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The ICON Series Part IV: Carbondale's Jim Miller

  • Jim Miller, who began his coaching career at Wilmington, with a brief stop at Fairfield, has been a fixture at Carbondale since 1998.

    Jim Miller, who began his coaching career at Wilmington, with a brief stop at Fairfield, has been a fixture at Carbondale since 1998.

By Spyder Dann
updated: 1/29/2019 11:44 AM

This is the final installment of a four-part series that will highlight the accomplishments of four southern Illinois basketball coaches. Each part will run Wednesday's in The Harrisbug Register

Husband. Father. Teacher. Coach.

Coaches wear a lot of hats. In this situation, especially high school basketball coaches.

Sometimes it even exceeds the number of players on the team.

The mark of a great coach is finding the balance between being compassionate and being demanding.

Not lost in the equation is motivating, inspiring and pushing a kid past what's considered good enough, to greatness.

For some players, a coach is the father they didn't have or the father-figure they need.

Four coaches in southern Illinois have established themselves as icons in this sport, racking up wins, along with postseason hardware and not losing sight of why they do what they do.

Guys like Massac County's Joe Hosman, Harrisburg's Randy Smithpeters, Carbondale's Jim Miller and Murphysboro's Daryl Murphy have established a legacy that is unparalleled in this day in age.

They are legends. Not only on the sidelines, but at their school.

Each coach has coached at their respective schools for more than 20 years and all have made at least one appearance in the state tournament.

In this four-part series, each coach partakes in a Question & Answer session that looks back on his career, his reasoning for coaching, the best player he coached against and what he has in common with the other coaches.

Jim Miller is entering his 20th season at Carbondale and 29th overall with stops at Wilmington and Fairfield High School. The Charleston native has more than 480 wins and nine 20-win seasons, prior to this year.

Miller was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2015. He led the Terriers to a second place finish in the IHSA Class 2A state championship in the 2004-05 season and was fourth the year prior in 2003-04. Miller had a career-best 31-3 outing in the 2004-05 season, losing to Glenbrook North in the title game.

He recently got his 500th career win on January 19th.

Question: Did coaching basketball choose you or did you choose to coach basketball?

Jim Miller: I think it's really a two-way street. I started organized basketball when I was in fourth grade. I had great parents who were supportive of my family playing athletics. It just evolved. It all starts with loving the sport and at an early age, my twin brother and I fell in love with playing sports and basketball fell in line. It was one of the things I went to college to do and I was fortunate enough to get college scholarships at Lakeland Community College to play two years and at that point in time I was not real sure what I wanted to do after those two years. My body kind of gave out - the knees, the back, everything. I know I couldn't play at the next level but still wanted to keep my hands involved in the game itself. At that point in time, I decided that was something I was really intrigued to do or pursue. At first, you always question the decisions that you make, the career directions that you take, but in the long run it has been very beneficial for me and my family. It's given my kids opportunities to experience. I've been very fortunate.

Q: What similarities or traits do you think you share with the other coaches?

JM: We've got a lot of endurance. It takes a lot of will to be able to do the things that we've all had to do over the course of the years. The adjustments you have to make, the changing of the cultures involved in the lifestyles of our kids. Those are things that have made it very difficult at times to keep up. To be placed in company with those guys is a tremendous honor. In southern Illinois, those three guys (Joe Hosman, Randy Smithpeters & Daryl Murphy) are the names that everyone recognizes when you talk about high school basketball.

Q: What made you want to get into coaching and is the reason now the same as it was then?

JM: I got into coaching because of my love for the game. This is my third high school job. I wanted to eventually get to a community that basketball was as important to the community and administration as it was to me. I fell into it. When Vicki King and John Dively hired me 21 years ago, this was the place. I had a great job with Fairfield that it took a job like this to get me out. I was ready to retire at Fairfield. It was such a wonderful community and my kids were all born there. When this job opened up and I was in communication with Vicki and John, it was one of those jobs that was very hard to turn down.

Q: How has basketball changed during your time coaching?

JM: The game itself hasn't changed a whole lot with the exception of the three-point line. It has brought a different dynamic to the game. In general, the kids are the same. Parenting has changed, and it is difficult at times. We are fortunate to have great parents who have been very supportive. Society has become too permissive. Kids are not held accountable as much as they were in the past for their own actions. That's the thing we try to teach, my staff and I, that you are accountable for what you do and what you don't do. That's part of the growing process. Holding those kids accountable, giving them options and avenues but not making excuses. Too much of that is going on and we have too many excuses and not enough results. I think that's the one thing that has really changed - the culture of society. Basketball is a type of sport that requires a lot of chemistry. You can have a very athletic group and if you don't have great chemistry, you may be an average team. But if you have average talent and great chemistry, you have a chance to be a great team. That's one of the toughest selling points we have every year - trying to get kids to buy into the aspect of the team and not the individual. Everything is individualistic anymore in our culture.

Q: What do you think is the reason you have stayed at Carbondale as long as you have?

JM: Success. And it's not my success. I've been blessed with a great coaching staff over the years that has had the kids best interest at heart, very knowledgeable about the game, and work ethic second to none. The most important aspect to a successful basketball team or any organization is having good people. We have kids that work hard, do what they are asked to do for the most part, and we've had success over the years by stressing those values. It's been a pleasure and privilege to coach here at Carbondale High School for this long and it all starts with those kids and the athletes that you have. People can tell you how good you are but if you don't have good athletes, you're not going to win. Again, it's my coaches and my kids.

Q: Did you ever consider leaving?

JM: A few times. Not because of adversity but because of other opportunities that have presented themselves. The adversities that you run across are motivators more than anything and you don't want that to be the reason that you fail so it causes you to work harder and put in more time if that's possible. We've had opportunities to do other things but when it comes down to it, Carbondale is where I wanted my kids to be raised. Carbondale is a community that has everything we look for. I grew up in Charleston, Illinois which is a Eastern Illinois University community so I know what college university towns are all about. They just present more opportunities for kids and families.

Q: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever gotten?

JM: You know what, every kid has a story. You want to treat every kid fairly, but they're not always treated equal because of a story that they have. Before you make any harsh criticism or disciplines, you have to also consider what makes them the person they are. Some kids have been very lucky and blessed to have great parents that are very supportive and then there are others that may not have that. We have to understand that and some of the best things I have ever learned were from the negatives. Looking at other people and what they were doing - the good and the bad. You learn from all of that.

Q: Who is your

coaching idol?

JM: My high school coach really established a good coaching base. He worked hard, he loved his kids, his kids (myself and the kids he coached) played hard for him, and he was very challenging, but he was very fair. That's what you try to emulate. You want to challenge your kids, but you want to be fair with them at the same time. If they're not challenged, then they're not going to reach their potential. Steve Hutton at Charleston. He went on to be a coach at East Peoria and was an Athletic Director. Every year we get together. They live in Peoria so every year at the state tournament, we go out to eat. Maybe twice if we cross paths. It's been a great relationship.

Q: What is your best memory as a head coach?

JM: I love seeing my kids play at the next level. When we got fourth one year and then the following year with one starter returning, we got second. That was a special year. That was a year that makes my dreams as a high school player come true. Those kids allowed us to do that. I remember growing up always on the concrete and always playing games, by yourself usually. But always thinking about playing in the state tournament. That year those kids made those dreams come true.

Q: Who is the best player you have coached against?

JM: We've played so many outstanding teams, especially the year we got second. We played teams from California that had kids that played on Arizona State. We've played all over the Midwest. Recently, Jordan Goodwin from Althoff. He's at St. Louis now. He started as a freshman and he led them as a freshman. He was a great leader even at a young age and was able to win state titles. He was probably the best all-around kid because he could play the point, the post, he rebounded, he defended, when they needed the ball, he got it, and when they needed to score, he would score.

Q: What was the best team you have coached against?

JM: Probably that Althoff team. They were so deep. They had four or five kids go to D1. Once again though, you look over the years and I tend to think about the near past. It has been quite a ride and experience. Playing in the KMOX shootout in St. Louis that year was special. If they still have that, they call it something different. The way we have been treated over the years by our administration, we won for nothing over here in Carbondale. We don't ask for everything but when we ask for something, we usually get what we need. Our administration has always been on top of those things.

Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois Local Media News Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.