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Mitchell: Miller’s legacy extends beyond the football field

Jon Mitchell
jmitchell@postindependent.com
Jon Mitchell
Staff Photo |

Don Miller took pride in the legacy he built as Glenwood Springs High School’s football coach.

He took pride in knowing that when people said the word “coach,” he was the first person people would think of. He also took pride in the unassuming attire he donned when he was on the sideline coaching the Demons.

The stories I’ve heard in the past 48 hours about Miller’s legacy as a hard-nosed, stubborn, old-school coach are too numerous to count. Other stories about how he took care of some of his players and athletes — caring for them when it seemed like no one else did — got brushed aside.

Why? Because he didn’t want recognition for that.

“I’ve taken in kids who were living in their car, and I’ve taken in kids who were in a bad spot,” Miller told me in 2000 during my first gig out of what was then Mesa State College at what was then the Glenwood Post. “I’m not going to say who they were, but they needed help.”

His son, J.D., verified what his father said, adding that Miller wouldn’t say who they were because “he wouldn’t want to embarrass someone.”

Don Miller lived in relative anonymity in recent years, partly because of his failing health. His son, Jason, said some of the problems he faced were with type 2 diabetes and other health problems that stemmed from an enlarged heart.

The reality, however, was that Don Miller lived with a large heart throughout his life. He was just really good at hiding it.

Rocky Whitworth remembers that tough persona. During a game when Whitworth’s Roaring Fork Rams were playing Glenwood on the gridiron, Whitworth recalled everyone bundled up in five layers of clothes right before kickoff.

“And there was Don on the other sideline with this arms crossed looking at me wearing slacks and a dress shirt with these dark-rimmed glasses that he couldn’t see out of because they were covered with snow,” Whitworth said, laughing. “My first thought was, ‘Holy crap. This guy is tough.’”

That tough persona, J.D. and Jason said, didn’t always sit well with people. Jason admitted that there were some people who truly disliked his father because of it. It did, however, command, and receive, the respect of students at Glenwood Springs High.

“Dad was very old school. He never thought hats should be worn in the building,” J.D. remembered. “Well, there was this kid who was always getting in trouble inside and outside of school. One time there was a teacher walking down the hallway when no one was around and saw him wearing his hat, but he suddenly took it off when he saw someone was walking by down the other hallway.

“She yelled out to him, ‘Coach Miller?’” J.D. continued. “Dad turned around, came around the corner and said, ‘How did you know it was me?’ She said to him, ‘You’re the only person he would ever take his hat off for.’”

Then, there were the other things Don Miller did behind the scenes.

That kid who was living in his car was someone Miller took into his home to take care of. Another kid who was in a bad relationship with the grandparents he was living with at the time, Jason and J.D. recalled, lived under Miller’s roof for three weeks before there was a reconciliation.

But that reconciliation didn’t come without an ultimatum.

“Dad told them [the grandparents] that they’d better straighten up or they were going to lose [the kid],” Jason recalled.

Some of those acts of kindness Don Miller displayed, in this day an age, would never, ever fly due to laws now in place. Back then, however, that probably wouldn’t have mattered. Taking care of people was simply the right thing to do.

“He was always supportive of me and was there if I ever needed anything,” said current Glenwood Athletic Director Craig Denney, who took over as the school’s football coach two years after Miller stepped down. “He made my family and I feel like we belonged here in Glenwood, and to lose him, it really hurts. He was Glenwood.”

Miller was who so many in Glenwood knew only as “coach.” He was a mentor to many. He was a rock to many more.

His legacy will loom large for decades to come. His impact was widespread. His personality was memorable.

His heart was too big.

Jon Mitchell is the sports editor of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-384-9123, or by email at jmitchell@postindependent.com.


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