Don Miller Looks Back
The Trinity College Bantams haven’t lost a game at Jesse/Miller
field since 2002, and that statistic is fitting, considering the winning
tradition set by the coaching greats for whom the field is named. The man behind
the latter half of the field’s name is Don Miller, who roamed the Trinity
sidelines from 1967-1998, compiling a 174-77-5 record along the way, which
placed him among the nation’s elite in Division III coaching. His influence on
the College, on the sport of football, and on the players that he’s coached is
still very evident today.
“ I could go on all day [about Coach Miller],” said Joe Shield ‘84, an 11th round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 1985 after a history-making career at the quarterback position as a Bantam. “He taught me so many life lessons.”
Michael Foye, who also quarterbacked under Miller at Trinity, from 1975-1979, had similar sentiments about the lessons he learned from Miller.
“In life, we deal with adversity every day,” he said. “We experience adversity at work, at home and with friends. The people who can deal with adversity, learn from it, and turn the difficult situation into a positive - those are the people who move forward in life.”
Foye said it was the losses at Trinity that helped him learn that lesson from Miller, and the way that his coach handled them. But there was a lot of winning under Miller, whose record at Trinity was nearly identical to that of his predecessor Dan Jessee (150-76-7), with whom Miller shares the name of Trinity’s field. Miller is the all-time winningest coach in Trinity football history, and he was named New England Small College Coach of the Year five times (1970, 1974, 1978, 1980 and 1993). Miller, who was Jessee’s assistant coach for two years at Trinity, also coached Jeff Devanney, Trinity’s current head coach, who is in the midst of his fifth winning season in his fifth year at the helm. And Miller is pleased with the coaching tradition at the College.
“[Devanney] is just a wonderful young man – he is the perfect fit for the job,” Miller said. “As a player he was perceptive and talented, and as a coach he is always looking to help his guys on and off the field.”
Coach Devanney is one of Miller’s several players who are immediate to note Miller’s standout game preparation.
“Coach Miller was a great tactician as a football coach,” Devanney said. “He spent so much time preparing himself and his team for games.”
Shield would agree.
“His preparation leading up to each game was exceptional,” he said. “His overall ability to effectively scout opponent’s tendencies put us in a great position to win every week.”
Geoff Rhatican, an assistant coach on the Bantams staff and a former assistant at the United States Coast Guard Academy where he met Miller, called him “…one of the most dynamic tutors I have had so far in my coaching career in terms of both understanding of the game as well as the personality and attitude it takes to be successful.”
And that hasn’t changed for Miller, who has volunteered his time as an assistant coach at the Coast Guard for 12 years since retiring at Trinity. To this day, Miller still meticulously breaks down film, teaches skills, attends meetings and practices, and assists in the press box on game day for the Coast Guard Bears.
“I’m still fascinated by the game,” he said. “It’s always changing, so I’m always looking at tape and learning new ideas.”
Miller spent much time analyzing the game with his close friend, Joe Restic, who was the head coach at Harvard University from 1973-1995. The two would talk strategy and become trusted sources for one another throughout their careers.
“[Restic] was a very imaginative and creative guy,” Miller said about the significance of their communication. “It is important to consider new ideas and to not stay stagnant – you always have to be flexible to change.”
Change is a concept that is highly valued by Miller. His offensive strategy was based on continuous change on a yearly basis in adaptation of his personnel. He constantly had his players change positions pre-snap, keeping them shifting and motioning to confuse opponent’s defenses; and the first thing he notices every time he comes back to Trinity are the “many positive changes that are constantly taking place.” When the field was named in honor of Dan Jessee and Don Miller, it was a change that Miller was able to easily adjust to.
“I was very pleased that they decided to name the field after [Coach Jessee and I],” he said. “It was very humbling.”
Miller, a three-sport athlete at the University of Delaware, and a Little All-American in football his senior year, was a high school coach from 1955-1958 and compiled a 31-2 record as the state’s top high school coach before jumping to the college ranks. But it is not his accomplishments as an athlete, his win-loss record as a coach, or the name on the Trinity scoreboard that Miller takes the most pride in.
“I always enjoy seeing guys that I’ve coached and seeing what they’ve done with their life,” he said. “I feel proud that I touched their life in some small way.”
It is no surprise that Miller takes the most pride in seeing how the young men that he coached have changed.
“I tried to treat them the same way I would want someone to treat my son,” he said.
And his former players commend that paternal quality.
“He invested a lot of time in his players on and off the field,” Shield, who still keeps in touch with Miller top this day, said. “He showed a lot of trust in us in both good times and bad, and in that regard, he was like a second father.”