Meridian Star

Sports

July 10, 2014

Southeast Lauderdale girls coach retires from coaching

MERIDIAN — Nine grandchildren and a desire to see them more forced Joe Miller to make a decision.

The long-time girls basketball coach at Southeast Lauderdale High School had planned to coach several more years before calling it a career. Instead, Miller announced to his team Wednesday afternoon that he was retiring from the position at which he coached 24 years.

“I just decided it was time for me to see them as much as I can,” Miller said, referring to his grandchildren. “My health is good, and I want to enjoy it, and I do enjoy playing golf, but that’s not the main reason I’m doing this. I hadn’t given it a lot of thought (before now), but this summer, I just got to thinking about it and decided I wanted to see my grandchildren more.”

Miller leaves a lasting legacy at Southeast. He has a 612-192 overall record as coach, having made the MHSAA Class 3A state title game six times, winning four of them. He also made it to the Big House 12 times overall. He was named the Mississippi Association of Coaches Class 3A coach of the year twice and was named their coach of the year for all classifications in 2008, one of his state title years.

Southeast principal Tim Moore said he was surprised when Miller informed him of his decision a couple of weeks ago, but he understood Miller’s desire to be around family.

“He’s been doing this long enough to know that when it’s time it’s time,” Moore said. “He made (his decision) for the right reasons, and I respect that. It was a real thrill working with him, and he’s a great standup, great character guy. We are going to miss him.”

Hired at Southeast in 1990 with no head coaching experience, Miller said then-Southeast principal Algie Davis and Lauderdale County superintendent Randy Hodges were the two people who gave him the opportunity to coach.

“They had a lot of faith in me,” Miller said.

Hodges, who is currently superintendent, said he knew Miller would be successful despite being green as a coach at the time.

“I knew if we were able to get Joe Miller, we’d get a great family man and a man who was well-respected in Lauderdale County,” Hodges said. “I had no doubt he would be successful, but I have to admit, I think he exceeded all of our high expectations. To do what he did (as a coach) is a tremendous accomplishment.”

Hodges also said he was grateful for Miller’s thankfulness at the opportunity but insisted Miller’s accomplishments are his own.

“Algie Davis and myself gave him the opportunity to be on the sidelines, and he took that and built it into one of the more successful programs in the state,” Miller said.

Miller, however, said he owes a great deal of success to people like Davis, Hodges and Moore, as well as former Southeast principals Dwayne Taylor and Jackie Stephens, for their support. He also said the Southeast parents and faculty were always in his corner.

“I’m happy I didn’t move around a lot,” Miller said. “I had the opportunity two or three times over the years, but this has been a great place to be.”

Former Southeast boys coach Kenny Neal and former Clarkdale girls coach Robert Earl Frazier were two coaches to whom Miller looked up, he said, and he also gave credit to his assistant coaches — Gale Ruffin and his son, Ryan Miller — for his success on the court. Miller also said his success came largely because of the good players he had to coach over his career.

“The players played hard for me, and I always had a lot of talent,” Miller said.

A Northeast Lauderdale High School alumnus, Miller said he also wanted to credit former Trojans football coach Jack Holloway and former Northeast boys basketball coach Harold Wright for influencing him at a young age when it came to coaching.

Moore said there’s no timetable in hiring a new coach, but the school plans to take its time before deciding. Right now, Moore said he’s just grateful for the many years Miller gave as Southeast’s coach, even after retiring from teaching three years ago.

“We’re going to miss him,” Moore said. “I sincerely appreciate and am thankful for the job he’s done.”

Hodges said Miller’s retirement was a “great loss” for Southeast.

“He’s certainly earned the right for us to say he’s one of the top coaches in the state,” Hodges said. “Anytime you lose someone of that caliber, it’s a great loss. His passion for his players will be tremendously missed. He not only cared about them on the court, but off it as well.”

Though he’s retiring, Miller said he still plans to be at most of Southeast’s games, unless he’s watching one of his grandchildren play.

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