Bay coach to be inducted into WCCCA Hall of Fame

Miller won both boys and girls state titles

Jan. 8, 2013

Cross country coach Mike Miller is a popular guy.

He's going to be inducted into the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches' Association (WCCCA) Hall of Fame on Friday at the Best Western Plus Midway in Brookfield. Rumor has it about 40 close friends, relatives, assorted former athletes and other members of "Friends of Mike" will be in attendance.

That will make WCCCA treasurer and fellow Hall of Fame coach Bob Rymer of Menomonee Falls very happy, as the WCCCA is a gregarious lot.

At the time of his retirement about a decade ago, Miller called Rymer "our sport's Vince Lombardi" for his influence and record of excellence.

Now Rymer is happy to return the favor.

"We didn't have a whole lot of contact (while I was coaching)," Rymer said of Miller, "but I've always known him to be an outstanding person and a great coach. He's one of those coaches who you wouldn't even know is at a meet, he was just that much behind the scenes."

"Sort of like Bill Greiten (Racine Case Hall of Famer)," he continued. "He's just a guy who's in it for the right reasons. A very nice person and gauged by his success, he's done a good job too."

Miller was flattered by the honor.

"I don't know, I've just had a lot of fun out there," he said. "I've been lucky to have worked with a lot of great kids and coaches. It's also been fun to coach against a lot of other guys around my age."

A lifelong runner

Miller, 54, has always been a runner, working under the great Norb Wishowski while a student at St. Thomas More and winning a WISAA (private schools) state title in 1976.

He started coaching in his very early 20s at Whitefish Bay Dominican, gaining valuable experience working as a co-coach for a time with friend and mentor Paul Malek. He and Malek won a WISAA girls state title in 1984, as well as recording runner-up finishes in 1983 and 1985.

An opportunity arose around 1990, when the late, great cross country coach Richard Vanden Avond decided to retire at Whitefish Bay. Shortly thereafter Bay girls coach Tom Dewing did the same.

"I then talked to Jeff (former Bay Athletic Director Thielke) about taking both positions," Miller said. "It was the same model that we had used at Dominican."

Cultivating winners

Miller did not betray Thielke's trust.

With the help of assistant and youth coaches like Candace Costa and Tom and Corrina Trettin, Miller turned what had been a sound program into a juggernaut. His boys teams have always been competitive and behind the likes of Steve Markson and Geoff Horton, the Blue Dukes won an elusive WIAA (public schools) state title in 2005.

Meanwhile, the girls teams have dominated the North Shore for well over a decade. With the likes of Anne Talajkowski, Megan Palmer, Emma-Lisa Murphy and the twins Maddy and Kenzie Vicker at the forefront, the Blue Dukes won a WIAA state title in 2008 and were runners-up in 2007 and 2009.

So sound has been the girls' record that it seems like you'd have to carbon-date the last state meet that didn't have the Bay girls in it. Along with that, Miller's record includes 22 conference titles at both schools, 14 WIAA sectional titles and eight runner-up sectional finishes combined among the boys and girls programs.

'A great guy'

But the success has not gone to his head. A photographer by training and full-time profession, Miller has learned to look beyond just a runner's splits or his or her form. He looks at the whole of the sport and the people involved in it and knows that one person's, one team's success can lead to others doing well too.

"I've known Mike for 14 years," said WCCCA president and Shorewood boys coach Dominic Newman. "The nature of the sport is to have rivalries, enemies, but that hasn't been the case with Mike. I got started and I had questions, and he'd always be there willing to listen and answer what he could.

"He doesn't hide things, not about a certain kind of workout or anything like that," he continued. "We've just sat and talked and discussed things. He's always willing to share advice and he's always traveling (in a high-profile job with Northwestern Mutual). I don't know how he finds the time."

Newman said some coaches talk only about the sport, about coaching.

Not Miller.

"We can talk about things that are going on in our lives in a very sincere manner," he said. "He's just always been like that."

Athletic Director John Gustavson concurs.

"He's a great guy, the kids love him," Gustavson said.

He described three different ways to judge a coach's success.

"What are their participation numbers? …Mike and his staff always have large numbers. Two, what is the post-season feedback you get from the athletes and their parents? What we've gotten back from the cross country program has always been positive. And three, the team's competitive success and Mike's record speaks for itself. So, by all three criteria, he's a very successful coach."

Which may help explain some of the large crowd that will be in attendance Friday in Brookfield.

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