Sean Miller's run-in with refs had been brewing, documents show

USA TODAY Sports

Emails obtained by USA Today paint a picture of strained relations with Larry Scott and the Pac-12.

If the $25,000 fine levied against Sean Miller after Arizona's loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament seemed a bit harsh -- especially in light of the Ed Rush fiasco coming to light shortly thereafter -- we now know the context: According to the USA Today, Miller had previously been privately reprimanded by commissioner Larry Scott for postgame conduct towards referees.

That was just one of many revelations in a series of emails* obtained by USA Today in a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents depict a strained relationship between the Arizona coach and the conference that included (among other things) Scott warning Miller about his behavior in January, Miller feeling Rush had been "condescending" in a response to review calls from a previous loss to UCLA in early March, and Scott refusing to rescind Miller's fine because he did not show the appropriate amount of contrition and because Miller refused to meet with Scott.

If you're interested in the mess that is Pac-12 officiating, it's definitely worth your time to read the entire piece. But here's a snippet to whet your appetite:

The documents show Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had discussed the allegations against Rush much earlier. According to emails, the two men disagreed whether it and other factors should have been considered a mitigating circumstance in punishing Miller, who was incensed over a technical foul he was assessed by Irving with 4:37 left in the game against UCLA.

In an email March 17, Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne asked Scott to consider a "condescending" email sent March 6 by Rush regarding Miller's request for review of questionable calls in an earlier loss to UCLA. Days later, after learning of the allegations that Rush had offered $5,000 or a trip to Cancun to game officials to target Miller during the conference tournament, Byrne asked Scott to waive the $25,000 fine.

The commissioner declined. In a memorandum dated March 26, Scott wrote that more than a week since the public reprimand, he had "not seen any signs of contrition from Coach Miller" and had "not received any communication from him, nor have the official and staff member who were the targets of his profanity-laced outbursts."

Scott added that an evaluation of the Wildcats' semifinal loss to UCLA "reveals a normal number of missed calls" and enclosed Rush's review of the officiating, which included the notation that the double-dribble call that led to Miller's technical foul was "NOT correct." Scott also wrote that he was "troubled by my impression that you condone Coach Miller's behavior or, at the very least, fail to adequately appreciate its seriousness."

Byrne forwarded Scott's memorandum to Arizona president Ann Weaver Hart, who wrote back: "We need to let this go now. You did your best."

The most telling part of that passage is the obvious disconnect here. Scott sees Miller's actions as egregious; it's pretty clear that everyone at Arizona -- from the president on down -- doesn't see it the same way.

It's going to be incredibly interesting to see what the independent probe of the officiating program turns up this summer. At the very least, it's really not a good look for the Pac-12 to have relations so clearly frayed between the commissioner and one of its premier basketball programs.

I mean, if you're Sean Miller, and your name comes up in connection with another high-profile job ... let's just say this is the sort of thing that could weigh into a decision whether to leave Arizona and, by extension, the Pac-12. And if the Pac-12 develops a reputation among coaches for treating its coaches unfairly, from the officiating program all the way up to the commissioner's office? It just gets that much tougher to lure quality coaches to the league.

*One final thought, which is only tangentially related here: In this era of FOIA requests, why in the world would anyone ever communicate about something of consequence via email anymore? I'm obviously all for transparent public institutions, but this sort of thing becoming public doesn't help anyone. Phone calls, people. Phone calls!

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