Miller takes old school style to Hall
GSPI Sports Editor
Call Don Miller and there’s a good chance he will still answer the call with “Coach here.”
For thousands of former Glenwood Springs High School athletes, he will always be Coach – he earned the title. And after today he will be a national hall of fame coach.
Miller, who coached Demons football, wrestling and track for 31 years, is set to be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association at a ceremony today in Tulsa, Okla.
Miller, along with Ken Soper of Dolores County High School, joins 10 other Colorado coaches who were previously inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame.
`More than wins and losses’
Miller certainly has the numbers to warrant an induction, with 204 victories, two state titles and 17 appearances at the state tournament in his 31 years at the helm of the football program. Then add to that numerous district and regional titles during 25 years of coaching track and seven years coaching wrestling, and he has a resume that would be the envy of virtually any prep coach.
But the numbers are secondary to those he impacted most.
“I think that he really had the kids’ best interest at heart, before the wins and losses,” said Scott Bolitho, who quarterbacked the Demons’ 1978 state championship football team. “You know that he cared for you, so you went out of your way to give it all for him.”
“I would say coach Miller was almost like a second father,” added Joe Luetke, who was an assistant coach for the Demons the previous six seasons and played for Miller from 1987-90. “He welcomed all the players to his house to play pool and watch film and he was a friend to the players.”
There’s no denying the love his former players have for Miller, but Miller wasn’t some cuddly softy of a coach. He was known for his old school style that focused on discipline, fundamentals, effort – and fairness.
“He really did expect something from the kids, but no more than he expected from himself,” Bolitho said. “I got my butt chewed more than once, but I deserved it, too. It wasn’t yelling just for the sake of yelling.”
The disciplinarian style of coaching can wear thin on high school-aged athletes if not tempered, and, according to Bolitho, Miller had that aspect of coaching in his repertoire.
During the 1978 season, after the Demons suffered what would be their only loss of the year to Steamboat, Bolitho came to the sideline with his head hanging.
Miller met Bolitho out on the field and, in no uncertain terms, told Bolitho to get his head up and get to the sidelines.
“The next practice we had a heart-to-heart and he said, `I never want you to hang your head as long as you can look at me and say you gave it your all,'” Bolitho recalled 25 years later. “I really appreciated him coming to me and talking to me personally about that.”
One of the biggest honors for a coach is to have a former player go into coaching, to follow in the footsteps of a powerful role model.
Luetke is one of a number of former players who turned to coaching, although he is, at least temporarily, off the sidelines, having recently moved to Steamboat Springs.
“Don created a love for the game for all his players,” Luetke said. “That definitely got me into it a little bit. I just thought coaching football was something to do to give back to the community.”
Many of those who didn’t turn to coaching took Miller’s life lessons with them into other professions. Miller can’t go anywhere in Glenwood without running into a former player.
He goes to the accountant, doctor, grocery store – all old students. He even coached current chief of police Terry Wilson.
“That’s why I like it around here,” Miller said. “I know so many people and so many of them were my kids. The fire department comes up, policemen, even State Patrol all seem to be old students, and I’m just proud of all of them.”
“He had confidence in the kids and that gave us confidence in ourselves,” said Bolitho, noting that Miller left a majority of the play calling up to the quarterback. “We knew we could achieve whatever we wanted to achieve.”
38 years in education
In all, Miller spent 38 years working in education. After graduating from Western State he returned to his alma mater at Burlington High School as an assistant basketball and baseball coach. He was then the head football coach for two years at Wiggins High School.
He began his 34-year Glenwood Springs High School career in the early 1960s. Along with the state football title in 1978, the Demons also won the crown in 1980.
“We never took second,” Miller said. “We either went all the way or lost out in the semifinals.”
Miller was just the fifth coach in Colorado to win 200 games and was named coach of the year three times. He joined Bob Chavez and Nick Stubler as the only other Glenwood Springs coaches in the Colorado High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1997.
After retiring from coaching in 1993, Miller spent three years as the Glenwood Springs High School athletic director.
He admits that he would have liked to continue coaching in an assistant capacity after his retirement, but he didn’t think it was fair to be an assistant for one of the Glenwood teams.
And, of course, he couldn’t go anywhere else because he was “too red and white,” he said in reference to the school’s colors.
Instead, he remained active in the CHSCA and continues to work as a state track official.
“He was a real mentor,” Luetke said. “He’s already in the Colorado High School Coaches Hall of Fame and he’s very deserving of all this. Just look at the individuals he’s affected in his life.”
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