When Bob Miller announced his retirement as coach of the Thomas Worthington High School boys basketball team earlier this month, it ended one of the most enduring and winningest coaching careers in Ohio.
Miller, 72, amassed a 573-323 career record and guided his teams to 12 league titles and three district championships in 41 seasons. He had a 423-269 record in 31 seasons with the Cardinals.
According to 2001 Thomas graduate J.J. Sullinger, Miller has been a positive influence in the lives of the hundreds of players he coached during his 49-year coaching career and the thousands of students to whom he taught health and physical education during his 45-year teaching career.
"Coach Miller always found a way to get the best out of everyone he worked with," Sullinger said. "He was great for the sport of basketball and he's a great mentor for so many guys, such as myself, who played for him. He teaches you a lot about basketball and also a lot about the importance of academics and being a part of the community.
"When you're a part of one of coach Miller's teams, you get better as a player and also become a better, more well-rounded person."
The Groveport years
Miller made his coaching debut at Groveport during the 1965-66 school year, coaching the boys golf team and freshman basketball team.
He quit coaching golf after one season but served as an assistant basketball coach for eight seasons before taking over as head coach in 1973.
"I agreed to coach golf because it helped get me a teaching job at Groveport, but my players knew a lot more about golf than I did," Miller said. "At the end of the season, we were playing in a tournament at Ohio State and one of my players hit the ball and it traveled about three or four inches off the tee. I went in (to athletics director's office) the next day and resigned."
Also during his time at Groveport, Miller was head baseball coach for five seasons and coached football for 11, serving as defensive coordinator for 10 seasons and as head coach for one season, leading the Cruisers to a league title in 1982.
A Grandview graduate, he played football and competed in track and field in high school, but basketball quickly became his favorite sport to coach even though he didn't play at the prep level.
"I enjoyed baseball and I really loved coaching football, but basketball was my first love," Miller said. "I just couldn't get enough of it."
Miller, who was inducted into the Groveport Hall of Fame in 2012, compiled a 150-54 record with the Cruisers, guiding them to five league titles during his 10-year tenure that ended after the 1982-83 season.
Soaring as a Cardinal
During the summer of 1983, Miller accepted an offer to teach health and serve as head basketball coach at Thomas, which was Worthington High School until Kilbourne opened in 1991.
"I loved working for Groveport and I was sick to my stomach all week because it was a hard decision to leave and I was dreading having to tell my coworkers and students I was leaving," Miller said. "But I did it for my children (Scott and Lori) because the Worthington school system is well known for its excellence in academics and I wanted them to get a great education there."
Miller led the Cardinals to seven league championships (1984, 1985, 1987, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2007) and three district titles (1984, 1996 and 2001). He was named the Division I Central District Coach of the Year four times and league Coach of the Year 13 times.
Miller also was honored as Division I State Coach of the Year in 2003 and was inducted in the OCC Hall of Fame in 2013.
Last season, the Cardinals finished 14-9 overall and 8-6 in the OCC-Central Division.
"I first met Bob back in 1993 and what struck me the most about him was his passion for the game," said Sean Luzader, who was an assistant on Miller's staff at Thomas for 13 seasons. "He's very much a perfectionist on the court and he's taught me that coaching is a lifestyle, not just something you do for fun in your spare time. His greatest trademark is his team's defenses. I've never known a better defensive coach in my life.
"On the court, he's as fierce a competitor as I've seen, but he's also always been an absolute gentleman who will do anything for his players."
The past 15 summers, Miller coached many of the state's top boys and girls players from in tournaments held in western European countries, including Italy and France.
"One of the most enjoyable things I've ever done was take kids from here to play the top teams from all over Europe," Miller said. "We had lots of fun, made a lot of good friends and were very successful there, winning several tournament championships.
"We've had four Italian girls players come here to stay in our home; and one Italian family that hosted my wife (Judy) and I made us a special seven-course meal that we had trouble finishing. We also had a German exchange student stay with us who is 7-foot-1. When he was offered some cereal for breakfast, he cut the entire side of the box open and ate the whole box of cereal in one sitting."
Among the players Miller coached on Team Ohio was future NBA star LeBron James, who played at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
"Bob's always been a real crowd favorite in Italy and all of the local coaches, players and parents he met there loved him," Luzader said. "Bob's probably the only coach who didn't start LeBron James in a game.
"I think it was because LeBron was young and didn't play great defense at the time and Bob's priority is always defense first. That probably taught LeBron a great lesson because he's gone on to become one of the best all-around players in the NBA."
A lasting impact
Miller built a reputation as a strict disciplinarian who wasn't afraid to bench players for not giving their best effort, but he also is known for having a tender side.
"Bob really cares about the kids more than anything else, and he kept as many kids around the program as he could because he knew it was important to his student athletes," Luzader said. "When (longtime Thomas baseball coach) Stephen Gussler was diagnosed with cancer and had to take some time off from the classroom, Bob went to the school district and offered to substitute teach health classes without pay, to make things easier for Stephen so he wouldn't have to create lesson plans for someone else while he was away from the classroom. That's just the kind of guy Bob is."
Kilbourne coach Tom Souder said Miller will be sorely missed by everyone he came into contact with, even his biggest rivals.
"I'm sad to hear Bob is retiring because our game is losing a great coach and an even better human being," Souder said. "Bob's a great ambassador for our game because he does it the right way. More kids need a guy like Bob in their life who will push them to be their best. When you look at all of people he's been a positive influence on over the past 50 years, it's pretty remarkable."