While questioning both the turnover call and technical foul that led to Sean Miller's postgame protests last month, former Pac-12 officials coordinator Ed Rush said Friday he had an "enormous amount" of respect for the Arizona Wildcats coach.
In an interview with the Star on Friday, a day after he resigned from the Pac-12, Rush said he tried to prod officials into more closely watching Miller and other coaches with "poorly chosen wording" during the Pac-12 tournament.
But he said he did not seriously offer a bounty on Miller and tried unsuccessfully to speak with the Wildcats coach after Miller was fined $25,000 for postgame actions following UA's March 15 loss to UCLA.
"I actually reached out to Sean a couple of times and didn't hear back from him," Rush said. "I was hoping we could have a conversation. I told him I felt bad about putting him in the middle of all of this. … I called him, and his voice mail was full. So I sent a text and said, 'If you have a chance, give me a call.'"
Miller, who has declined comment about Rush and Pac-12 officiating since he was fined on March 17, shares Pennsylvania roots with Rush that Rush said led to his respect of Miller.
Rush, a 38-year veteran referee of the NBA who is also now the special teams football coach at Division II Bloomsburg (Pa.) University, was a consultant to the Pac-12 when Miller was hired in April 2009 and took over as officials coordinator last summer.
"I know how he grew up, how he learned the game, and we have some mutual friends," Rush said of Miller. "When he came to the University of Arizona, I knew what a great hire it was for the conference. When I got to know him this summer, I could see why he's doing a phenomenal job.
"But at the same time, any time you're in this job, in a highly competitive situation, it's your job to manage the coaches."
Rush said the actions of Miller and Colorado coach Tad Boyle during a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal game March 14 prompted him to prod the refs to more closely watch Miller and UCLA's Ben Howland the next day.
Rush said Miller and Howland were warned before the game that they would be closely watched and earned warnings in the second half. Then, after Mark Lyons was called for a turnover late in the game, Miller protested and was called for a technical when he stepped out of the coaching box.
Miller said in his postgame news conference that the turnover was incorrect because a UCLA player "touched the ball," an assertion that Rush agreed with.
"Absolutely, it was an incorrect call," Rush said. "That was part of our discussion in the postgame. If the defender hits the ball, it's a new possession. If he hits it and it doesn't come out, it's a jump ball. Those are the only two things that can happen."
Rush also said that Miller's technical probably should not have been called.
"The official (Michael Irving) who called the tech did not know we missed the call," Rush said. "There's an unwritten rule that if you know you missed the call, you say, 'You know what? I'm going to allow a little emotion here.' But the other two guys (who did not call the turnover) couldn't tell what happened."
After the game, according to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, Miller confronted an official inappropriately and then also "ripped into" a league staffer in the hallway. Scott then fined Miller $25,000 two days after the game, and Pac-12 spokesman Erik Hardenbergh said the fine would remain because it was a separate issue from Rush's comments.
When asked if Miller should still be fined, Rush said it wasn't his place to determine that.
"We're the foot soldiers," Rush said. "It's our job to report what happens. Then we turn it into the prosecutor, and he decides if he's going to prosecute or not."
Rush said it was his job to get officials to control the emotions of the game, which prompted him to offer cash or a trip to Cancun for anyone who assessed a technical foul on or ejected Miller. Rush said the comments were clearly in a joking tone - an assertion he said "every person" interviewed for a Pac-12 investigation agreed with - and indicated disappointment that they became public.
"It was poorly chosen wording, and the timing was bad," Rush said. "This is not a good excuse, but I grew up in the game where we lived by a code where anything you said in the locker room would never go anyplace. That code was broken, obviously."
When asked if that represented a result of a rift between himself and his officials, Rush indicated there may have been some disgruntlement among staffers who were receiving less security and compensation under his new system. Pac-12 officials are independent contractors who are paid by the game.
"We came in and were asked to make changes, and we believed we had to put in a system where people were rewarded by productivity," Rush said. "For the most part, guys embraced it."
Rush said he received earlier feedback from both Miller and UA associate head coach James Whitford that the officiating was improving and this week also received some support around the conference.
After reports surfaced Monday of his comments to officials, Rush said he did not hear from Miller or UA athletic director Greg Byrne, but instead decided to resign on his own when he realized his program could not easily move forward.
"Larry and I talked (Thursday), and it was me" deciding to leave, Rush said. "We talked about what we were going to do moving forward and how we really needed the support of the coaches. We weren't going to stand pat.
"I felt real confident we had a really sound plan … but when you have to go uphill to rework and rebuild the trust again, that, to me, says it's time to leave."
• Departing UA seniors Lyons and Solomon Hill are confirmed to play in the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, a seniors-only predraft event that former UA guard Kyle Fogg played in last season.
• Whitford's name has surfaced in connection with the head coaching vacancy at Ball State, according to CBSSports.com and the Star Press of Muncie, Ind. Whitford was also approached by Miami (Ohio) last spring but withdrew from consideration. He was an assistant coach at Miami from 1997 to 2005 under Charlie Coles.
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Contact reporter Bruce Pascoe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4145. On Twitter @BrucePascoe