Throughout the summer, The Times will conduct a series of interviews with each of the area’s 20 high school football coaches.
Tuesday: Buford’s Jess Simpson
June 21: Chestatee’s Stan Luttrell
June 26: Dawson County’s Jeff Lee
June 28: East Hall’s Bryan Gray
July 3: Habersham Central’s Stuart Cunningham
July 5: Johnson, TBD
July 10: Jefferson’s T. McFerrin
July 12: Lakeview’s Matthew Gruhn
July 17: Jackson County’s Benji Harrison
July 19: North Hall’s Bob Christmas
July 24: Towns County’s Kyle Langford
July 26: Riverside’s Gary Downs
July 31: Union County’s Brian Allison
Aug. 2: West Hall’s Tony Lotti
Aug. 7: White County’s Bill Ballard
Aug. 9: Lumpkin County’s Tommy Jones
Gainesville High coach Bruce Miller may be entering his 40th season this fall, but he doesn’t plan to call it quits any time soon. That should be a relief to fans as the Red Elephants make the jump up two levels to Class AAAAA in 2012.
Miller has orchestrated one of Gainesville’s most successful runs in school history, leading the program to the state semifinals in two of the past three seasons and four consecutive region championships.
On Wednesday, Miller spoke to The Times about the best parts of coaching the high school game, what led him into the profession and last year’s 12-game winning streak that led to the state semifinals, after a loss in the season opener.
Question: Since you are entering 40 years as a coach this fall, how much longer do you plan on doing this?
Answer: I haven’t even thought about it. I’m still enjoying it. I enjoy the kids, enjoy the community. I enjoy Friday nights. There’s not much I don’t enjoy about it. It’s so exciting to get ready for an opponent and the challenge of getting to play against them. I’m sure one day, probably the way most things happen in coaching, someone will decide they don’t want me to coach. Right now, I’m still enjoying it. I guess I just love to be punished.
Q: What part of coaching and preparing for Friday nights is the most fun?
A: It’s the relationships with the kids, other coaches, the other teachers. It’s fun watching a team come together. To borrow a line from the movie Radio, when the coach is resigning, he said one the most exciting thing is to go out on Friday night looking for a win, and to wake up on Saturday morning realizing you found it.
Q: Is there a part about coaching that can be particularly frustrating?
A: When you have committed players, there’s not much. But when you have players that are not quite as committed as the coaches, then that becomes an issue. But that has not been an issue here lately. We have great community support, great administrative support. These last four or five years have been really fun.
Q: What is your take on the new fieldhouse at City Park Stadium?
A: I think the biggest thing is that it just adds class to that stadium. It’s already one of the best in the state, and now with that, it may be one of the very, very, very best in the state to play at. The turf is so well kept, the surroundings are so well kept, and to add that fieldhouse at the end is just the icing on the cake.
Q: One thing specific to you is that you are so well respected by other coaches. How do you maintain your reputation in an industry where everyone else is trying to beat you?
A: I think the biggest thing, I think you need to realize, is why you are in this business. If you’re doing this just to win football games, it’s not going to get you very far. I enjoy people. I enjoy kids. I enjoy every aspect of what goes on. The biggest thing is to try to stay hungry and humble, and to realize that what is taking place here was given to us by God, and we need to be good stewards of it.
Q: Looking back, what led you into coaching football?
A: The biggest thing, when I was in college at Mars Hill College, I was struggling with whether to become a minister or to become a coach, or what to do. I was about in my sophomore year and I was trying to decide on a major, I was really struggling with it. One day, I was just sitting there and God spoke to me. He said you’re not going to be a very good preacher. You need to go into coaching, and that’s going to be your ministry field. When God brought me to Gainesville High, everywhere I’ve been has been a ministry field, but I really like he placed me here for that purpose.
Q: Looking back to last year, without getting too much into the Xs and Os, what do you remember most about the state semifinal run?
A: The thing I remember most is that the team came from struggling, wondering who it was, to a 12-game winning streak and playing better week in and week out. If you’d told me in Week 2 or 3 last year that it was going to be a final four team, I’m not sure the team even believed it at that point. But they kept working and working, and looked up early in December and said “look where we are.” That team goes down in my memory as one of the tops of a bunch of kids working and not caring who gets the credit. They were just trying to do their best every single week.
Q: How big was beating (defending state champ) Sandy Creek (in the state quarterfinals) in your memory?
A: The Sandy Creek win was the biggest. You know, going into the game, I didn’t know how much of a chance we had, but we prepared on playing to win it. Our kids went out and played really well that night.
Q: Now that you’re preparing the program from playing in one of the mid-level size classification, to one of the biggest in the state, is it much different?
A: Yes. That’s the anxious part of it, seeing how our kids respond to that challenge and what that challenge will be like, week in and week out. As a coach, you embrace those challenges. I hope our players look at it that way, and say “hey, you know, we were a good Class AAA team, and now we have a chance to move up and really step out and take the challenge on.”
Q: This time of year, (six weeks) away from starting practice, what is the biggest thing you try to accomplish?
A: I think the biggest thing is you start to prepare your team for the journey that it is during the season. We lift three days a week, we run three days a week, and we go to passing leagues. We take our entire team to West Georgia University for the defensive camp. We do things all summer long, so that once the season is at the point of starting that a lot of installation and preseason work is already done. Then, it’s time to refine and get better at certain things.
Q: What makes coaching at Gainesville High unique and special?
A: Well, I think it’s the community support. Football — and athletics — is important to Gainesville High. I think there’s not a better environment to play in on Friday night than what we play in. Football home games on Friday night is a happening; it’s a giant social event.