Former SFA basketball coach Miller dead at 86

Published on Thursday, 14 February 2013 23:41 - Written by Phil Hicks

One of Texas’ true basketball coaching legends, former Stephen F. Austin State University coach Harry Miller, passed away Wednesday, his son Gary Miller of Tyler said.

He was 86.

Miller was coach at SFA from 1978 to 1988, compiling a record of 170-112. He coached SFA to five 20-win seasons in 10 seasons, including a 22-5 mark in 1985-86 and 22-8 record in 1986-87. His 170 wins ranks fourth all-time at SFA, and he was at the helm when SFA made the transition to Division I and the Southland Conference.

“A lot of folks don’t realize that Coach Miller’s SFA teams made postseason appearances in three divisions,” said Robert Hill, SFA Director of Athletics. “He took teams to the NAIA national tournament, the NCAA Division II Tournament and to the NIT. That’s amazing.

“I always believed that when a game was on the line, the difference would be Harry Miller. I watched him out-coach his opponent many times to win close games. He was so good at it.”

The 1986-87 SFA team won the Gulf Star Conference with a 10-0 record and advanced to the NIT Tournament.

He finished his coaching career with a 534-374 all-time record, also coaching at Wichita State, North Texas, Eastern New Mexico, Fresno State and Western State.

In five seasons at Fresno State, his teams were 92-40 and had three straight 20-win seasons, and he was 104-37 in five seasons at Eastern New Mexico.

Current SFA head coach Danny Kaspar also spent three seasons as an assistant under Miller from 1983 to 1986, helping garner a pair of 20-win seasons for the ‘Jacks.

“Some of the things Coach Kaspar does today he learned from Harry Miller, especially the motion offense and the patience it takes to run it,” Hill said. “I was fortunate to see and broadcast just about every game during Coach Miller’s tenure at SFA. As I look back now, I realize how lucky I was to have been there to see a true basketball genius. SFA and college basketball has lost a giant of the game.”

His son Gary, First Vice President of The LMT Wealth Management Group, recalled fondly his days growing up.

“I always remember my parents’ front door being open to anyone,” he said. “Whether it was competing coaches, or his own assistants, athletic directors, players, managers, sports writers, trainers, etc….our home was always a place that people gathered and were welcome. My folks made everyone feel at home and special. It wouldn’t be long before our mother would whip up a meal and everyone would eat throughout our home and enjoy conversation as well as time together. More than likely a game would be playing on the TV.”

Before entering coaching, Miller, who was nicknamed “Riffey,” was a standout basketball player at Martinsville High School in Martinsville, Ind. He was a 6-5, 215-pound center on the 1944 team that lost only two regular season games before falling in sectionals.

In 1945, Miller was the captain of his high school team, leading the team in scoring and rebounding. He was honorable mention all-South Central conference and was the leading scorer in the conference.

Miller earned his bachelor’s degree at Eastern New Mexico in 1951. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Western State in Colorado in 1952. After six years there, he became head coach at Fresno State from 1960-65. He then returned to his alma mater and led ENM to the 1969 NAIA national championship. His 1970 team placed third.

While at Wichita State, he led the Shockers to two NCAA appearances.

Funeral services are set for 10 a.m. Monday at the North Street Church of Christ in Nacogdoches.

Visitation is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Laird Funeral Home in Nacogdoches.

Some information is from the SFA Sports Information Department and the Martinsville Reporter-Times in Martinsville, Ind.