(Photo Courtesy of Miami University Communications and Marketing)
by Tim Daniel
It has now been nine months since Travis Steele and Xavier unceremoniously decided to go their separate ways.
While most coaches usually take a little time off after moving on from one employer, something Steele had originally planned to do himself, a coaching opportunity not too far up the road came open a few weeks later.
"It was a unique situation that presented itself," Travis Steele told me. "I'll never forget I was down with my family in Florida and some other schools were calling and they asked if I'd be interested at that point I was just gonna take a year off then my wife told me Miami was open. I thought "oh really, that's interesting and didn't think much of it and then ten minutes later our athletic director, David Sayler called."
After the conversation Steele had with Sayler, he and his wife thought about it and felt it was a situation that was too good to pass up.
While Coach Steele is now leading the Miami Redhawks who play in a historic arena such as Millet Hall, Steele is trying to bring crowds back to Miami very similar to what he experienced over 13 seasons at the Cintas Center as either the head coach or an assistant with the Xavier Musketeers.
The situation Travis has as the first-year head coach at Miami is far different than what he inherited when he became the head coach at Xavier.
In 2015 when Steele took over the Musketeers, they were just a Number one seed in the NCAA tournament and made the Elite Eight the season before that. At Miami, the team had a 14-18 season, finished 5th in the MAC, and has only had one winning season since the 2009-10 season.
"I've never been through a rebuild, this is my first one. It takes patience, trying to do things slow, methodical, play the long game. Every decision I make is about year three, not about now and we have to do that." Steele explained, "It's been a long time since Miami has won, it's been 16 years, been a long time."
Even with this long stride of struggles, Miami is still the all-time winningest program in the MAC, but Steele knows that his job is all about getting the program back to that standard.
Currently, Miami has had quite a few battles with health, and while Steele is working toward getting his roster back, he can give his Freshman many opportunities to get playing time. Currently, Miami has five freshmen on the roster, four play double-digit minutes and two are starters playing over 24 minutes on average including Ryan Mabrey playing all 40 minutes in the Redhawks matchup at Georgia.
Since Travis took a job not too far from his previous employer, Steele has been able to continue his already-established recruiting pipeline. With his first full recruiting class for the 2023-24 season, Travis went back to his roots getting players from the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area.
"I've been in southwest Ohio forever. During my time at Xavier as the Head Coach and as an assistant. I worked at Indiana, worked at Ohio State. I'm right where I need to be, right where my connections are and we got a great class."
Steeles' excitement around players coming in such as Evan Ipsaro from Covington Catholic, Taft's Eian Elmer, and more isn't difficult to pick up on, all winning players at successful programs.
"For whatever reason Miami stopped recruiting the Ohio area for the last 10-12 years. We gotta get that back, and get that brand back. Being here at Miami for the last six months, you can't have a bad visit. The campus is awesome, it's ridiculous."
Tonight, Travis leads Miami into Fifth Third Arena to face the Cincinnati Bearcats. Steele has had a lot of success in that building during his time at Xavier, something he's very proud of and can always hang his hat on (and also give out some hefty bar tabs) with the Musketeer fanbase, though this isn't the same type of team he's lead into UC in the past, Travis has used recent history on his side to give his team some faith going into this matchup.
"We had a shot to beat Georgia. If you had told me in Year one that we'd be in that position at that point in the game I take that every day of the week. On any given night, if you aren't ready to play you're going to get humbled very very quickly in college basketball."
Last year the Bearcats went to Millet Hall and won over Miami but it was a very close game that went down to the wire. Steele expressed interest in keeping that matchup going. "I told Wes (Miller) I would love to get them back up here. We'd love to keep that thing going with UC.
Even though Travis is coaching at a different school, the respect and the feel of the rivalry are still there.
" I got a lot of respect for Wes. I think Wes has done a really nice job there and will continue to do a nice job there. He's going to get that program rolling, there's no doubt about that. But, it's a great opportunity for our program, and we're appreciative that UC is playing us but my mindset, rebuild or not is the same and that's to win. There are no moral victories." "I love playing there, it's a great atmosphere, they did a great job to Fifth Third (Arena)."
It also doesn't hurt Steele that the UC fan base still loves to treat him like a rival coach. "I've heard from some fans already. I'm getting my phone recently at this store and this guy that's helping me tells me at the very end "hey coach, you know I go to UC and we are going to be wild with you during the game." I said man, bring it on, I love it."
Though Miami has shown the ability to shoot through the season, this is likely their toughest matchup of the season besides playing against Indiana. Cincinnati is looking to get back on track after their loss to Steele's former employer this past weekend in the Crosstown Shootout. Is this the first signature win for Steele at Miami? This matchup has a lot to offer, and Travis Steele looks to continue his run against the Bearcats.