When it comes to high school wrestling in the area and even on a statewide level, Cleveland High School can boast quite a storied and winning history.
The man who has been around to witness the trials and tribulations faced by the Raiders wrestling program for the past four decades, now retired assistant coach Al Miller, truly was able to go out on the top of his sport.
While the Raiders went on to win another state wrestling title by a score of 78-4 this past season, it is Miller who is being recognized on the national level, as he was selected by the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) as the National Assistant Coach of the Year.
“It was an exciting day all day, the ceremonies of closing my room up then finding this out was a real cap off to this year and the last several years,” Miller explained. “This past year has just been special with the way we won the state championships and scored so many points in the finals.”
To Cleveland athletic director and assistant wrestling coach Eric Phillips, it is Miller’s longevity in the sport that is the true monumental achievement.
“He was the head coach here for about 35 years. He’s won the state title in 1985 as head coach, as well as state championships in 1992, 1993, and 1994,” Phillips stated. “It was his whole body of work that solidified this for him.”
Head coach Jake Yost first nominated Miller for the state assistant coach of the year, but soon it was discovered that Miller had been chosen for the Southeastern Assistant Coach of the Year and then national.
“I had found out about three weeks ago that I was selected as state Assistant Coach of the Year,” Miller said. “I found out that I was the Southeastern and National Assistant Coach of the Year within 24 hours of each other. I’m not without words many times, but I was on that occasion.”
Having 41 years of teaching and coaching has provided the 2013 NWCA National Assistant Coach of the Year with a plethora of fond moments and memories, but it is witnessing the growth and development of a student athlete over the past few years that most sticks out in Miller’s mind.
“I think working with Sean Von Potts this year was something special. I had worked with him on the junior varsity level and he never started until he was a senior. He ended up winning over 30 matches for us, which was really special. I enjoyed watching all the kids get better,” Miller commented.
One cannot have as successful of a career as Miller has enjoyed without the support and influence from a number of individuals. While Miller states that he has had “many, many, many” different coaches who have impacted his life, two in particular seem to have had the greatest influence.
“I had two of the best coaches around,” the Assistant Coach of the Year admitted. “Dr. John Farr was my high school coach and I think he was the one that saw something in me about wanting to coach. I wasn’t that good of a wrestler, but he saw something and got me started. Then Jim Morgan, my college coach at UT Chattanooga, I watched him constantly and tried to model myself after him. My work ethic and everything else I got from my dad.”
With this chapter of Miller’s life successfully closed, the time has come for the recent retiree to embark on new adventures and start checking some more things off of his bucket list. According to Miller, wrestling will always maintain a place in his life.
“I won’t ever leave wrestling. In fact, I have a bucket list of things that I haven’t been able to do as a high school coach that I want to do now that I don’t have the commitment to the team,” Miller said of his retirement plans. “I want to go to an Iowa vs. Iowa State match, I want to go see a big match at “The Pit,” there’s just several things that I want to do that I couldn’t do because I was so closely tied.”
The retiree has no worries over the state of the wrestling program he leaves behind, acknowledging that Cleveland wrestling has many more good years to come.
“They will go on and are in great hands. We have an outstanding program and people are in the right places,” Miller confidently stated. “I’m leaving Cleveland wrestling in excellent condition, and they’re going to carry on for quite some time. There’s nothing but positive things to come from Cleveland in the next several years. We’ve got talent way down the line.”
Miller’s legacy in the Raiders’ wrestling program as well as the community is perhaps best summed up by a portion of the NWCA recommendation written by Phillips.
“A large part of the reason that our community reveres wrestling is because of Coach Al Miller's passion and life long mission to use the sport of wrestling to save kids and help them to become men of quality,” Phillips wrote. “Al has dedicated so much time, heart, and soul into our young men and wrestling, and I don't think he will ever truly know the impact he has had on this sport.”