Gainesville coach Bruce Miller will be the first to tell you how big last week’s win over Buford was.
When the final seconds ticked off, the joy and the relief were visible in the players streaming off the sidelines and in the assistant coaches pumping fists and slapping high-fives in the their perch above the visitors’ bleachers.
From off the shoulders and on the face of Miller, angst dissipated.
The Red Elephants had never beaten Buford in four previous tries, all under Miller’s watch.
“It hadn’t even been close,” Miller said. “This was something that needed to happen, because it hadn’t been much of a rivalry.”
When the win finally came, Miller compared the feeling to Christmas morning — just as exhilarating and even more fleeting.
Such is the life of a coach.
Miller’s week ends when he goes to sleep sometime in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The next week starts at 7 a.m., when he rolls out of bed, checks the scores around the area from the previous night, then heads to the film room to break down what transpired 12 hours ago.
Once the film is done, once the good and bad have been noted, it’s on to preparing for the next opponent, and on to the myriad other duties that come with overseeing a marquee program in the era of the televised high school game.
Miller’s office tells the tale of a man who hasn’t had a day off since July 4 and hopes to not have another one until Christmas break. Papers are piled high, boxes are stacked up, the phone rings, players and assistant coaches pop in and out, as do journalists and camera crews, each with their own demands on his time.
It can be a grind, he admits, though one would be hard-pressed to deduce as much from the coach’s demeanor.
For every ringing phone, for every player, for every member of the media, Miller accommodates without betraying a hint of the inconvenience we surely must be.
“I just roll with the punches,” Miller said. “It’s part of managing a program. I still like the daily stuff that comes with it.”
Elsewhere around the office, clues reveal more about the man whose teams have never missed the playoffs in his 10 years at Gainesville.
On the whiteboard, adjacent to the offensive two-deep and scattered Xs and Os, a quote: “Be demanding, not demeaning.”
In the top left corner of the same board:
Noticeably absent: Wins, region championships, etc., but those have come in bunches, too, as evidenced by the wall covered in Coach of Year plaques.
“I’ve been blessed,” Miller said. “We’ve got a great coaching staff with guys that aren’t just good coaches, they’re good at handling their responsibilities, and I delegate a lot.
“We’ve got a great school system that lets you coach, and I still like to coach, I don’t want to just be the CEO, I like to have a hand in the gameplan and coach, and here the school wants you to coach. I don’t have to deal with marking the field and other things guys at other schools have to do.
“And we’ve got a great community. You’re in a fishbowl here, but they like you as long as you’re winning,” he added with a knowing grin.
Winning hasn’t been a problem under Miller. The Red Elephants have won four straight region titles and advanced to the state semifinals or beyond in two of the last three years.
Now that Gainesville has jumped up two classifications to AAAAA, the challenge will be greater. But don’t expect Miller to back down — or slow down — any time soon. At the end of each season, Miller said he takes some time to get past the fatigue. Then he asks himself if he’s up for another year.
“And the answer keeps coming back yes,” he said. “But I’m getting asked that more and more these days.”
When this writer spoke with Miller shortly after the Red Elephants’ heartbreaking 13-12 loss in the 2009 state championship game, I thought it was the last time we’d see him with the trademark “G” embroidered on the ever-present red-and-white polo shirt.
He’d gotten so agonizingly close to the one career goal he’s yet to achieve and was losing one of the most talented senior classes he’d ever had. He looked tired, deflated — not at all the norm for the energetic veteran of 40 autumns on the high school sidelines.
But retirement, he said, never crossed his mind.
“I’m too stubborn,” Miller said. “There are people who think I’ll retire when (star Gainesville quarterback) Deshaun (Watson) goes, but I’m just stubborn enough to come back and show them that life goes on. I like the challenge of it.”
For Gainesville High School — its present and its future — it’d be a good thing if Miller keeps finding those challenges and keeps answering in the affirmative at the end of every season.
He’s not the only one who’s been blessed.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.