Mike Miller back in high school ball

by John Ring

Mike Miller has come full circle.

As a 25-year-old phenom, the young basketball coach guided Rockford Guilford to a second place finish at State in 1995.

Then it was on to Galesburg, where Miller quickly captivated the city with his enthusiasm, youth and vigor. And the Silver Streaks finished second at State in 1998.

Mike Miller was a hot item. Streak fans resigned themselves to losing him because he was just too good to be true. Rumors swirled that Miller would be scooped up by a college basketball program looking for young talent.

''People got in my ear,'' said Miller. ''People kept telling me the college route was made for me, that I should go on to be a college coach.''

''And,'' the former Streaks coach added, ''I bought into it.''

Miller resigned from Galesburg and accepted a job at Vanderbilt University under friend and former Illinois State University Coach Gene Stallings. But while Miller said it was a positive experience, it just wasn't the same.

His duties were administrative instead of coaching. He was on the road a lot. He had been married just a year and his wife, Denise, was expecting their first child.

Aside from that, if you knew Mike Miller well -- and sportswriters in Galesburg did because of his honesty and open door policy -- you knew he wasn't happy not being more in control of a basketball program.

Sure, it was Division I basketball. But he was no longer a teacher, a motivator, a guy who could make a difference with a high school kid.

Mike Miller decided it was time to come home.

''The decision was for my family. It was getting very tough on us, the traveling, being nearly 10 hours away from home, the recruiting. I could have had an assistant coaching position at Vanderbilt. Coach Stallings came to me and asked if he had an opening if I would be interested. I had an offer also at Western Carolina. But who knows what would have happened after that? In 10 years, I may have had a head coaching position at a place like Central Connecticut State but I wouldn't have wanted to live in Connecticut.''

''Besides,'' Miller added, ''I found out last year that Galesburg versus Moline was just as exciting as Vanderbilt versus Florida.''

Miller found a job opening while surfing the internet one night and it was in Elgin, Ill.

''Coach Harrington had left Elgin and decided he wanted to follow his son's career at Illinois. He decided he wanted to be a Dad instead of a coach. So I also made the decision to be a dad instead of a college coach and came back to Illinois.''

So now Mike, Denise and 7-month-old Jake Miller live in Elgin and Miller has his own team again. They live just one block from the high school.

''We had a tough time selling our house in Nashville; it was very hectic. I must have made nine or ten trips from Nashville to Chicago so I'm really tired of driving. But we're really, really happy here.''

Elgin, a suburban community of 80,000, is the second largest public school district in the state. There are four public high schools there -- Elgin, Streamwood, Bartlett and Elgin Larkin.

Fatherhood has agreed with Mike Miller. ''It's amazing how it makes you feel, how happy you are all the time, the smile you always have on your face.''

That's how many Silver Streak fans remember Mike Miller. He was always smiling, always relaxed. He's back in Illinois, doing what he does best. ''I've got control of my life again,'' said Miller. ''That's a good thing to have.''

One day in his office in February of 1999, I asked Mike Miller about the stories floating around about him leaving the Streaks for a high profile college job. He answered my question the way he answered them all. No hesitation, no ducking, just the truth.

''You know,'' Miller said then, ''if I stayed in Galesburg for 20 years and taught science and coached basketball that wouldn't be bad at all.''

That didn't work out. But Mike Miller did what a lot of us would do. He pursued his dream. But his family came first and, in the end, he's happier now than he's ever been.

Here's hoping Galesburg and Elgin meet sometime in the future.

During the interview with Mike Miller, I asked him several questions pertinent to Galesburg basketball. This is what he had to say.

What do you miss most about Galesburg?

The people there. I really enjoyed the people of Galesburg. The teachers I worked with at Lombard, the administrative people for the district, the other coaches. I loved working with the media people in Galesburg, like Jimmie Carr, Brad Bennewitz and Robb Strack. That's what makes a town like Galesburg very special, just the people you get to meet there.

Did you like the ''fishbowl'' atmosphere here, with just one high school and all the media and public attention and pressure just on your team?

It's funny that you ask that because people up here at Elgin talk to me about the crowds of their games and the attention they get and I just laugh. I watched films of their games last year and the crowds they have and it just doesn't compare to anything we had at Galesburg or for the Western Big 6. But back to your question. I loved that stuff. I enjoyed it. The kids enjoyed it.

Is Joey Range the best player you ever coached?

By far. I've coached against and had a lot of great players but Joey had the most talent, without a doubt. Guys who Joey played against that are in the NBA now, he had the same talent and ability. That class of 1998 was one of the best in the history of Illinois. We sure didn't duck anybody.

Aside from quitting the Galesburg job, do you have any regrets or would you have done anything differently here with the Silver Streaks?

Not really. I mean, you try not to make the same mistake twice and even in the year we struggled, I made some mistakes. I'm not sure how many games we won but I've never been into records. I'm into championships. Our first year, we played for the Sectional Championship. Our second year, we played for the State Championship. Even in our third year, we played for the Regional Championship. That's why I wanted to get back into coaching, to having my own program. I want to be in the fire, not next to the fire.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 17, 2000

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