TOM DAVIS: If a coach wants to be viewed as innocent, then he needs to act like it

Arizona men's basketball coach Sean Miller, center, after an recent game in Corvallis, Ore. (By The Associated Press)
Ball State men's basketball coach James Whitford claps for his team during the second half of a game earlier this season against Notre Dame in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Auburn men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl reacts to a play during the first half of a recent game against South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. (By The Associated Press)

Now that the ESPN report on Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller is developing more holes than a middle school zone press, it appears that Miller’s recent proclamation that he was “confident that I will be vindicated” has at least some degree of credibility.

The initial report has now been corrected a couple of different times regarding very significant aspects, such as the timeline of the accusations against Miller not lining up.

One would think that a billion-dollar media company could have handled the release of the report in a better manner, but that isn’t the point of this column.

My question for Miller, as well as all of the other coaches tainted by any accusations of wrongdoing is this: If you are indeed unequivocally innocent, then why act guilty?

It would take a team of attorneys to determine whether Miller’s statement of being “vindicated” is a proclamation of innocence or not, but I am going to take it as such.

However, more important than Miller’s words are his actions.

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On Saturday, the Wildcats faced Oregon in a Pac-12 game and Miller did not coach his team.

“I believe it is in the best interest of our team that I not coach the game tonight,” Miller said in a written statement. “I continue to fully support the University’s efforts to fully investigate this matter.”

His absence reportedly continued through the weekend and he was not with the team for Monday’s practice.

Arizona associate head coach Lorenzo Romar led the practice, as well as Saturday’s game. He told azcentral.com upon leaving for the court Monday that Miller “is not with us.”

Which begs the question: Why not?

If Miller knew in his mind that he absolutely, without question, had done nothing improper, then:

A. Come out and say so, and

B. Go coach your team

If I am Miller, and I know in my heart that I am completely above suspicion in this investigation, I would not find it difficult to step in front of the media and say the following:

“I find the ESPN report salacious and ludicrous. I have carried myself in a professional and ethical manner throughout my career and we continue to operate our basketball program above the board in terms of ethics and compliance and always will.

“There is absolutely no validity to the report whatsoever and I am looking forward to working for this university for a very long time.”

There, that took all of 18.8 seconds (I timed it).

In wake of that statement, Miller could have returned to leading the Arizona program without a hiccup.

But that isn’t what happened. And because that didn’t occur, it leaves Miller’s present and future – and innocence – open to question.

The same question could be posed to Ball State men’s basketball coach James Whitford, who has not been mentioned in any report, but when I pleaded with him Saturday to comment on the Arizona situation, due to the fact that he worked with and for Miller for a decade, as well as with Miller’s two assistants that are also named in the investigation, I was told by the Ball State media relations staff the following:

“Thanks for the offer. We do not wish to comment. We don’t have a desire to create a story where there isn’t one.”

You just did by refusing to comment.

In wake of that non-response, as well as Whitford’s professional network, the only people that don’t have a shred of curiosity as to why he wouldn’t speak on the matter either work for Ball State or cheer for the Cardinals (or is the director of basketball operations at Xavier and wishes to make a favorable impression with Whitford in hopes of elevating his career by criticizing me on social media).

I have known Coach Whitford for five years and I think the world of him. He has always been great to work with both personally and professionally. I have no reason whatsoever to believe that he has ever done anything improper throughout his career. That is why I can’t fathom a rationale explanation as to why he wouldn’t just say the following to me:

“I am troubled by the situation that is reported at Arizona because the Sean Miller that I know and worked for is a man of integrity and I have the utmost respect for him personally and professionally.

“I have no doubt that he will be found innocent of any wrongdoing. Throughout my career, including at Arizona, I have acted in the utmost professional way in terms of ethics and rules and always will.”

There, that took 20.8 seconds. How hard was that? It certainly paints Whitford and the Ball State program in a much better light than refusing to reply to calls and texts before issuing a no comment.

I’m not being a cynic to wonder why Miller reportedly needed a team of attorneys to meet with his employer on Monday. It’s called realism.

The same thing applies in regards to Miller’s continued absence, Whitford’s unwillingness to issue a simple statement, as well as Auburn coach Bruce Pearl’s refusal to meet with his university president to discuss his much-troubled situation.

Coaches always act aghast as to why people would ever question them, well, it’s because they bring the skepticism onto themselves with their behavior.

If you want to be publicly proclaimed as ethical, then act like it.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.


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