SOLON — Kevin Miller’s road to coaching success wasn’t a straight path, but the destination was nearly inevitable.
Baseball introduced him to coaching. Basketball seemed like a natural fit. Football, however, is where Miller made his mark and achieved success in coaching.
Miller recently completed his ninth season coaching Solon, leading the Spartans to a 14-0 mark and third consecutive Class 2A state title. The win extended the Solon’s win streak to 41 games and was their fourth straight state finals appearance. The season earned Miller The Gazette and KCRG TV-9 Coach of the Year honors in a very close race with a handful of Eastern Iowa coaches.
Miller is 92-14 and 100-33 overall in 12 seasons with stops at Highland-Lone Tree and Iowa City Regina,
“I never really anticipated coaching football to be honest with you,” said Miller, who played basketball at Loras College. “I really thought basketball was going to be my calling.”
Miller was a quarterback and linebacker for Solon’s state championship team in 1989, a point guard in basketball, ran track and played baseball. He had a competitive streak, displaying the attributes of a coach, even if he didn’t set out to be one at the start.
“I think he’s the ultimate competitor,” said Curt Miller, Kevin’s younger brother, who was a freshman during Kevin’s senior season and serves an assistant coach at Solon. “He wants to excel at everything and I think he drives that through our kids.
“He’s always shown, even when he played, he was a tremendous leader.”
Miller played for legendary Spartans Coach Ed Hansen, who admitted he didn’t anticipate Miller’s future coaching career. Hansen was quick to highlight Miller’s leadership skills and work ethic. Intelligence on the field and studying on and off it were precursors to his career.
“He made good decisions with the ball,” Hansen said in a phone interview with The Gazette from his home in Ariz. “He was always prepared. I think that was probably one of his strengths is he was prepared for the next opponent, the next play and his teammates appreciated him for that.”
Hansen recalled times when a fiery Miller earned the appreciation of coaches and teammates when he stood up to “assertive linemen” in huddles when things didn’t go well.
“Everybody believed in him,” Hansen said. ”He had the best interest of the team at heart always.
“It’s no surprise he’s had a great career so far.”
That career almost didn’t occur. Miller studied business until his junior year after he spent two summers helping with a Babe Ruth baseball team.
“I thought I related really well with the kids and from there, I just decided to go the education route,” said Miller. “I like the fact you develop relationships with young people, and you have the opportunity to make a difference. That was very important to me. The rest is pretty much history.”
The values instilled by his family influence Miller’s approach to coaching. Work ethic, leadership and a competitive nature were almost necessities growing up on the family farm as the oldest of Maury and Joyce Miller’s five sons. The family was always battling during pickup games, especially basketball. Maury, who died during Miller’s sophomore year at Loras, was a huge supporter of athletics and worked on skills with his sons.
“When we played H-O-R-S-E it was all out H-O-R-S-E,” Curt Miller said about the heated competition between siblings. “That was the way our family was.”
Miller’s first opportunity came as an assistant at Dike-New Hartford and Wapsie Valley before his first head coaching job at Highland-Lone Tree. He praised Hansen, former football coach Dan Dickel and even former Loras basketball coach Brad Soderberg for their influences.
“Not just the Xs and Os but how to get the most out of people,” Miller said. “I learned a lot about just how to treat people.”
His late father made the biggest impression, and remains a motivating force in his life.
“He’s the one that taught me there’s a parallel between sports and life,” Miller said. “Some qualities it takes to be successful in football it takes to be successful in life. That’s the message I try to convey to our players.”
Win streaks and titles are enjoyable but don’t motivate Miller as much as the satisfaction of producing fine young men. It’s the development of his players, even when they leave the program, that drives Miller.
“Those trophies just gain dust. That’s all they do,” Miller said. “Those relationships are forever. That’s the most important part for me.
“When I lose sight of that I need to walk away.”