillac at Arizona, the No. 1 seed with sights on the Final Four. He has the bigger paycheck. Heck, he's even taller.
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When Archie finally got his moment last weekend, a between-games interview on CBS to celebrate the Flyers' surprise run, what did Greg Gumbel do? Call him Sean, of course.
The trouble with that convenient, little-brother theory: It's simply not true.
The two brothers are allies -- not rivals -- comrades who survived the basketball boot camp of their dad and coach, John, and have shepherded one another from bitty ball to the big time.
"They talk four or five times a day,'' Morgan said. "Sean has never made Arch live in his shadow. They're always there to help each other.''
It was Sean, in fact, who, as an assistant coach, recruited Archie to play at NC State and Sean who, years later, brought him on his Arizona staff, giving his kid brother the résumé leg up that ultimately landed him at Dayton.
The highlights are all there now, a crying and jubilant Morgan celebrating after Dayton won, an exultant Archie fist-pumping the Flyer faithful when he emerged after upsetting the Orange to do a radio hit courtside in Buffalo, N.Y.
But the road to success wasn't so much a straight climb up the ladder as it was a cross-country tour.
The undersized player, who became a stud shooter, turned into the grinder of a coach who, even at just 35, has the address book of a lifer.
Archie started out as an unpaid assistant at his alma mater, took a gig at Western Kentucky, went back to NC State, moved to the desert at Arizona State with his college coach, Herb Sendek, and then went back to the Midwest at Ohio State before another run in the desert, as Sean's associate head coach.
Morgan, his college sweetheart, took the tour with him.
"I'm from [North] Carolina, a basketball state, so I got it,'' she said. "And I trusted him. I knew some way he'd get it done.''
Finally, three years ago, Dayton finally called.
This week the school offered him an extension through the 2018-19 season.
"Somebody gives you a chance,'' Archie said. "Then you're around good people and they help develop you to be ready, hopefully.''
It's that hard-earned experience, coupled with a dad who didn't hand his boys anything more than a ball growing up, that has made Archie who he is and, in turn, made Dayton the team it is.
There are no superstars on the Flyers' roster. Two of their best players, Jordan Sibert and Vee Sanford, wound up at Dayton because their first stops -- Ohio State and Georgetown, respectively -- didn't pan out. Second-leading scorer Devin Oliver came to Dayton by way of Kalamazoo, Mich., opting for the Flyers over his parents' alma mater, Western Michigan.
So maybe they came to college a little hungry, more anxious to prove their worth because they'd been undersold.
Their coach made them hungrier.
"You don't want somebody that just kind of goes through the motions,'' Sibert said. "You want somebody who has a fire for winning, just like you do. We see that every day at practice. We hear that every day in practice. We hear it loud and clear.''
Sibert grinned when he said the last part, and it's clear there is more respect and admiration than fear and loathing between the Flyers and their coach. They call him Arch or Archie more than coach, not as a sign of disrespect but of comfort and oneness.
This group has been through a lot. Three months ago, their season was on the brink, courtesy of a dismal 1-5 start in the Atlantic 10. The nadir came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Saint Joseph's, but instead of a team meeting in the locker room, there was a group pep talk.
The players hung around in the locker room, lingering longer than normal, and decided collectively that it was time they turned things around. Ten wins -- in 13 games -- later, the Flyers were in the tourney.
"It's definitely from Archie,'' Pierre said. "He brings that focus for us. He holds us together. When things weren't going well, he kept us together. He's tough, and I think that's why we're tough.''
And now, here the Flyers are, party-crashers in Memphis. Morgan said about 30 family members and friends will join her in the stands, collected from virtually every stop along her husband's peripatetic path.
This is, then, the moment. The Millers have arrived, a notion that even Archie acknowledged after the Syracuse win.
Asked what Dayton's two NCAA wins meant to him personally, Miller answered simply, "Credibility.''
And then he went on, explaining the road his coaching staff had taken. From a first year with eight scholarship players, four of whom were seniors, to rosters stuffed with the uncertainty of youth, but a determination to not stray from a plan.
Then he backpedaled a little bit.
"Now we have to sustain that over the course of forever,'' he finished.
Because, after all, arrival is finite and credibility fleeting, and who wants the ease of all that? Who wants the comfort of simply reclining on a sofa when you have a chance to jump around and break the mold?
2014 NCAA TOURNAMENT
Of the 68 teams that started the Big Dance, 16 remain. Which will end up in Arlington, Texas?