As he was standing there in the chilly underbelly of the First Niagara Arena on Friday, he suddenly stifled a shiver and pulled the zipper of his coat up a little closer to his chin.
“I’m cold right now,” John Miller said.
He’s not used to this kind of chilly weather anymore.
Every year Miller spends the second half of the college basketball season — from just after New Year’s through the NCAA tournament — out in Tucson watching the high-powered Arizona Wildcats, who are coached by his older son, Sean.
For the past three years, he’s spent the first part of the season around the Dayton Flyers, who are coached by his younger son, Archie.
“Soon as the snow starts flying high, he’s gone and he doesn’t come back ‘til it’s gone,” Archie said with a laugh.
Except this year.
Although it was snowing here two days ago, John has left the Arizona sunshine for an even warmer story that has unfolded in Buffalo.
His boy hasn’t just guided the Flyers into the NCAA tournament, he showed his ever-developing coaching chops Thursday as he devised a game plan — and a last-seconds play — to upset sixth-seeded Ohio State, 60-59.
It was the Flyers’ third NCAA tournament win since 1984.
Tonight, the 24-10 Flyers face third-seeded Syracuse (28-5) and longtime coach Jim Boeheim, who has been at the helm of the Orange longer than Archie Miller has been alive.
Asked Thursday what he knew about the 35-year-old Miller, Boeheim — who took over Syracuse in 1976 — smiled: “I’ve known him a long time. I saw him on the Tonight Show when he was 6.”
Actually, that was Sean, the trick-dribbling prodigy, but it’s easy for the uninitiated to mix up the two
Even though Sean is 10 years older and a bigger, beefier, better-known version of Archie, the two are both coaching NCAA tournament teams. Top-seeded Arizona dumped 16th-seeded Weber State, 68-59, Friday in San Diego.
Sean and Archie are the only pair of head-coaching brothers in the tournament and one of
just six pairs to front Division I programs this season.
A big reason for the Millers’ success is their dad.
John had a storied prep coaching career in western Pennsylvania, winning 657 games, most at Blackhawk High School, the Beaver Falls school he led to four state titles. Although he coached many talented kids over the years, none were any more fabled than his own two boys, both, as he put it, “tough-nosed point guards.”
“Basketball was important in our house,” Archie has said. “It was basically the same as breathing.”
John first drilled ball-handling skills into Sean. He was such a talent that he ended up in the 1979 movie “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,” and five years later appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
After an All-Big East career at Pitt, he got into coaching and went from a string of assistant jobs — Miami University, Pitt, N.C. State, Xavier — to head coaching stints, first with Xavier, then to Arizona in 2009
Archie followed his brother’s footsteps.
“In the beginning, Archie was my ball boy,” John said. “He used to keep track of the balls and jump ropes. I’d say, “OK Arch, I need the ropes.’ Pretty soon I’d look over and he’s the one jumping rope.”
By the time Archie was a 5-foot-9 junior point guard at N.C. State, John said it seemed certain he would one day gravitate to coaching as well.
After six years as an assistant — at N.C. State, Arizona State, Ohio State and Arizona — he got the job at UD in 2009 and then began the ever-continuing process of growing into the position.
While his dad has given him some tips along the way — including recently to “use all your time outs” — and Sean and he have almost daily contact, the best primer has been those no-fail lessons learned back in Beaver Falls.
“I see it with Arch now,” John said. “It’s that nose to the grinder, every day, seven days a week. Both boys are the same. And it’s sort of how I was when I coached. I just felt I wanted to outwork you. And with the boys, they were going to be the hardest-working fifth-graders in the country. The hardest-working eighth-grader and now, as coaches, it’s no different.
“For Archie, nothing has helped him develop more than just being in the soup himself. You work hard every day, you learn, you adjust and you work some more.”
Flyers senior Devin Oliver said he has seen Archie develop as a coach: “I was here his first year and I’ve seen it. He’s really learned how to get his guys going the best, how to press their buttons, and he’s learned to trust his players more.
“Early on, if guys didn’t get the job done he might be quick to pull them. Now he has more faith in them and it’s helped me mature as a player, too.”
Sophomore Devon Scott said Miller has found ways to make the team closer: “Last year he felt we weren’t as together as we could have been. This year he made sure we were, both on and off the court. We did a lot of team things, movies and all that and this team treats each other as brothers.
“He still pushes his players to the max and if you don’t give 100 percent, you’ll be called out. But because we’re a team, we want that. It makes us better.”
When somebody Friday asked Archie if he plays up the underdog role versus Syracuse, he paused a second and finally answered, although you could tell he didn’t especially like the tag.
“You can use all sorts of mind tricks and games, but pretty soon your guys aren’t going to know what you’re talking about. We’ve been very consistent with who we are and what we do. And the last 13 games or so we haven’t deviated. It’s been about ourselves and improving, staying together and playing to win.”
Scott said the Flyers did that — winning 11 of their last 13 — by realizing “on any given day it could be any one of us who steps up. We know we didn’t get here on the back of one player. We don’t have LeBron James. We’re a team. Archie made us a team.”
Boeheim said he had seen the same thing, both when the Orange played in the same Maui tournament as the Flyers at the start of the season and on tape:
“I’m just impressed how hard his team plays, how they play together. They’re just a really well-coached team. He’s done a tremendous job He’s a great coach.”
This time he had the right Miller.