Sean Miller was working his way through Kroger recently when a man approached with a smile and a request. “This is my brother’s phone number,” the man said, handing Miller a piece of paper. “Can you give him a call and just say hi? He’s a big fan.”
Miller smiled in return, not sure whether he should be flattered that he was recognized outside of a basketball court or upset that his private life was suddenly intruded upon in the middle of a grocery store. Ultimately, the call wasn’t made. “You have to draw the line somewhere,” he says.
The line is that invisible boundary that separates the personal from the professional, the leisure from the labor—a boundary that is growing more and more blurry in the college coaching ranks. Coaches today are being asked to devote an ever-increasing amount of their time to concerns outside of their primary jobs of coaching and winning games, from personal appearances to speaking engagements to odd favors. It’s a growing price of their position.
They’re also being asked to spend an increasingly large percentage of their time in a role not typically associated with coaching—fundraiser. The economics of 21st-century college basketball have forced athletic departments to find new and creative ways to generate additional income. As a result, within the last 10 years there’s been a boom in the creation of fundraising efforts focused specifically on athletics, and coaches are being asked to help by providing slivers of their time.
Unlike many of the other non-coaching tasks that eat away at their time, however, ask them and they’ll insist that this additional role is part of their job. After all, in order to succeed, you need the tools, and money is one of them.
“I do whatever I need to do to represent Xavier,” says Miller, “whether that’s talking to season ticket holders or people who want to give significant money to the program. Those are the people who are interested in what we are about and what we stand for and not just what we did last year or what we’re going to do this season. They’re the ones who want the development of the student-athlete at the forefront of what we do, and I am very grateful to those people. I never looked at it as a burden.” On the day Miller was introduced as the head coach, he stopped Dan Cloran, director for Xavier’s All For One (AFO) club, and said he would do whatever he could to help. And he has. Last year he even hosted a party for more than 100 AFO supporters at his home.
The week women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff was hired, he spoke at an event.
“In this day and age, you need to look at it as part of the job,” says McGuff. “And, for me, it’s an opportunity to sell the program. We’re still in the growth stage, so I’m happy to do it. It can be a double-edged sword—the more you win the more you’re in demand—but that’s a good problem to have.”
Fundraising and booster clubs are, certainly, nothing new for college athletics, and coaches have been speaking at events for decades. But the two have never been so closely linked.
“Before there was no reason to join the two,” says Cloran. “Coaches would go out and speak, make people feel good and leave. Now, with Coach Miller, with every one of his speaking engagements, he’s thinking, ‘How can this benefit Xavier athletics?’ Whether he mentions supporting the AFO directly in his talk or simply references it at the end, it’s there. So if someone comes up and says, ‘How can I help?’ he can point to this structured area where they can go.”
And it’s proven beneficial. AFO funds have resulted in benefits from hiring full-time coaches to improving transportation. This past year the locker rooms were upgraded and a new conditioning room was added.
“When we met with the people who funded the new conditioning room,” says Cloran, “Coach Miller went with us on every call.”
“You have to,” says Miller. “Places like Ohio State, Indiana, Kentucky and Virginia are building new facilities and spending millions of dollars to make their programs better. You have to keep up. That’s a fact of college basketball.”