A LETTER TO THE 1994 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM FROM COACH JAMIE RIGGS
I owe all of you an apology.
Becky and I took our two sons on a vacation many years ago when they were in middle and elementary school. We went to the North Carolina mountains and being a fan of the mountains I was amazed at the beauty as we drove through. Mikel and Wil were concentrating on their video game or whatever was the latest sensation. I told them to put them away and take advantage of watching the sheer elegance of the mountain scenery. They thought I was crazy. They were two busy concentrating on their game to appreciate what was going on around them.
This weekend we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of your great championship season. You are the only Miller team to win 15 games.
Just like my children several years later, I was in the middle of something absolutely amazing but I really never saw it. I could never celebrate your last win because I was always worried about the next win. My intentions were honorable. I wanted to make sure that we gave you every thing you would need for that next victory. What I didn’t realize is that you already had everything you needed. You brought it with you when you came to practice the first day.
I believe that every coach has a vision for how he wants his team to play and I certainly had one for your team. Before the ‘94 season started, I imagined you as a team that played with great passion and courage. I saw you as a team that could stand up and look the adversities of a football season square in the eye and not blink. I wanted you to be a team that played for each other and not for yourselves. I wanted you to play with precision and confidence. I wanted you to be a team that bought pride to our community and to our school. Most of all I envisioned you as a team that refused to quit regardless of what obstacle was in front of you.
Some time around the first of November, 1994, you became that team. I am sorry that I was so busy with practice and games that I really didn’t see it. Maybe it is so rare that it is almost impossible to recognize. I wish I could have stood back and relished each day of practice with you. I wish I could have recognized how truly blessed I was to be your coach. But I was too busy trying to win.
A few days ago Mikel was working on the video for you and he asked me if we had any TV highlights from 1994 season. So I went searching in the fieldhouse and I found a tape. I was there by myself and I put the tape in the VCR and watched. It started with the championship game, which I had not seen in years. I was mesmerized watching you play with this great passion that only teams that love and trust each other can possess. You dominated a great team with your great commitment to each other. Next I watched the TV highlights and the after game interviews. We were all so young and so excited. And suddenly I realized that tears were streaming down my face. How lucky I was on that December night to be a part of your team. I thought I was teaching you football, when in reality, you were teaching me about what true teamwork can accomplish.
For 20 years you have been the vision of how Miller teams should play. I have turned around many nights on many sidelines and looked for you in my other teams. How unfair of me to compare those other teams, many of them great in their own right, to your 1994 season.
I did get one thing right that night. My interviews after the game were mostly excited statements that were difficult to understand. But the last thing I said was, ” I’m just really proud to be from T.R. Miller tonight.”
Thank you for letting me be your coach.
I had some people ask me this past spring what our theme was going to be for the year. We have had a theme occasionally down through the years so I began thinking about it. I was about to order some of our shirts for our team and the one thing I could not get out of my mind was the fact that we should take pride in being who we are—WE ARE T.R. MILLER!
I have expressed before that I believe T.R. Miller is more of a spirit than it is anything else. We should take pride that we are part of a spirit, a team or family that is known for effort and excellence. I was explaining to our players Wednesday afternoon that everyone circles our name on their schedules. They know when they play T.R. Miller. Their fans and community are excited. Our opponents expect a certain level of play from us, and I believe their fans expect us to perform with a certain togetherness and skill. If they can beat T.R. Miller it is a very important win for their program. All of this occurs because of the great teams of our past. It is our great legacy, but it can also be our great burden. We get every opponent’s best game and if we don’t play well one week, we won’t get out of their with a victory.
Right now we are trying to build a team. It is not built overnight. It will take many weeks. We need to build it carefully, one brick at a time. The foundation must be solid, built on hard off season work and tough practices. These practices must concentrate on the fundamentals, like blocking, tackling and taking care of the ball. We are trying to build a team that can support the great burden that is T.R. Miller. At the same time we need a team that has the great spirit that celebrates the legacy of our past. A spirit that is so enthusiastic that it will wake up the echoes of the great teams and players of our legacy. We need a team that is strong enough physically and emotionally to support the weight of the great football tradition that is T.R. Miller.
So we wrote on the shirts- WE ARE T.R. MILLER and underneath we wrote, Wake Up the Echoes.
I saw some shirts the other day that were pretty neat. I couldn’t read the front, but on the back it simply said WE ARE T.R. MILLER. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
When I first began coaching, I did not know much about what I was doing. Most of my knowledge came from what I learned from playing in high school. There weren’t many books about coaching football in those days and video was in its infancy. One thing I did learn early is that you needed to find someone who was successful and learn from them. I studied some of the great coaches and one that I found fascinating was Vince Lombardi.
Lombardi was an Italian American who did not get his first head coaching job until his late 40’s. He became head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1959 and immediately changed the culture around the team. The Packers were in the NFL Championship game in his second season. He led the Packers to 5 NFL Championships, including victories in the first two Super Bowls. I studied Lombardi and his coaching techniques and took much of my philosophy from him. Here are a few of the things I tried to incorporate into T.R. Miller football.
1) Hard work builds confidence. We spend many hours lifting weights, running and conditioning. If you have put all of this work into football, you will have the confidence that you are prepared for anything. Lombardi said it best-“ The harder you work the harder it is to surrender.”
2) The players should be emotionally involved. Football is an emotional game and players can play at a high level when there emotions are high. If you are emotional about your team, chances are it will be difficult not to give your best effort. We love motivational videos, music, gimmicks, and speeches. We love to get fired up.
3) Demand effort every day from everyone. We have a standard of work in off season conditioning and practice. I expect our players to perform at a high level and give great effort. I expect our coaches to coach practice aggressively every day. I expect our managers to work their responsibility with skill. Our video staff must be ready to go each day and shoot the video the way our coaching staff wants it done. Not just occasionally—EVERY DAY!
4) Play physical football. You never want to line up and the other team take it to you physically. It hurts your self image and how a teams views itself is critical. The one thing a football team does not want to be called is soft. You have to do the tough things, the hard things in your program to build that toughness. We have a saying, - “There is a right way to do it and an easy way to do it and they are seldom the same thing”. I believe you have to block and RUN the ball on offense and take on blocks and tackle on defense. And you have to practice it!
5) Be great at something—be known for something. Lombardi was an offensive coach and he was known for running the handoff sweep play. He built his offense around it and acquired players to run it. In fact, he was so well known for running the sweep that his play throughout the football world was known as The Green Bay Sweep. At Miller we always seemed to have good runners and our play has been the toss sweep out of the “I” formation. We are known all over the state of Alabama for the sweep. We believe in it. I want our players to believe that if we execute that it can’t be stopped. Lombardi believed that you are better off running a few plays and running them well than running a bunch of stuff average. I took this as part of our philosophy.
My favorite Vince Lombardi quote---“Winning is not a some time thing, it is an all time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while……you do them right all the time.”