There are many reasons to love the madness that accompanies the NCAA Tournament, but with Miami University dateless for the Big Dance this year, it may have been difficult for some fans to attach to a team.
Adding insult to injury, four other Ohio teams made the Sweet Sixteen last week. But three of the four teams have connections to Miami, so if there were any bandwagons to jump on it would have been those. The Miami football team may take greater pride in the Cradle of Coaches moniker, but the phylogenetic coaching tree created by former men’s basketball Head Coach Herb Sendek is beginning to rival it.
Like the Oracle of Kevin Bacon, which connects any actor you can think of to the Footloose star, the world of college basketball really is a small world after all. And each of the coaches at Ohio University, Xavier University and Ohio State University can all look to Miami for their coaching heritage.
Sendek was only at Miami for three seasons (1994-1996) but has created a family tree of successful coaches that belongs on Ancestry.com. During his tenure, he led the Red and White to three postseason appearances, including the second round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament, while picking up a Mid-American Conference (MAC) Title and a MAC Coach of the Year Award (both in 1995) along the way.
Sendek has since moved on to Arizona State University and while the Sun Devils were irrelevant this season, Sendek made his mark on the college basketball landscape through his former protÃ©gÃ©s, who have become the who’s-who of coaches.
“Herb is a tremendous coach and has been great about giving young coaches a chance,” Miami Assistant Coach Jermaine Henderson, who played under Sendek, said. “When people look back at Miami basketball he will be seen as one of the pillars that the program has been built on.”
The first is none other than Charlie Coles, who was an assistant to Sendek at Miami before taking over the program in 1997 and becoming the winningest coach in Miami basketball history.
Under Sendek, Coles shared the bench with fellow assistants Thad Matta and Sean Miller. Matta, Ohio State University head coach, currently has the Buckeyes bound for New Orleans for the Final Four, his second trip to that stage, while Miller currently coaches the University of Arizona. However, before heading to sunnier climes, Miller was at the helm of Xavier University where he mentored current Musketeers coach Chris Mack.
The final connection includes the charged-up coach of Ohio University (OU), John Groce, who was an assistant to Sendek at North Carolina State University before leading the OU Bobcats on a Cinderella run this postseason.
“The names speak for themselves, as they are not just guys in the business but great coaches,” Henderson said. “Herb taught in a way that bred head coaching, and its easy to see why [his former assistants] have had success.”
There are 345 head coaching positions in Division I basketball but the available jobs are few and far between. And assuming you get the job, the coaching world is Darwinian at its core, where only the successful survive.
So the fact that three of the sixteen sweetest teams in the NCAA Tournament trace their heritage back to Millett Hall cannot be a coincidence, can it?
It could be something in the water flowing through the Miami River valley, but I give credit to Miami University for providing the foundation that has led to the success of the aforementioned coaches.
Miami’s name did not appear on any bracket this year, but its fans can at least embrace the RedHawk connections and wait for the next great coach to surface from Miami’s roots.