Over the weekend, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reported that Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller was recorded on an FBI wiretap discussing with Christian Dawkins, a runner for the ASM Sports agency and a key figure in the ongoing FBI investigation, a $100,000 payment in exchange for the signature of 5-star center DeAndre Ayton. Not only that, Schalabach reported that Miller said the brokering of any such payments should run explicitly through him. The key passage:
According to people with knowledge of the FBI investigation, Miller and Dawkins, a runner working for ASM Sports agent Andy Miller, had multiple conversations about Ayton. When Dawkins asked Sean Miller if he should work with assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson to finalize their agreement, Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money, the sources said.
Miller released a statement defending himself in response to that report, and Arizona held Miller out of Saturday’s loss at Oregon as a preemptive measure.
On Thursday, Miller categorically denied the ESPN report in the strongest possible terms. “I have done nothing wrong,” Miller’s statement reads at one point. “I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as the head coach of this program,” it says another. A third, different denial: “Let me be very, very clear: I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying DeAndre Ayton to attend The University of Arizona…. Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false and defamatory.”
Note to football coaches: This is how you deny reports you’re taking a job.
Who’s wrong? Sean Miller denies accusations pic.twitter.com/vELj2G6kXU
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) March 1, 2018
In a statement from its news desk afterward, ESPN said this, “ESPN stands by its reporting on Miller and the FBI investigation.”
There are only three possible outcomes from here. Either Schlabach’s source is lying to him, or Schlabach made up an FBI wiretap conversation that never happened, or Sean Miller just stood before God and country and lied his face off. Miller has to be extreeemly confident that tape either does not exist or will never see the light of day, or Thursday’s stand is going to blow up in his face in a major way, and there doesn’t seem to be much of an in between.
Update> Sports Illustrated just called ESPN out on there reporting as well. Says what ESPN reported simply did not happen.
A source tells @SInow that the FBI wiretap did NOT intercept a phone call where Sean Miller discussed making a payment to DeAndre Ayton. This and other details in a new @SInow legal analysis: https://t.co/yrxeqrEBJH pic.twitter.com/Hlf2H3BQXr
— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) March 1, 2018
Further update> Arizona President Robbins emphatically backs Sean Miller. Says he is their coach and will remain their coach.