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Plum native coaches Cards' receivers

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. -- Mike Miller already has been to a Super Bowl.

During the 1995 season, he worked as a public relations intern with the Steelers, performing various go-fer tasks.

Now, instead of handing out NFL media guides, he's in one. And on Sunday, he'll go-fer -- err, go for -- a Super Bowl ring.

Miller, a Plum native, coaches wide receivers for the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, who are set to face the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

If he wants a piece of football's ultimate prize, Miller will have to go through the team that gave him his start.

"Something I'll probably never get used to is playing against my friends," said Miller, 38, who lives in Phoenix but has family in the Pittsburgh area. "To think you could put together a run and make it to the Super Bowl and then win it -- and you're going against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team you grew up with -- Hollywood can't write stuff that good."

Wide receivers coach is a pretty high-profile job in Arizona, considering the Cardinals are loaded at the position. Miller has tutored three 1,000-yard pass-catchers this season -- Pro Bowlers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and No. 3 receiver Steve Breaston.

"Me and Mike have the same goal," Boldin said, "and that's to be Super Bowl champions. Mike goes about his business every day, and we appreciate that about him."

Miller was pinching himself all week while preparing for the Steelers.

"It's such a far-away thing to think that you could win the Super Bowl," he said. "It's so hard to win just one game. I don't think people understand that."

Like the players, Miller has to learn every play in the Cardinals' playbook. Unlike his receivers, he didn't take a drawn-up route to the NFL.

From intern to Super Bowl coach, his story rivals that of his fairy-tale Cardinals. Arizona, the decades-long outcast of the league, will be making its first Super Bowl appearance.

"It's been quite a path," said Miller, a graduate of Clarion, where he was a communications major.

Miller didn't have much of a playing career. A knee injury during a junior varsity game ended his high school career at Plum.

But his interest and curiosity about the inner-workings of the game kept him focused on finding a niche.

He had internships with the Penguins, Steelers and Indianapolis Colts before breaking into coaching in 1997. A graduate assistant, Miller coached running backs at Robert Morris under Joe Walton.

His big NFL break came in 1999, when former Steelers coach Bill Cowher offered him a position as quality control coach of the offense. Like the internships, Miller was constantly busy, analyzing film to help spot opponents' tendencies and breaking down plays.

He loved every second. He had a foot in the door.

"Anything the staff needed," Miller said. "It's was a 100-hour-a-week type of job."

A big key was meeting Mike Mularkey and Ken Whisenhunt, men who have played key roles.

Mularkey took Miller with him to Buffalo when he became head coach of the Bills in 2004. Miller worked with tight ends -- his first go-around as a position coach.

Mularkey said he saw potential in Miller when the pair worked together in Pittsburgh.

"It's a tedious, demanding job, and he ended up doing a great job for me for my three years as offensive coordinator," Mularkey said. "He was so outstanding, I just thought I'd like to give him a chance if he wanted to come up to Buffalo. I really wanted to reward him.

"He's never afraid to ask questions. I admire that about him. He's always trying to gather information. He wanted to do it right."

When Mularkey resigned as Bills' head coach, Miller was out of work. But he eventually latched on with the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe.

Then, after a short stay in Germany, he spent one more season with Robert Morris, this time as a defensive coach.

After that, Whisenhunt, who by now was in Arizona, came calling.

Miller was hired in 2007 and quickly promoted to receivers coach.

The players seem to have taken a liking to him.

"He sets high expectations for us," Cardinals rookie receiver Early Doucet said. "For me, as a young player, to have a coach like Mike is beneficial.

"We can go and talk to him about anything. Maybe there's a situation where we don't want to ask something in front of the team. He'll have one-on-one time with you, so you can ask all the questions you want."

Miller said the transition into a position coach has been seamless because of the coaches and players around him.

"These guys are extremely talented, but they're really good people," Miller said. "That's what makes it special. They work hard every day. They want to be coached."

Miller is anxious for the Super Bowl to get underway.

"The fun part is the in-game adjustments -- the chess match," he said. "That's when you match your wits against theirs."

Miller's resume already is impressive with two Super Bowl appearances. It could glisten even more with a Super Bowl win.

"All you can do is work hard," Miller said. "You have to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. I never knew anyone at the start.

"I always felt I could outwork anyone. You show people you can get along. That, with the opportunities, things could lead somewhere."

Like the grandest stage in sports.

Additional Information:

Career snapshot

Here's a list of Plum native and Cardinals receivers coach Mike Miller's coaching stops:

1997-98 -- Robert Morris (running backs)

1999-2003 -- Steelers (offense quality control)

2004-05 -- Buffalo Bills (tight ends)

2006 -- Robert Morris (defensive line), Berlin Thunder (NFL Europe)

2007- present -- Arizona Cardinals (wide receivers)

Additional Information:

Steelers rally GigaPan

Additional Information:

Super Bowl Reference

The rosters: Steelers and Cardinals

The numbers: Steelers and Cardinals

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