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A legend on and off the field

Will Grandbois
wgrandbois@postindependent.com

Only Stubler Memorial Field could have contained the crowd that turned out on Sunday morning to pay their respects to Don Miller.

A Kansas native and veteran of the 82nd Airborne, Miller was known mostly as “Coach” for the role he embodied at Glenwood Springs High School from 1964 to 1995. He died on July 6 at the age of 79, leaving behind a legacy that includes two state football titles, numerous track records, a laundry list of awards, but is defined principally by his three children, eight grandchildren, and an extended family of friends and former athletes.

They came out by the hundreds, donning Demon red instead of traditional black, greeting old friends among the throng and talking about what Miller, with his back-to-basics, hard work, team focus, taught them on and off the field.

“He always said, he wasn’t just preparing his players for the game of football, he was preparing them for the game of life,” former GSHS principal Mike Wells told the assembly.

Eric Strautman certainly got the message.

“I only played for him for two years, but those two years shaped me,” he said. “They changed who I am, what I do, how I perceive myself and the standards I hold myself up to.”

In addition to being a father figure to many of his players, Miller coached both of his sons.

J.D. Miller couldn’t think of a more fitting place to remember his father than the stadium at the end of Coach Miller Drive.

“Our blood and our sweat and our tears are here,” he reminded the crowd. “It’s really too bad we can’t bury dad right here on the 50 yard line.”

Like Wells, he emphasized that Miller’s lessons were about more than football or track.

“Sports is just a metaphor for life. It’s life concentrated, distilled to a pure essence,” he said. “We learn more about ourselves in defeat than we ever do in victory. Whatever you’re doing, push yourself. Make a difference. Look at yourself in the mirror at the end of day and say, ‘I did my best.’”

Miller was certainly willing to lead by example, as his son, Jason, illustrated with a story.

Before coming to Glenwood Springs in 1964, Miller spent a couple of years as a coach at Wiggins High School in northeastern Colorado. When, on one particularly chilly night, a player complained about the cold, coach Miller removed his own jacket and declared, “If I can do it, you can do it. I’m right there with you.”

He never again wore a coat on game night.

As the ceremony began to draw to a close, Jason Miller took a moment to thank the crowd.

“All of you, collectively, gave my dad his best moments and supported him through his hardest seasons,” he said. “I heard a whole bunch of folks say how much my dad gave to you. But I want to leave you with the thought that all of you gave him so much more.”

The event concluded with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” and a collective recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which rolled across the field and echoed off nearby buildings. The speakers each shared a moment with a nondescript football, which accompanied Miller’s casket to Rosebud Cemetery.


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