UA men's basketball coach Sean Miller is a lot like the guy from the Enterprise Car Rental commercial. He's maybe not so much a control freak, but a control enthusiast.
He enthusiastically controls every minutia of his successful program, and even does his damnedest to control outside forces like the local media. In that regard, he controls the narrative. And generally, the media has been a pretty willing participant in this relationship, since, for the most part, the program has done well with Miller controlling the helm.
But when Miller failed to enthusiastically control his own temper, and laid into senior center Kaleb Tarczewski with an explosive sideline outburst in front of 14,000 fans at McKale Center and a national viewing audience on ESPN, his first response in defense of the incident wasn't something related to tough love, the importance of discipline or the intensity of the moment (that came later), but instead the whole thing was blown out of proportion because it was the media's fault.
"Unfortunately in today's world you (might) have a mic in your pocket and (the media) is trying to catch you," said a defiant Miller during a press conference two nights after the Jan. 28 loss to Oregon, which snapped Arizona's 49-game home winning streak. "What can I do to get this guy fired?"
Trying to get Miller fired? Seriously? So, in short, the media basically forced Miller to go into a profanity-laden, finger-pointing tirade, and then after somehow manipulating Miller into doing this, had the gall to report it. Based on that response, you'd think Miller was dealing with the New York press corps instead of Tucson media, which has been extraordinarily accommodating to his program.
Had Miller left it at that, the occurrence likely would have faded away, eventually lost in the topic du jour sports talk cycle with heated debates on the familiar focus of what kind of behavior constitutes coaches crossing the line and whether today's coddled players should nad up.
Instead, the Miller, who has marketed himself so well, let the control enthusiast get the best of him, and targeted his wrath on a newcomer to the TV sports scene.
Ari Alexander arrived at KVOA last month. A 2013 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Alexander landed a gig in Memphis before accepting an on-air opportunity in Tucson.
Among other skills, he brings with him a certain social media savvy, and in addition to broadcasting the clip of Miller's tirade on KVOA's newscast, he uploaded it to his Vine account accompanied by the not-so-FCC friendly text of the exchange.
Apparently, Miller isn't a big fan of Vine. At his weekly Monday press conference Feb. 1, numerous sources in attendance say the coach had Associate Athletic Director for Communication Services (a fancy, long-winded synonym for Sports Information Director) Jeremy Sharpe point out the culprit. Miller said something to the effect of "good to put a name with the face," and then refused to shake Alexander's hand when the reporter offered it.
But that wasn't where it got odd. Odd happened when Alexander had the audacity to ask a legitimate, mundane question. The moment the KVOA reporter opened his mouth, Miller's left eyebrow engaged in slow elevation, as if it was the whistling spout on a tea kettle nearing a dangerous boiling point, before curtailing that controlled enthusiasm and brushing off the query with, "Next question."
If that happens one time, maybe it's the heat of the moment. Someone upset at a perceived media slight, making his point before the masses, whatever the vagueness of that point might be.
Except, Miller did it again the following week. Twice.
This isn't the first run-in the UA and KVOA have had over news content, and to KVOA's credit, the station doesn't appear to be backing down in this instance either. Multiple sources say the university threatened to revoke Alexander's press credential, but by sending him back to the presser on Feb. 8 and having Alexander ask questions, it forces Miller's hand and sends a message the TV station is showing a willingness to hold the line and back its guy, at least for the moment.
Coincidentally, at the same press conference, UA Sports Information, itself a master of controlling the message by limiting access, allowed Tarczewski to speak to the media for the first time since the incident. Tarczewski, a bona fide positive example of the oft-overused "student-athlete" cliché—he is in line to get his degree from the Eller School of Business, and as a result has set himself up nicely even if he never plays a minute of professional basketball—took the high road and told reporters the exchange was no big deal, and that he rarely even thinks about the incident anymore.
He barely remembers the clash happened.
Meanwhile, every time the coach doesn't answer an Alexander question, it makes the recollection of Miller's tirade impossible for everyone else to forget.