“He’s always wanted to be here, he’s always loved Syracuse. He loves Syracuse more than anybody I’ve ever had play for me.”
Jim Boeheim’s words make it crystal clear why Allen Griffin returned to the Orange as an assistant coach. But, it was a circuitous route for Griffin, who played at SU and later spent two seasons as part of the Orange support staff before heading off to climb the coaching ladder.
Griffin bounced around a few schools in the northeast before Syracuse had a job opening after Rob Murphy took the head coaching post at Eastern Michigan. While that opening was not one within Griffin’s grasp, it played a strong role in his eventual return to SU.
Newly-hired Dayton coach Archie Miller was looking to add former Syracuse player Adrian Autry to his staff. Jim Boeheim, however, swooped in, offering a spot on his bench to Autry, who accepted. After Autry rejoined his former coach, both turned around and endorsed Griffin to Miller.
Miller was intrigued, as was Griffin. While still at Hofstra, Griffin looked into Dayton, getting overwhelming positive feedback.
“People were pushing me out the door,” said Griffin.
“I knew that he was a very intense guy,” Griffin said. “That’s how he played, he didn’t change. I knew that he cared about his guys. Once I knew that, I was okay with it.”
While Griffin did not personally know Miller, the two had some previous experience. The former AAU on-court opponents would prove to be a good match as allies.
It was a very fruitful relationship for both coaches. Together for six years, the two were part of a staff that steered the Flyers to 139 wins and four NCAA Tournament berths, including a 2014 trip to the school’s first Elite Eight in 30 years, which featured a win over Syracuse along the way.
That tournament run solidified Miller as a coach like those who had preceded him at Dayton: a rising star waiting to be plucked away by a higher-profile school than the A-10’s Flyers. Griffin, though, had long expected that to be the case.
“I knew he was a star in the making from my research, from what people told me about him.”
As a result, Griffin expected a bigger job would eventually come for Miller. Three years later, rumors swirled around Indiana, one of the premier jobs in college basketball, that Tom Crean was on the hot seat. With Dayton less than a three-hour car ride from the Hoosiers’ Bloomington campus, Miller was rumored to replace Crean at Indiana early.
“It was the biggest talk around Dayton,” Griffin recalled. “I go to the barbershop, “Hey, man, I’m happy to know you, I’ll see you in Bloomington.” I go to a couple places where I eat and it’s, “Is Coach Miller really going to take the job at Indiana?””
Just as the 2017 NCAA Tournament tipped off, Indiana started the ball rolling by firing Crean. The next day, Dayton was bounced from the NCAA Tournament. Two days after that, Mike Hopkins was hired as the head coach at the University of Washington.
With his relationship with Miller, Griffin was in an enviable spot. With Dayton an A-10 power, if Miller stayed with the Flyers, standing pat would be fine. Miller could also move to a better job and ask Griffin to join him. Not only did Hopkins need to fill a staff at Washington, but his departure left an opening on the bench at Syracuse.
“I knew that I would probably get a phone call (for the Syracuse opening),” Griffin said. “I wasn’t sure that I would get the job, but I knew that I would probably get a phone call.”
“I thought I would be in consideration because we did a really good job for six years at Dayton. Obviously, I was a part of that process, so I think I worked my way to getting that call.”
Of course, that call came.
“The next day, Coach (Boeheim) called and said, “Do you have your red (Indiana) sweater on yet?””
Boeheim told his former player he wanted to talk in a couple weeks. That conversation ended with an offer for Griffin to return. And, from his former coach’s words, it sounds like the endpoint of that circuitous trip is where Griffin wanted to be all along.