Scandal-tinged Sean Miller takes over at Xavier as ex-assistant still seeks second chance
While Sean Miller was being introduced Tuesday at Madison Square Garden as one of the Big East’s new men’s basketball coaches, Emanuel “Book” Richardson was overseeing a workout roughly 8 miles north at Gaucho Gym in the South Bronx.
Xavier, which is bringing Miller back as head coach was willing to overlook the scandal at Arizona during Miller’s tenure as head coach of the Wildcats from 2009-21 because it believes he can help the Musketeers win big again. Arizona was ensnared in the 2017 federal investigation into corruption in college basketball.
Richardson, who worked alongside Miller for 10 years and served three months in prison after pleading guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit bribery, didn’t express any animosity toward Miller getting back in the game so fast after his dismissal at Arizona in April 2021. That could mean there’s a chance Richardson can return to the college game one day for a second chance, too.
“That gives hope for me to be coaching in college,” Richardson told The Post. “It’s been five years. For me to be mad, for me to be sad, for me to be upset, that doesn’t help me. I’m looking to show someone that I still have a lot of talent, still got a lot of time left.
“Hopefully, someone just understands that I can help them win basketball games on and off the court, I can cultivate talent and I can coach.”
Richardson, 49, was one of four assistant coaches arrested as part of the FBI investigation. He was accused of accepting $20,000 to send Arizona players to sports agent Christian Dawkins. During Dawkins’ trial, the prosecution played a call caught on a wiretap on which Richardson told Dawkins that Miller was paying $10,000 per month for former player Deandre Ayton to play for the Wildcats. Miller has denied paying players. Arizona was charged with five Level 1 violations last March and Miller faces one Level 1 charge for not demonstrating “that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance and monitored his staff.”
After Xavier missed the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season in 2021-22, it zeroed in on Miller, who sat out just one year following his firing at Arizona. He went 120-47 and reached four NCAA Tournaments in five years from 2004-09 as the Musketeers’ coach, with Richardson serving in that time as one of his assistants.
“It means the world to me. Xavier’s believed in me really two different times,” the 53-year-old Miller said. “Number one, gave me my first head-coaching opportunity when my record was zero and zero. You always need that first person to believe in you. And then secondly, I have now had the opportunity for them to believe in who I am at a critical time for Xavier. … Thrilled to be back, grateful to be back.”
Asked if he had to explain to Xavier decision-makers what happened at Arizona, Miller said, “they know who I am.”
Athletic director Greg Christopher said the school dug into the case, and came away comfortable with hiring Miller. It helped that he had the backing of CEOs and leaders of the Catholic Church in the community, along with notable alumni.
“It was probably the longest interview I’ve ever been a part of as we went through everything,” Christopher said.
One Big East assistant coach said Miller’s hiring shows winning trumps all, while another said, “everyone in our office doesn’t understand why this guy deserves a job after what happened.”
Big East commissioner Val Ackerman noted that each school has the freedom to hire whatever coaches it deems fit, but the league didn’t object to the move.
“We trust Xavier’s judgement on this, and we’re going to look forward and not back,” Ackerman said.
Richardson, meanwhile, currently serves as the boys basketball director of the Bronx-based Gauchos AAU program. He is expected to be the head coach of a new New York City academy team called The Program beginning in the 2023-24 season, but it is still in the process of being launched. Richardson, a New York City native, doesn’t believe that Miller threw him under the bus, though the two haven’t talked since Richardson was arrested.
Miller and Richardson are both still in limbo, as the Arizona case remains unsettled. A decision is expected soon, with a suspension possible for Miller and discipline for Richardson after the Independent Accountability Resolution Process comes to a conclusion following a summer hearing.
It remains uncertain if a school will be willing to take a chance on Richardson. He was in the mix to land a job at LIU Brooklyn on new coach Rod Strickland’s staff, but the president declined to sign off on the move.
It’s worth noting that these days players can profit off their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), and had those rules been in place years ago, maybe Richardson wouldn’t have landed behind bars or wound up out of college basketball at all. The same could be said for the other three assistant coaches who were arrested as part of the FBI investigation five years ago.
“That’s the irony,” Richardson said. “I look at it like this: In every dark cloud there is a silver lining. … I’m not saying [NIL] wouldn’t have happened anyway, but this thing that happened to the four black assistants, it expedited it.”