Plum native, veteran coach hoping for fresh start in Canadian Football League
When one door closed for Mike Miller, another one opened.
The veteran pro football assistant, Plum native and Plum High School graduate saw his six-year stay with the Arizona Cardinals come to an end after a tough 2012 season.
Injuries and struggles by the Cardinals' offense doomed Miller, who became the team's offensive coordinator in 2011.
He was let go, along with the rest of the coaching staff, as Arizona went 5-11 overall and lost 11 of its final 12 games after a 4-0 start.
“It was a frustrating and disappointing season, but when you get in this type of business, things like that are going to happen,” Miller said.
“It's the unfortunate part of what we do, and it's never a pleasant thing to go through. (Pro football organizations) are a big family, and having to say goodbye to people you've developed great relationships with over the years is tough. You have to accept that as part of what we do.
“I have nothing but great respect for the Arizona Cardinals organization. I did the best that I could, and I've learned from that experience. I know I will be better for it in the future.”
Miller knew success at Arizona. He oversaw a strong passing game during the 2008 season, and the combination of quarterback Kurt Warner and receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Anquan Boldin helped carry the Cardinals to the Super Bowl against his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now Miller hopes to bring the same success to his new job in the Canadian Football League as the assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Montreal Alouettes.
Miller said he had some coaching interviews with teams in the NFL, but things didn't work out.
That's when the opportunity in Montreal surfaced.
“Initially, I was interviewed for the head coaching job in Montreal,” Miller said. “About a week after that, I was contacted and told they were going in a different direction for head coach, but they liked my interview and my background and wanted to know if I would be interested in becoming the assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. I said that would be great, but I wanted to talk with the new head coach first and made sure we got started off on the right foot.”
Dan Hawkins is the head coach of the Alouettes, and Hawkins gained fame in the United States for leading the charge for Boise State's rise to national collegiate prominence in five seasons from 2001 to 2005.
“Dan is a great coach and a great person,” Miller said.
“I really wanted to be around good people, and I have learned a lot from him already. It's been fun blending our coaching styles and experiences. We had a nice conversation, and it was something we wanted to move forward with. I am really excited to be a part of this.”
Miller said it took some time to get adjusted to the changes from the American football to Canadian football. In Canadian football, there are 12 players from one team allowed on the field at one time, all skilled players (receivers and running backs) can be in motion at the same time, the field is 110 yards, the end zones are 20 yards deep and each offense has only three downs to get a first down.
“It's been a challenge, and it was something I was looking for,” Miller said.
“We have some guys with a great deal of Canadian football experience, and they've been great to talk to and get advice from. It's high-energy football, and we've been able to create an offense that will show that.”
Miller said there are a couple of players on the Montreal roster that area football fans will recognize.
West Virginia star receiver and kick returner Noel Devine is in his second season with the Alouettes.
Devine came to Montreal after attempts to lock on in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and in the United Football League with the Omaha Nighhawks.
“Noel's a great guy and a hard worker,” Miller said.
“He was already picking things up quickly at our mini camp (two weeks ago). We're really looking forward to working for him.”
Montreal also boasts the all-time leading passer in all of pro football in 40-year old Anthony Calvillo.
Calvillo has played for the Alouettes since 1999, and the Los Angeles native and 1994 graduate of Utah State University is a five-time CFL all-star, a three-time Grey Cup champion and has thrown for more than 78,000 yards in his career.
He joined the CFL in 1994 after not begin drafted by an NFL team.
“He has been great to work with and very insightful as I've talk to him about this league and blending our systems to what we can do in Canada. We saw some of that leadership at mini camp. It's still fun for him to play the game. It's such an advantage, being new to the league, to have someone like that to work with.”
Miller is back in Arizona right now, but the coaches have online conference calls to continue preparing for the season that stars on June 13.
Montreal plays an 18-game schedule that wraps up on Nov. 1. Two rounds of playoffs lead to the Grey Cup championship game.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.