Coach Miller celebrates 30 years at UW-W

What is a coach? To some, a coach can be someone with a whistle who barks orders.  For others, a coach is a teacher that puts athletes through hell to bring out their best.

Here at UW-Whitewater, Jeff Miller recently completed his 30th season as the head cross-country coach. He has coached the men’s team since 1982 and has been the only coach the women’s program has had since its inception in 1984.

Coach Jeff Miller out on the trails. Miller has coached the men’s cross country team at UW-Whitewater since 1982 and the women’s team since 1984. Photo submitted

Miller came to Whitewater after graduating from UW-La Crosse when his former high school coach told him the university was looking for a cross country coach. With his days of competitive running behind him, Miller took the job.

“It’s ironic that I became the coach here because my last meet my senior year was at Whitewater and then less than a year later I’m back at Whitewater coaching,” Miller said. “I actually lived in the dorms my first couple years because they paid me $3,000 and gave me a free room in Wells.”

In his spare time, Miller was a substitute teacher in Palmyra and still teaches there full-time as a physical education teacher for grades six and under.

“I teach during the day and then I coach here so I’ve always had two jobs,” Miller said. “I love them both. I’ve always liked the environment here and my wife was a UW-Whitewater grad, so I met her here as well. Whitewater’s been good to me.”

Miller has coached conference champions, All-American runners and had teams place as high as second in conference and as high as fourth in nationals. The thing he says that keeps him going is the athletes he’s had the chance to interact with.

“I enjoy working with people [who] want to achieve high levels of accomplishment, who want to continue to improve themselves,” Miller said. “I was a competitive runner myself so I’ve been there and done that and I know what they’ve gone through.”

Miller’s experience as a competitive runner and his passion for the sport made him a favorite among the runners at UW-Whitewater. Seniors Mathias Werve and Madeline Roznos have great respect for his coaching style.

“Mills is a motivator, he’s fun but you [have to] get the job done,” Werve said. “We enjoy running because he doesn’t harp on us all the time, he’s there for us and he’ll have fun too.”

“At practice, he’s silent, laid back and the look on his face says when he’s disappointed because he has high expectations,” Roznos said. “He’s different at meets because he’s always jumping up and down, shouting exciting things and doing the windmill, which is our favorite.”

For senior Dan Machmueller and junior Alyssa Duncan, Miller is one of the reasons they chose to run at UW-Whitewater.

“He was a big reason I ended up in Whitewater because I started running at a different school but he still called me because I was hinting at transferring,” Machmueller said. “Even though he’s really relaxed, I can tell he cares a lot about us and the sport because he brings out his emotions a lot and that goes a long way.”

“I had track meets with his son and he’s the only coach that ever actually talked to me,” Duncan said. “Him contacting me and actually meeting with me made the decision a lot easier.

“He’s a very supportive person and he always has a good connection with everyone on the team outside of running. I have a friend who goes to UW-Milwaukee and he gave up a full ride because he couldn’t stand the coach, while here, Mills is part of the reason I continue running.”

Miller has coached hundreds of runners in his time at UW-Whitewater.  He’s even had the opportunity to coach kids whose parents ran for him decades ago. But this season, Miller was presented with the unique opportunity of coaching his own son.

Freshman Dawson Miller completed his first season of cross-country. Dawson played soccer and ran track in high school but never ran cross-country competitively until this year.

“My dad always wanted me to run cross-country but he never forced me to do it even though I’ve been around the sport my entire life,” Dawson said. “I came with him to meets when I was little and I’ve been going to his camp since fifth grade, but actually getting to participate and have my dad as a coach has been great because I get to see a whole other side of him.”

Miller admits he has a great life which includes a family, two steady jobs and the opportunity to coach the sport he loves. But even at 53, Miller is still chasing a dream he’s had since he started coaching 30 years ago: to be a full-time coach.

“I’m not complaining, it has been a nice life, but it’s been difficult for me because I have two jobs,” Miller said. “I wanted to be there for my kids when they were involved in things and there’s only so many hours in a day. I can’t always commit as much time as I’d like; my hope is that I teach for a few more years and then be semi-retired and just focus on coaching for five or six more years.

“That’s all I want to do. I want to be here all day, bring in kids, go visit kids during the day and really make that big push. It’d be nice to just have that flexibility, just to know what it’s like to not have to juggle things. Not to say other coaches are not busy or that they don’t have a lot of things going on, but it’s tough being away from campus.”

Reflecting on his lengthy career, Miller said he has had some great teams and although they have not brought any championships to UW-Whitewater, he believes success can be measured differently.

“Winning conference and national championships is usually how coaches are measured and while we have had great teams, we haven’t won any,” Miller said. “I look at it as you coach athletes to a certain point and say, ‘did they see improvement, did they enjoy their experience and was it something that enriched them?’ I just hope I’ve made it a good environment for running.”

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