by Ron Gregory
GILBERT — This is simply a tribute to a good and honorable man. Readers should know that I ought to have written it sooner.
But noting the birth date a few days ago of Jerry Douglas Miller of Gilbert, Mingo County, reminded me that my personal tribute was long overdue. Jerry Miller, as quality a coach and gentleman as ever set foot on the earth, passed away May 4. He was 65, having been born in Welch on June 25, 1951.
While our birthdates are less than a month apart (May 31, 1951), I cannot pretend to be close the man that Jerry Miller was. He was a giant among coaches and a model of what a man should be.
Growing up in Coal Mountain, Jerry enjoyed playing football, basketball and golf. He excelled at all, but primarily just had a passion for athletics.
After graduating from then-Concord College (now university), he transitioned from being a Baileysville Rough Rider to the Gilbert Lions. “When be became a Lion, he knew he was where he belonged,” his obituary said. And Jerry Miller was the symbol of Gilbert sports and a role model for us all. He led the Lions to a premier position in football, claiming a state championship in 1995. It was during the time that he mentored the Lion basketball team that I got to know him well. He was impressive on and off the court and eventually led the basketballers to three straight Class A state tournament appearances. A number one ranking for Gilbert was never unusual with Miller at the helm.
In fact, he nearly broke my heart in a basketball game at Gilbert when my youngest son, Chay, was playing for Coach Harry Kirk and the Harts Lions. Both were ranked in the top five in the state at the time and Harts jumped out to what seemed to be an insurmountable lead. But Miller never quit coaching; and never let his team stop playing. Eventually, in a barnburner, Gilbert got the win. He hugged me later and said, “I hated to beat your boy. I really did.”
Jerry Miller was that kind of man and that kind of coach. He loved every youngster who ever suited up for him — and included opponents in his list of favorites. But, never doubt, Miller may have felt for my son, then a junior, but he was always a winner and dedicated first to his own team.
I watched him coach during those years but also experienced the genuine kindness and compassion he held for his fellow man. Enough praise cannot be heaped on his memory to commemorate all that he did for so many young people.
When I returned to Gilbert in a reporter role, I inquired about my old friend. He was then working for the Town of Gilbert and was described by one and all as one of the town’s greatest assets.
I never made it to actually see him after that but I did talk with him by phone. It was easy to see that broad smile and friendly character as I listened to him tell me about his experiences since giving up coaching. He was as humble as ever, brushing off my repeated comments about his coaching skills. Jerry Miller was the consummate human being. I regret taking so long to praise him but I know he knew what I thought about him.
His death came abruptly and an entire town, county and region mourned.
As his obituary said, “He was a man that could light up a room with his smile, and could make your bad day better with just his laughter. His kind heart and loving smile will be greatly missed by all those who were fortunate enough to have been a part of his life.”
I’m glad I met Jerry Miller. Coach, you are sadly missed.
A tribute page for the coach has been set up on Facebook.
by Ron Gregory