After 10 successful seasons of coaching at UNC Greensboro, Wes Miller had a specific set of criteria that needed to be met before he would even consider leaving for another, higher-profile job.
“I’ve always dreamed about being a college basketball coach somewhere where there was history, there was tradition, there was pride,” he said. “Somewhere where you could compete at the highest possible level, cut down nets and hang banners.”
The former North Carolina point guard had long held out hope that his alma mater might be the place where he could fulfill that destiny, and his name was prominently mentioned in the days following his mentor Roy Williams’ retirement earlier this month.
But when Hubert Davis was hired to carry on the Tar Heel tradition of hanging new banners from the Smith Center rafters, Miller was left to look elsewhere for his opportunity.
That place turned out to be Cincinnati, which tapped the 38-year-old Greensboro native to fill its coaching vacancy last Wednesday. He was hired to replace John Brannen, who was fired after just two seasons amid unspecified allegations that led to six players putting their names into the NCAA’s transfer portal.
Although the Bearcats don’t have as storied a history as UNC, especially recently, they do have a resume that includes two national championships, six Final Four appearances and more than 1,800 all-time victories — making them one of the 15 winningest programs in college basketball history.
Miller has since been replaced at UNCG by Mike Jones, who was introduced Monday and has spent the past 10 seasons at Radford.
Miller’s energetic introduction on Friday came on the 60th anniversary of Cincinnati’s 1961 national title.
“Some people always talk about college basketball jobs in terms of Power 5 or whatever it may be, (and) I know that might refer to certain aspects of football,” said Miller, who was given a six-year, $7.8 million contract. “(But) this is a big-time basketball program. I don’t care what league we’re in, this is one of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball.”
Miller is considered a rising star in the coaching profession after leading UNCG to a 185-135 record, five straight 20-win seasons and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances, including one this year.
In addition to his coaching credentials, he also has a national championship pedigree as a reserve point guard for the Tar Heels from 2003-07.
As disappointed as he might have been to be passed over for the job at UNC, Miller said he’s “fired up” — a phrase he used to both open and close his first public appearance as a Bearcat — to be the new coach at Cincinnati.
That doesn’t mean he plans on leaving all of his Carolina Blue influence behind, especially when it comes to the teachings of his former coach.
“It starts for me with Roy Williams,” he said, relating a conversation he had with the Hall of Famer shortly after he returned to Chapel Hill from Kansas. “He was trying to convince me to be a recruited walk-on. I had options to go other places on scholarship, so I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in that.
“Because it was Coach Williams and because I was from that area, I was willing to listen. He asked me a question I will never forget, and the rest is history.”
Williams asked him what he wanted to do when he finished playing.
Miller answered that he wanted to coach.
“He said, ‘Then you have to come here and play for me, because I will help you,” Miller recalled. “It was the most prophetic thing I’ve ever heard. He has been a mentor and a guiding light in my life and as a young coach, and he’s been with me every step of the way.”
While Williams helped give him his start in coaching, Miller has blossomed on his own right with a style and demeanor Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham said are a perfect fit for what he described as his school’s “storied basketball program.”
“As I spoke to those that I trust in this industry about Coach Miller during this search, common themes emerged,” Cunningham said. “He’s smart. He’s competitive. He’s dedicated to his team and he’s going to do it the right way.
“His passion for the game of basketball and the profession of coaching basketball jumps out at you and pulls you in. With Wes Miller at the helm, we will fulfill our mission of connecting our community, enhancing our university and changing the lives of student athletes.”