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Sunday, May 07, 2017 1:00 am

IU didn't hire Miller to be life of the party

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – No one should expect to hear funny stories about Archie Miller. In fact, their nonexistence is a tale in itself.

“He doesn't really have too much of a personality, so there are not many stories I can tell,” said Scoochie Smith, who played point guard for Miller the last four seasons at Dayton. “We have a few laughs here and there.”

Although some coaches in college basketball like the showman's aspect of the job, speaking in loud tones and being the life of the party, Miller isn't one of them.

Miller's leadership style is a task-at-hand approach. Indiana's new coach only cares about improving the Hoosiers and getting wins, not style points.

“Even demeanor,” IU athletic director Fred Glass said.

Truth be told, Miller did reveal a lighter side with his players at Dayton.

“As long as it wasn't about basketball,” Smith said. “On the court, he's all serious.”

An aura around Miller's six seasons as Dayton coach suggests smooth sailing, and often it was, but like all programs the Flyers endured their share of tribulation. Even in rough waters, the people who know Miller best were impressed with how he was the same person every day and how he carried himself with calmness.

“As a leader, when things aren't going well, he just rises to the top,” said IU associate head coach Tom Ostrom, who served under Miller at Dayton. “You find out who someone is in times of adversity. It's been well-documented that we went through adversity at Dayton off the court. Again, that's when his leadership skills really, really shine.”

On May 12, 2016, tragedy struck when New Haven native Steve McElvene, the Flyers' starting center, died of a heart condition.

He was 20. 

From Smith's view, Miller was a rock, when others might have crumbled.

“Very, very difficult to talk about to this day,” Miller said last month on a local radio show. “One of the hardest days of my life, having to pick up families off the ground. Everyone was devastated, and we tried very hard to keep his memory alive.

“I'm not the only one who's experienced loss, but when you're in charge of a program and represent a lot of people, it's very hard to look at everyone around you who has that type of pain in their eyes.”

Miller's high point with the Flyers came in 2014 when they reached the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight, but first they overcame a midseason slump that caused doubt about even getting into the tournament. A stretch of four straight losses, and five in six games, dropped Dayton to 13-8 and left players' confidence shaken.

Miller proved his resourcefulness the following season, when Dayton's roster thinned to six scholarship players after he dismissed big men Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson. The tallest remaining player was 6-foot-6, and yet the Flyers still made the Big Dance after a 25-8 regular season.

“It was real impressive,” Smith said. “(Miller) made sure we got glued together, and we ended up having a special season. (He) and his staff did a tremendous job. I think their preparation is second to none. Dayton was known for heavy scouting, so going into games we were always well-prepared.”

That preparation – not bravado or jokes – has been Miller's trademark with his players.

“He's real fiery,” Smith said. “That's what he's known for. He gets them ready to play.”

cgoff@jg.net