Herb Sendek has never won a game, because coaches never hit a jump shot. At least that’s his claim.
But when his Miami (Ohio) team upset 15th-ranked Arizona and took 13th-ranked Virginia into overtime in the first two rounds of the 1995 NCAA Tournament, the key players were sitting on the Redhawks bench — and that’s not a reference to the team’s reserves.
Planted next to Sendek in suits and ties that weekend in Dayton, Ohio, were assistant coaches Thad Matta, Sean Miller and Charlies Coles, each of whom now runs his own Division I program.
“Every guy had a strength and Herb tapped into every person,” said Coles, who succeeded Sendek as Miami’s head coach. “That’s the brilliance of Herb Sendek — the fact that he knows how to get the best out of everybody.”
Two members of that staff will coach against one another this afternoon when Miller and Xavier host Sendek and Arizona State. Two miles down the road, Matta will lead fourth-ranked Ohio State into a game at Cincinnati.
In all, six men who have coached under Sendek since he earned his first head coaching job in 1993 are currently employed as Division I head coaches.
Former Miami assistants Ron Hunter and Jim Christian now lead the programs at Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis and Kent State, respectively, and former North Carolina State assistant Larry Hunter (no relation to Ron) is the No. 1 at Western Carolina.
Each coach contacted for this story left Sendek’s side with the same impression.
“With me it was organization. In my one year with him that’s what I got out of it,” Ron Hunter said. “He takes it to such a high level in recruiting and in practices and in one-on-one work. Some would call it tedious, but it’s just his gift.”
Grease boards and game tape are the tools favored by Sendek, whose organizational skills and attention to detail have already been noted at ASU. A preseason advertisement for season tickets showed Sendek diagramming plays on glass like Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.”
When he arrived on campus, he converted the media room at Wells Fargo Arena into a large meeting area where film is broken down and markers go dry filling up grease boards. The team takes its own easels on the road and Sendek has in-game huddles taped so the coaching staff can analyze players’ body language.
His former assistants have been both awed and molded by the approach.
Archie Miller, a current ASU assistant, said the on-court demeanor of older brother Sean Miller reminds him most of the pair’s father, a successful high school coach.
But he said his brother’s work behind the scenes is all Sendek.
“I know from the inner works of Xavier’s program, the blue print is a Herb Sendek blueprint,” Archie Miller said. “The way that he’s recruited, the way that’s he handled his staff, the way his staff handled the players … I know from the organization and the internal stuff that there’s a huge stamp from coach Sendek.”
Sendek has not discriminated by age or experience in assembling his staffs.
After giving Matta and Miller their first full-time jobs at Miami, he hired Larry Hunter, who owned more than 25 years of head-coaching experience, as an assistant at North Carolina State.
Ron Hunter and Christian had a few years experience as assistants at other mid-major programs under their belts when Sendek hired them to Miami. And Coles had settled contentedly into high school coaching before he got the call from Sendek who is 21 years his junior.
Sendek’s current assistants range in age from 28 to 40 and include two former high school coaches, a former assistant at a number of mid-major programs and a former North Carolina State player.
“He runs his program like you’d run a Fortune 500 company,” Archie Miller said. “Everybody’s involved. There are responsibilities. There are guys having to really uphold their end of the bargain in terms of productivity.”
When they do uphold their ends of the bargain — and the players make their jump shots — March miracles like the one in 1995 can occur.
“We operated on all cylinders that year,” Coles said. “The preparation was outstanding and the contributions just kept coming, coming, coming from everybody. And of course Herb orchestrated all that.”