Maryland football co-offensive coordinator Mike Miller is rising fast

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Not long ago, Mike Miller’s coaching résumé included just two seasons as a student assistant for college teams. Miller, then a 25-year-old buzzing with energy, wasn’t far removed from his own football career, so the head coach at Charlotte Christian reminded him during summer workouts that, as the offensive coordinator, he needed to keep his T- shirt on. The responsibility of calling plays lured Miller to the position, and he led the unit to the state championship game.

The stint in Charlotte served as “a sweet little landing spot for our first year of marriage,” said Miller’s wife, Megan, who worked as an assistant in the school’s kindergarten program.

Miller taught teenagers offensive schemes, and he also pressure-washed stadium stands, zip-tied banners to the baseball field’s outfield fence, took out the trash and cut grass. He still talks about the baseball field, which drivers can see from the main road. Miller wanted it to look pristine, so where the infield turf met the grass, he trimmed with scissors.

“It was his pride and joy to cut it the right way,” said Miller’s dad, Mike, who lives a mile from Charlotte Christian and passes the school on his way to work.

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The landscaping memories remind Miller of the magnitude of his jump and how far he’s come — because those days weren’t long ago. After arriving at Maryland as an assistant coach, Miller marveled at the absurdity: two-and-a-half years before he had been a high school coordinator who also cut grass.

After that 2016 season with Charlotte Christian, Miller’s rapid climb up the coaching ladder began. Two seasons as an Alabama graduate assistant led him to the Terrapins’ program, where he’s the co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. When Michael Locksley hired Miller, he was a mostly unknown assistant with just five years of coaching experience. But in that stretch, he worked under some of the game’s most respected coaches, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, and amassed three playoff appearances, two conference championships and a national title — all before he turned 28.

With the Terps, he has jumped from tight ends coach to passing game coordinator to his expanded role now while landing on lists that recognize fast-rising assistants. Miller could have left for an elevated role at a Power Five school after last season — when Maryland’s offense soared and tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo became a fourth-round NFL draft pick — but he stayed in College Park with the promotion to co-offensive coordinator.

Miller, 31, wants to be a head coach one day, but “until then,” he said this past spring, “just bloom where I’m planted, do a great job and see it through.”

Connie Miller can picture her son’s gritted teeth and determined answer to a simple question. She asked why he wanted to play quarterback, wondering if he enjoyed the popularity. Her youngest child explained he wanted to lead.

“That’s why he liked the quarterback position, even though he wasn’t very good,” Miller’s dad said. “Connie wouldn’t tell you that. Connie would say he was an all-American.”

Miller and his mom have the same unwavering optimism. She believed her son could be the starting quarterback at Ole Miss, the alma mater of both parents. Miller’s dad, a former walk-on receiver for the Rebels, had a more realistic view. When Miller navigated the recruiting process, which Connie compared to dating, many coaches showed interest, she said, “but no one really pulled the ring out.”

Miller joined UAB’s program as a walk-on and eventually earned a scholarship, despite never playing a snap in a game. (His dad jokes his career topped that of his son, because he appeared in a total of seven plays.) Miller transitioned to student coaching after a shoulder injury and as his long-held aspirations in this profession crystallized inside his mind.

“Mikey has had a laser focus on what he feels like he’s called to,” his mom said.

Miller’s dad is a pastor, and his grandfather, once a football player at Duke, was a fighter pilot in the Air Force for three decades. As a third-generation college football player, Miller became the first to channel a shared yearning for leadership into coaching.

When the UAB program shut down after Miller’s season as a student assistant, he headed to Clemson. hey needed a waiver from the NCAA to finish his degree at UAB while coaching for the Tigers. Miller slept at the houses of friends and sometimes on an air mattress at the football facility. Following Swinney’s advice, Miller then took the high school job to learn how to call plays. Jason Estep, the head coach at Charlotte Christian, gave Miller control of an offense that had a future ACC starting quarterback and was in the midst of changing its identity.

“It will not surprise me that he will be the next up-and-coming offensive coordinator around college football,” Estep said, adding that eventually, “somebody’s going to get a real dedicated young head coach.”

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After the season at Charlotte Christian, Miller interviewed for a high school head coaching job and a graduate assistant position at Duke. He didn’t land either. He turned his attention toward a quality control role at Tennessee. Then Jody Wright, at the time a support staffer at Alabama and previously a UAB assistant, asked if Miller had interest in a role with the Crimson Tide.

Wright told Miller to send his résumé, and he’d get it to Saban. Miller drove to Tuscaloosa instead. Estep calls this a “classic Mike Miller” story.

Miller had accepted that he probably wouldn’t get the job. As he began to leave Alabama’s facility, he ran into Saban in a hallway. Wright introduced Miller, explaining he was on his way to interview at Tennessee. Saban responded, “Wouldn’t you want to just GA here?” A few hours later, after meeting numerous coaches, Miller had the position.

“It’s just in his blood to figure out a way,” Miller’s wife said. “If he wants it to work, he’s going to do everything he can to make it work.”

After Miller arrived at Maryland, he explained how he wanted to coach his position group. Saban-esque principals about the process collided with Swinney-esque philosophies about how he’d love his players. Miller’s dad describes Alabama as a program, with Saban the “quintessential manager.” Clemson feels like a community. Both have been successful, and Miller learned from each.

During the season, coaches work long days, so Megan and the three children visit campus a couple times a week — something the Millers carried with them from Clemson. They value even five minutes together. Those moments can be the “glue,” Megan said, amid the hectic lifestyle.

“It’s not just his thing,” she said. “We’re all part of it.”

Five-year-old Bo pretends to be quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and throws a ball to his 3-year-old brother, Grisham, telling him, “Here you go, CJ, catch it!” as though he’s tight end CJ Dippre.

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Megan brings them to the home games with seven-month-old Mary Caitlin strapped to her chest. They enjoy seeing their dad and the players during the Terp Walk before games. Bo has started to get rowdy as he cheers for his dad’s tight ends — at least when he’s not occupied by Legos. They usually make it a quarter or two before the kids are ready to leave.

Miller’s dad visited last week, and before 7 am, the boys had turned on the light and greeted him by saying, “Pops, let’s play!” (Afterward, he was sore from all the playtime.) By that early hour, Miller is heading to College Park, and Megan is taking on another day of the delightful chaos.

At night, Mike and Megan talk about the players as though they are their own kids. They pray for them and feel a responsibility to be a constant source of support.

This is what Miller always wanted — to be a college football coach and to lead young men — but it all happened almost. His dad sometimes sends him pictures of Charlotte Christian’s baseball field to conjure up some memories. And when Miller visited last summer, he headed over to the school. Miller wanted to reflect, so he sat on the lawn mower alone with nostalgia, remembering where he started and how far he’s gone.

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