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Greg Hansen: Miller's T a rarity in Pac-12; coincidence?
Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star
Friday, April 5, 2013 12:00 am

Arizona players watch in anguish and disbelief as UCLA takes free throws after Sean Miller's technical foul during the Pac-12 tournament. - JULIE JACOBSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Until referee Michael Irving called a technical foul on Arizona coach Sean Miller in the Pac-12 semifinals, he had worked 27 games involving conference teams without assessing a coach's technical foul.

That's more than 1,000 minutes; no technical foul on a coach all season.

That must have driven Ed Rush nuts. In the end, it drove him from his job.

After examining box scores for all 162 Pac-12 regular season games, and the eight non-conference games Irving officiated involving Pac-12 teams, I found that he was so reluctant to call a technical foul - any type of technical foul - that he and his crew did so in just one Pac-12 game:

On Jan. 10, Irving and his crew called a double technical on Colorado's Xavier Johnson and USC's Byron Wesley.

Irving's next technical foul was assessed more than two months later, in the final five minutes of the Arizona-UCLA game. It came hours after now-retired Pac-12 supervisor of officials Ed Rush encouraged Irving, among other Pac-12 refs, to call a technical on Miller.

The Pac-12 insists Rush was just kidding.

Do you buy that? Didn't think so.

Was Miller's technical foul just a coincidence? Did his behavior cross a line that no other coach had crossed in Irving's previous 27 Pac-12 games?

Or were Rush's powers of suggestion at work in the final minutes of that UCLA-Arizona game? Irving had, after all, been encouraged to ring up Arizona's coach.

You might be surprised to learn that technical fouls on Pac-12 coaches have become rare. Over the 2012-13 regular season, in 162 games, referees called just six technical fouls on coaches.

Utah's Larry Krystkowiak was T'd twice: against Oregon and Washington State. Herb Sendek, Johnny Dawkins, Craig Robinson and Ken Bone had one each.

None of those were called by Irving, even though he tied Tony Padilla for officiating the most conference games, 20, of any referee.

In effect, Irving was the least likely of any Pac-12 official to call a technical foul on a coach, and especially in the drama of a conference semifinal, which had significant NCAA tournament seeding implications with the potential to reach into millions of dollars.

It was Miller's only technical foul of the season.

Rush's persuasion, even in mock seriousness, was fully powerful because it was backed by a pool of more than $2 million paid to referees he choose to hire on a game-to-game basis.

Irving, a former basketball player at Rice, is a lieutenant in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Unlike some high-profile refs who work Pac-12 games, he continues to work another job. Many, who can now earn as much as $200,000 annually officiating, and from $2,500 to $3,000 per game, now work solely as officials. (The refs pay their own expenses.)

Rush was their sugar daddy.

Last summer, Rush filled 486 available spots for officials he deemed worthy to call the year's league games. The competition for those spots, and the $2,500 (or so) check that accompanied it, was fierce.

You wanted Ed Rush to be your best friend. He controlled your annual income. If he suggested you T up Sean Miller, you probably didn't laugh it off. Would you?

Rush chose eight men to officiate at least 16 conference games this year: Irving, Padilla, Mike Scyphers, Chris Rastatter, Gregory Nixon, Michael Greenstein, Michael Reed and Tommy Nunez.

Beyond that, the refs, all independent contractors, work the same system with Mountain West Conference supervisor Bobby Dibler, who also does the WAC hiring/ scheduling, and West Coast Conference supervisor Dave Libbey.

Irving, for example, did 27 Pac-12 games, 14 for the WCC, six for the Big West, three for the WAC, two for the Big Sky and five for the MWC this year. He was judged to be of such quality, on merit, he was awarded the Davidson-Marquette NCAA opener.

He did not call a technical foul in that game, either.

The point is, a referee's key to bountiful employment was to keep Ed Rush, Dave Libbey and Bobby Dibbler happy.

Joke or no joke, by innuendo or by one's human nature to cover his butt, it became inevitable that Irving, or another ref, was going to take Sean Miller down.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott recently said: "The Pac-12 has specific rules that prohibit our coaches from making public comments about officiating, and this prohibition specifically includes comments that create doubts about the credibility of the conference's officiating program."

Create doubts? Ed Rush contaminated the league's officiating program by putting a bounty on Sean Miller's head.

Michael Irving, who hadn't called a technical foul on a head coach all season, merely carried out Rush's dirty work.

Larry Scott should now refund Sean Miller's $25,000 fine and apologize. The UA should expect no less.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @ghansen711

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