Archie Miller is looking to resurrect his coaching career in Kingston (Photo: Steve Klamkin/WPRO)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
SOUTH KINGSTOWN – It didn’t take long for Archie Miller to provide a peek into his soul at his introductory press conference at the University of Rhode Island on Monday.
After greeting everyone from cheerleaders to Gov. Dan McKee, Miller took to the podium and began outlining why he agreed to a five-year, $8.5 million contract, how he planned to pump life into the Ryan Center on a consistent basis, what type of hard-nosed playing style he’s looking to deploy and the character he and his staff will be looking for on the recruiting trail.
Yet when he spoke about his life in the past year, a year Miller will never forget, that’s when we saw why Thorr Bjorn and the leaders at URI should be excited about their basketball future.
Nothing shakes a coach to his core more than failure. And make no mistake, Miller did not get the job done in four years at Indiana. Truth be told, only a high-brow place like Indiana would fire a coach after a season contested in a COVID/pandemic bubble. Miller’s 2020 Hoosier team appeared headed to the tournament that was cancelled. Then the 2021 team struggled to a 16-15 record and that was it. Ultimately a 33-45 Big Ten record over four years sealed the coach’s fate. Indiana was ready to move on, so ready that it cut Miller a $10.3 million check to get out of the final three years on his contract.
After a year of sitting on the sidelines and re-assessing where he would turn next, Miller was able to pick and choose his next job.
“I’ve stood up here at this (type) press conference a few times,” Miller said. “One time I stood up here at 32 years old and I was 0-0 for real. No (head coaching) job, no wins, never had any experience. You go through your growing pains and we honored that process and we were able to have a group that broke through. The proud thing about our first stop at the University of Dayton is we didn’t stop. Sometimes you break through and you make the (NCAA) tournament and then they don’t hear from you for a couple of years. Sometime you break through and you continue to go. That was the thing I was most proud of at Dayton, the consistency that we had.”
It was an obvious, superb move to leave the Atlantic-10 after leading the Flyers to four NCAA’s in six years. The Big Ten came calling and it wasn’t Rutgers or Iowa. It was Indiana, a bloodied blue blood that longed for a coach like Miller. A coach whose teams played hard, punched you in the mouth on defense and owned a chip on the shoulder. It just didn’t play out that way.
“Then I moved to a second spot and had a press conference. And I was popular. Only at the beginning,” Miller said.
In 2021-22 Miller worked on his public persona as a frequent guest on the Field of 68 media network . He always sat alongside his older brother, Sean, and by all accounts grew more comfortable dealing with the media.
Miller also said he met with, and consulted with, many of his friends in coaching in his year away from coaching. So when Bjorn and Rhode Island reached out last week, he says he was ready. First off he knew, and liked, Bjorn from his time at Atlantic 10 meetings. “Thorr is someone you want to work with,” Miller said.
He also has been the target of Ryan Center crowds. With the notable exception of Tim Welsh and Ed Cooley’s visits to Kingston, only Miller and Dayton’s coaches have felt the wrath of a sold out Ryan Center more frequently. Dayton has sat atop the A-10 enough that URI would roll out their Pink Out or other promotions for visits from the Flyers.
This past season as the Rams struggled to a 15-16 finish, URI’s attendance numbers slipped by more than 20 percent compared to the last season fans were welcomed prior to COVID-19 restrictions. When Miller sees 3,000 fans knocking around the building next November, he’ll see the baseline he’ll be working from. Yet he’ll also know what the possibilities are as well.
“With change and transition, it’s hard,” he said. “Now I stand here, maybe a little bit more flawed, maybe a little bit more imperfect. Maybe I don’t have the shine I once had. But I will tell you this: at this stop, this is the best I’ve ever been in my life. The most ready I’ve ever been in my life and the most excited I’ve ever been in my life to take something on like this.”
Miller faces challenges reviving a roster that appears without leadership, focus and, most importantly, upper-end talent. The transfer portal allows for an injection of talent, but as he said “there are no quick-fixes. No step will be skipped.”
This is a coach who’s been taken down a few pegs but he’s also the coach who was the best in the Atlantic 10 from 2014-17. He didn’t lose his focus or his strategic chops in a four-season foray through the Big Ten. He only grew, yet didn’t win enough games.
Now he’ll own the chance to resurrect his career at Rhode Island.