One of the most prominent fixtures inside Gregg Miller’s office at Mifflin High School is a picture of a mountain climber with the phrase, “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there,” printed on it.
It’s an approach the veteran of more than 30 years inside in the City League has tried to take to heart while grinding through the sometimes endless hours coaching football.
After the first week of two-a-days this fall, Miller spent his entire Sunday afternoon lining the field at Mifflin in preparation for the next week of practices.
The 58-year-old Miller is used to the lifestyle, though, and has found some comfort with the results.
Miller went 131-57 from 1986-2002 at Brookhaven with 10 league championships and seven playoff berths and has helped turn Mifflin back into an annual contender for the City-North Division title after several years of mediocrity or worse.
“I get up at 8 in the morning and don’t even get home until 11 p.m. some days,” Miller said. “It’s been a steady climb. I’m excited for this year.”
Brookhaven made it to the playoffs for the first time as a program in 1990, when Miller was in his fifth season.
With future NFL players like Terry Glenn and Charles “June” Henley leading the way, the Bearcats made it to state semifinals in 1991 and ’92 and would go on to make the playoffs five times in the 1990s.
During Miller’s last season with Brookhaven in 2002, the Bearcats bounced back from a 5-5 finish the year before to go 10-2 and reach the second round of the playoffs.
With two sons in the Gahanna school district at the time, Miller elected to step down after that season.
He went on to serve as an assistant for two years apiece at Gahanna, Walnut Ridge and Independence before the coaching job at Mifflin opened up after the 2009 season.
The Punchers went 1-9 in 2008 and 2-8 in 2009, and the last time they’d made the playoffs was in 2002.
Coincidentally, Miller earned his final coaching victory at Brookhaven in 2002 when the Bearcats beat Mifflin 31-6 in the first round of the Division II, Region 6 playoffs.
The improvement in the Punchers’ program after Miller took over was immediate, as it won three of its first four games in 2010 and finished 5-5.
Mifflin lost 14-12 to eventual Division I, Region 3 playoff qualifier Northland in week seven and beat Brookhaven 22-20 in the regular-season finale that season.
“A lot of us cut our teeth under coach Miller,” said Brookhaven coach Trevor White, who served as an assistant under Miller with the Bearcats from 2000-02. “He relates to the kids pretty well and is organized. He has a clear idea of what he wants to do and pushes the kids. That consistency over the years is sometimes all these kids need.”
In Miller’s second season at Mifflin, the Punchers won their first six games and finished 8-2.
Because the three teams they beat that season in the non-league schedule combined to finish 6-24, however, Mifflin settled for 10th in Division II, Region 7 in computer points and missed the playoffs.
Last season, the Punchers went 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the City-North, with their league losses coming to Beechcroft (34-19) and Brookhaven (20-13).
Mifflin, which has been to the playoffs only four times, lost most of its key skill position players to graduation.
With several returning offensive linemen and a group of players familiar with his system, though, Miller believes his program is “really close” to finally catching Beechcroft and Brookhaven as well as making the postseason.
Miller, known for putting together run-oriented offenses, believes he learned a few tricks during the seasons that he wasn’t a head coach that have helped speed up the maturation process at Mifflin.
“He gave us a speech and said that he’s an old-school coach,” said senior Jakob Green, a wide receiver and defensive back who has been a key player since his freshman season. “He wants us to become men and wants us to get disciplined. He’s a father figure to us.”
“It’s about work ethic, discipline and making the kids accountable,” Miller said. “When we start practice at 3:30, it doesn’t mean 3:31. These kids are excited for this year.”