Thursday, December 12, 2013

Q&A: Las Cruces High football coach Jim Miller

(Head coach Jim Miller, center, celebrates with his Las Cruces High football team following their 27-26 State Championship victory over Mayfield this past Saturday. It was Miller's sixth State Championship during his 16-year tenure as head coach of the Bulldawgs/Photo by Robin Zielinski)

Jim Miller continues to solidify his greatness as a premier coach of high school football.

One who’s coming off his sixth State Championship victory during his 16 years as head coach at Las Cruces High School, and following the Bulldawgs 27-26 win over city rival Mayfield this past Saturday for that state title.

Miller recently took some time to reflect on the moment, and look at his career moving during a recent interview at the Bulldawgs practice facility:

Sun-News: So how have things been since the State Championship?
Jim Miller: “You work so hard to win it. Once it’s over, it’s just a big relief. It’s so much pressure, so much time. It’s like when you wake up at night, 1:30 in the morning, you don’t have to worry. You can relax a little bit. Not ‘I got to hurry up because I’ve got to get up at 5. I got to get back to the film room.’....It’s just a lot more relaxing.”

SN: When you think of this year’s team, what stands out?
JM: “Mindset above all....They come up with their pretty neat slogans, and for this team I think it was pretty much a mindset for these kids. We had a very smart group of kids. Very hard-working group of kids....intellectual group, I think....I think we were very driven with preparation. This was probably the most well-prepared team each and every week.”

SN: It seemed like you guys lost a lot after last year. Was it surprising that your team, for the most part, just rolled through the competition?
JM: “It was surprising that we rolled through it as much as we did. You look at the scores, there wasn’t really a team that stayed with us. Unless Mayfield....other than that, there wasn’t much competition. Not to be mean to the other have to have pieces fit in. You have a sophomore quarterback, but with that his leadership was huge. If you don’t have a guy that’s going to run the team that’s respected by (his) peers, you’re not going to do very well. And I think he gained that through his offseason preparation. That was the A-No. 1 question mark coming in. Now if he was a junior or a senior, it would have been like a Jon Joy. There were question marks about Jon Joy...coming in too (last year) as starter....he was a senior, so there wasn’t as much (as opposed to) a sophomore....That was the first thing people looked at. Next thing was the line, I think. If you want to put it in order. You lose all those linemen....Of course, you look at receivers, you lose all those offensively. And then you go to the defensive side of the ball, you lose your defensive coordinator. Then you lose seven out of the 11 of those guys....there was a little more incentive because of all that....fuel to the fire, questions. For a head coach, and being a father, and being the defensive guy now, it’s inevitable. For me as a competitor, I was going to help Kam out as much as I could. If they don’t score, they don’t win type of thing. I put (in) numerous hours to be able to do that defensively....As all the coaches did. That’s, I think, the icing on the cake....From where we started, all the question marks, until where we ended - going back-to-back.”

SN: From a defensive standpoint, what philosophies did you have as coordinator?
JM: “My philosophy was, we’re going to go after people. We’re not going to sit back. If they’re doing something, well we’re going to change it....We probably stunted 90 percent of the time against Mayfield in the State Championship. And we probably brought the heat more this year than we did, probably, in the last 10 years....I think that was the big difference.”

SN: How special was it to win a State Championship with your son at quarterback?
JM: “It was great. Especially since he’s wanted it for so long....there were chances that we could (move) when he was a sixth, seventh, eighth grader. He always told me, ‘dad, we can’t move. I want to play for you here.’ I’d say, ‘you can play for me wherever we go.’ He goes ‘No. I want to play for you and be your starting quarterback at Las Cruces High. And win the championship.’....That’s been his mindset from Day 1....I think that makes it so much more special. Him being a quarterback, him saying what he wanted to do to begin with, and getting it done....He even told me, ‘two more dad.’ When we won (last Saturday).”

SN: What kind of pressure was on you and Kameron coming into the year? How did you deal with that?
JM: “Huge pressure. He understood that. We talked about it. As a sophomore, and him coming in and being the son of a head coach. There’s going to be a lot of questions out there....naysayers....There’s always those questions of a head coach’s son: ‘being a sophomore, that’s the only reason you’re playing.’ And I told him be aware of that. And I told his mom, ‘you’re going to be up in the stands and hearing the same thing.’ But you know what quiets those critics? Is W’s. And, fortunately, we got them. But I couldn’t imagine if we didn’t. Not necessarily for me....But, with him, I didn’t want that pressure and those critics to demoralize him. Because he’s busting his butt....Like I said, W’s solve a lot.”

SN: Austin Salas, J.J. Granados, Sam Denmark. How do you replace those players? What’s in the pipeline? Word is there’s a pretty good talent stream in the middle school ranks.
JM: “Huge talent stream coming up. Brothers of these kids who are graduating this year....there’s really good athletes coming in this eighth-grade class. I guess they demoralized everybody they played....We have a really good freshmen class from this past year. Big-sized kids, good athletes. And this junior class, that will be seniors, were district champs as freshmen....Are we going to miss those kids? Yes. Sam Denmark, I don’t think you can replace a kid like that, because everything he brought to the table. Not just his athleticism as middle linebacker or tight end. But his leadership, his work ethic, his drive. You very seldom get a kid like that to be in your program....J.J., how many yards? How many touchdowns? Jalen, J.R. .... The leadership....And that’s the first thing I’ll tell them next week when we start out offseason: leadership is huge. Who’s going to step up? It doesn’t have to be a senior. Whoever it might be. And I think we have good leadership coming back.”

SN: What are the goals and expectations for the next year or two?
JM: “Same thing...We had a shirt a long time ago. It says ‘championships are won when nobody’s watching.’ And these kids understand that. It’s from January to August. When you get to August, everything should be in by that time....We’re going to start next week. You’ve got to work hard, because everybody is trying to catch you. Everybody’s closing the gap. To be able to go back-to-back is great. But, as coaches, it’s like hey, enjoy it for a week. And then get back on it.”

SN: Talk about winning in different eras?
JM: “I think it’s a lot harder now than it was 15 years ago. Because of the coaching. The north, the teams. There’s more teams now. You open up Rio Rancho....Volcano Vista, Atrisco....More teams, a lot more kids....There’s more teams in the city now. And it depletes you. It’s inevitable, right? You open up a new school, well they’re going to deplete from every school. I just think it’s so much nicer this year....For us to get two later on, it’s hard to do.”

SN: What, in your mind, do you have left to do as a high school football coach?
JM: “It’s not about me, it’s about the kids. We’ve given them every avenue to get things done. I think I look at it, as a father aspect, because we are so close and it’s been a great ride....I think these next two for (his son), I owe it to him to give him everything. And not be complacent.”

SN: What drives you at this point of your career?
JM: “It just so happens to be right at my career where I’m at the end of it. I’m not going to be a 40-year guy. I’m not going to be a 35-year guy. Thirty? Maybe. It’ll be 26 (at LCHS) starting next year. I have a daughter that’s going to come through when Kam’s a senior, she’ll be a freshman. I look at it too, it’s been a long time....I think what drives me is the success that we’ve had. And you want to continue that.”

SN: Fast forward a couple years. Kameron graduates. You’re eligible for retirement. What’s the next step?
JM: “When Kam graduates, I think I’ll be 50, 51....I’m not going to sit on my butt and do nothing. I love coaching.... That’s something I think I’ll definitely look into. I know a lot of people have asked me, ‘do you want to get to the next (level)?’ You know what, I would. I think that would be a neat thing. Especially with my kids being done. That’s an 11-out-of-12 month type career....I would love to look into something like that.”

SN: So the college game is something that interests you?
JM: Definitely. I had an opportunity when Tony (Samuel) was here. He asked me....It was when my daughter was born....It just wasn’t the right opportunity, I just had a new-born little girl. And family comes first for me. And it always will. Now that I’m not getting any younger, my kids are getting through....It will definitely be something I’d like to explore.”

SN: What about a coaching position somewhere at New Mexico State? That’s obviously your alma mater?
JM: “You know, I don’t know....You look at it, I think they’re going in the right direction. It’s not like I want to get a head job or be a coordinator. You’ve got to put your foot in the door. It’s not like I think I’m Mr. Great because I’ve got six championships. You’ve always got to start all over. And that’s how I would look at it too. At a program that I believe in, in a program where they have the same parameters that I have....There’s all different types of programs. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I retire and I go to a situation where I’m miserable. Because of the values and the things that I’ve done for 28 years, or whatever it might be. And then get into a situation (that doesn’t fit that). That’s not what I want. I would definitley look at something that’s very similar to what I believe in. I think that would be a neat thing to do. If it happens, it happens. If not, hey, there’s plenty of golf courses out there.”

6-0: Record in State Championship games for the Bulldawgs under Miller
33: Miller’s age when he won his first State Championship at LCHS in 1999
48: Miller’s age today, less than a week after his sixth state title
2: State Championships for LCHS prior to Miller’s arrival
6: Winning seasons for the Bulldawgs from 1970-1993
14: Winning seasons the program’s had during Miller’s 16-year tenure at the school

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