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Archie Miller’s competitive fire brings out best in Flyers

Former players tell their favorite stories about Dayton’s coach

Editor’s note: The Dayton Flyers start the season Nov. 11. In the 26 days leading to the opener, the Dayton Daily News will explore different aspects of the program in the A-Z Guide to Dayton Basketball. This is the first installment. A: Archie Miller.

Archie Miller enters his sixth season as head coach of the Dayton Flyers with a 115-55 mark. He turns 38 on Oct. 30.

Miller is the same age Don Donoher was in 1969-70, which was also his sixth full season as UD head coach. Donoher last coached the Flyers in 1989. Miller took the reins in 2011. They are separated by decades but share a common bond as the only Dayton coaches to lead their teams to the NCAA tournament three seasons in a row.

Miller will try to one-up Donoher, who earned a spot on Dayton’s Walk of Fame this year, in the coming season. Only the most optimistic fan could have predicted how fast the Flyers would rise in recent seasons. However, Miller has been exceeding expectations his whole life.

PHOTOS: Archie Miller through the years

As a 5-foot-11 freshman guard at N.C. State, Miller had to prove the doubters wrong. He grew up on the son of the coach and always felt he had the answers to the test when it came to basketball, he told David Burhenn, author of “Miller Time: Coach John Miller’s Story.”

“When I got there, it didn’t take me long to realize that if people looked at just me, they would surmise that I really wasn’t supposed to be there,” Miller said. “I wasn’t fast enough, didn’t have the quickness. I wasn’t tall enough. But what I did have was my family and the background with my dad to guide me and help me to succeed. Again, the answers to the test.”

Miller has passed those answers on to numerous Flyers the past five seasons. Three of those players — Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford and Brian Vonderhaar, seniors on the Elite Eight team in 2014 — shared their thoughts and memories of Miller and his staff this fall.

Q: How did Archie Miller and the coaching staff get the best of you?

Oliver: Archie and the coaching staff got the best out of me in different ways. The special thing about Arch and his staff was that they knew it was different for each guy. For example, I needed to make a switch mentally. Become tougher, more of a leader, more of an everyday guy. Archie challenged me constantly, especially within practice, to become more competitive and work harder. Once I began to mature, he allowed me to play my game within his basic system, which ended up working out very well! I just think it’s special how adaptive the staff can be. But, most importantly, Archie wants tough-minded guys, which is what I grew to be.

Sanford: I can say the reason why Archie, along with his coaching staff, has remained successful throughout the years is because of their approach to adjust to whichever circumstance given. From playing under them to watching them adapt to player personnel, persistence of player development is also why they get the best out of players. And just intensity as far a practice and situations in practice. It’s very competitive!

Vonderhaar: The coaching staff’s ability to get the best out of every player starts with Archie. He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever been around, and he created that environment every day within the program. His, and the rest of the staff’s, commitment to the daily process meant he brought it every day — in workouts, practices, and games. He never lets up, no matter who you are, and challenges you every day. He held everyone accountable. There was no special treatment. The proof is in the program he has built and his, along with the rest of the staff’s, ability to develop players and teams.

A: Does one moment of playing for Archie stand out?

Oliver: A moment I remember most about Archie would probably have to be his speech before the St. Louis game, when we played them there on their Senior Night. Usually, Archie would give a semi enthusiastic pregame speech. Not that he didn’t care but we had prepared so much for a game that there wasn’t much to be said. But this particular pregame speech, he spoke for about 15-20 minutes, and I remember having way less time on the clock until the game started. He spoke to us with so much passion and energy. He made us really believe how much he wanted to win and how much it mattered. In that sort of setting, with what was on the line for that team, when your leader makes a speech like that, you believe in what he’s saying and follow suit. So that was probably my most memorable Archie story. Or the time he kicked me out of practice because I wouldn’t stop jumping to pass! I ended up sneaking back down to the court and just reinserting myself back into practice!

Sanford: One thing in particular I remember from Arch is my junior year. The guys were all kinda taking it for granted: losing etc., playing with no pride. He made us clean up the whole UD arena after the circus and practice in cotton T-shirts. That moment kinda molded the attitude for the senior class the following season, which is a reason why we had a turn around throughout the Atlantic 10. He is really big on playing with a sense of pride and integrity.

Vonderhaar: There’s a few stories that really stand out, all during the latter part of our Elite Eight season in 2014.

• It was the night before we played SLU. We went through our usual night before meal and film session at the hotel. Usually, Archie would only say a few words once we finished film, mostly reviewing the schedule for the next day. At this point, everyone is leaned back in their chairs, waiting to go back to our rooms. This night he talked longer. He delved into the importance of this game and how it could build our resume for making the NCAA tournament, giving the most motivating speech he had ever given us. His speech had everyone on the edge of the seats. It made us hungry, and I believe it was a turning point in realizing how close we were to making it. Of course, we went out and won the next day, beating SLU on senior night.

• First practice after selection Sunday: We started practice as usually. We got to our 5-on-0 full-court drills, where sets are run through against the scout team playing a dummy defense. He had us (scout team) get in a 2-3 defense. As the guys come down the court and realize we were in zone, you hear Archie yell, “Better be prepared for for it, we’re going to see plenty of it on Saturday (in the second round against Syracuse).” This goes to show how confident he was in us beating Ohio State.

• Pregame meal before Stanford: The hotel messed up the meals, serving what was supposed to be the post-game meal as the pregame meal: chicken wings, burgers, fries, etc. That was our only option as the hotel didn’t have any other food ready, so Archie said go ahead and eat. We won, so then for the Elite Eight pregame meal, he has the hotel serve the same junk food. All out of superstition.

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