Miles Simon now knows why the expression is "you cannot go home again." Simon's play in the 1997 NCAA tournament helped Lute Olson capture his only title, and Simon won the Most Outstanding Player for his terrific play in the Final Four. But Simon has never really been rewarded for coming back for his senior season.
Since deciding to come back to Tuscon more than a decade ago, Simon has sued the university for releasing his grades (a lawsuit that was dismissed by two judges), fell from a possible first-round pick had he left early in 1997 to a second round pick in 1998, hurt his foot and knee thus ending a short-lived professional career, returned to Arizona to earn his degree, worked on the Wildcats' staff for four years, and now has been essentially fired by a coach -- without the coach taking credit for the decision -- he has known for 15 years.
Simon was summoned to A.D. Jim Livengood's office a week and a half ago, after spending a week on the road recruiting with Olson, and was told his year-to-year contract with the university would not be renewed. Simon said that Livengood offered no explanation, only that the university was "going in a different direction."
Simon said he immediately went to see Olson, who acted surprised and wanted to help get him another job. Simon said he repeatedly asked for an explanation over the past week about his firing and one has not been given. In fact, Livengood told Simon that Olson was keenly aware of the proceedings and that he, Simon, should discuss it with Olson.
"It really hurts," Simon told me over the phone. "I bleed Arizona and this is how it ends? They have given me no explanation, no closure. ... I have known Coach O since I was 17, and this is not a side of him that I know."
So ends a tumultuous year for the entire Arizona staff in which Olson took a leave of absence, Kevin O'Neill took over, O'Neill and several staff members clashed over every detail of the program (including Olson's involvement) and then Olson returned to take the helm again after the season ended.
Simon, who along with fellow assistant coach Josh Pastner, helped land top recruit Brandon Jennings from Los Angeles and just lost out on the Wear twins, David and Travis, who played at Simon's alma mater of Mater Dei High School but verbally committed to North Carolina. A source told me that the disappearance of Olson and the emergence of O'Neill was said to be a big factor in the Wear twins going elsewhere.
Simon was even more devastated by the loss of his grandmother, who raised him, to a long illness. At the same time, he suffered through his father having two stomach surgeries with complications, all of which came late during Pac-10 play.
So ends an embarrassing episode for Olson as well. If Olson loses Pastner to Memphis, as Andy Katz wrote in his blog on Monday, Olson would have completely cleaned house on a staff that he hand picked after getting rid of longtime assistant, Jim Rosborough, two years ago. And his last three former assistants to become head coaches were all fired this year. Jay John (Oregon State), Rodney Tention (Loyola Marymount) and Jessie Evans (San Francisco) all lost their jobs this past season, and none have arrived back in Tuscon.
In a profession in which loyalty is seemingly hard to come by, Lute Olson has shown and received very little of late. Meanwhile, Miles Simon, who was steadfast in his support of Olson all season long, has clearly been one the most loyal of Olson's men and was told to leave town. Olson at least owes Simon an explanation as to his termination. That would be the decent thing to do.