Retired director of athletics Don Miller, who served the University for 34 years, passed away October 11. He was 86.
Born November 20, 1934, in Bottineau, North Dakota, he received his BS from the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, in 1956 after an outstanding playing career where he lettered in four sports. He then played with the Minor Mallards semi-pro baseball team for three months before moving to Siskiyou County to coach basketball and track at Happy Camp High School, the start of an illustrious decades-long coaching career. In 1958, he accepted a job at Willows High School, where he coached, taught, and served as athletic director for several years.
In 1967, he was hired as an assistant football coach at Chico State, and three years later he was also made the head baseball coach, leading the Wildcats to 332 victories over the next 15 years.
He completed his master’s degree at Chico State in 1971 and continued coaching golf and teaching kinesiology until his retirement in 2002.
In 1986, he was named the director of Athletics. During his tenure, he led the completion of a new all-weather track, helped develop a booster’s club to create more financial support for the programs, and created a sports information director position to communicate about the teams. He was also instrumental in establishing the groundwork leading the induction of former student-athletes into the Chico State Athletic Hall of Fame. He was an honorary inductee himself in 2006.
Don Carlsen (Business Administration, ’69) played football for Miller during his last season as a running back and fondly remembers the expertise and attitude he brought to the gridiron. He often told his players that if they wanted to be champions, they needed a love of the game, discipline, and a commitment to self-improvement.
“He was so knowledgeable. I loved his demeanor, and how he approached the game and student-athletes. We loved playing for him,” Carlson said. “The word that comes to mind is ‘respect.’ Some coaches demand respect whether they earn it or not. Don was not like that—he earned the respect of his players because of how he treated them.”
Retired Coach Dick Trimmer and Miller both started as football coaches the same year and spent six years together at the helm. One of his most treasured memories is when they took the Wildcats to the Camellia Bowl in 1971. Even though they suffered a heartbreaking loss, losing to Boise State 32-28, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play and represent Chico State at that level—and Miller was instrumental in making it happen.
“He was an excellent teacher. He was firm, and a good communicator,” Trimmer said. “Like all of us, he was very demanding of our players, but he respected his players. And he was so proud of that team.”
In addition to Miller’s passion for playing and teaching sports, he enjoyed many hobbies through the years, including family ski and boating trips, hunting ducks and pheasants, gardening, playing bridge and puzzling, and spending time with friends and family.
He is survived by his siblings Elain Fiskum, Marlene Root, and Byron Miller; children Greg Miller, Tamara Kozloski, SueAnne Lawson, and Lisa Breuner; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A service will be held on Friday, October 22, at 9:30 a.m. at the Glen Oak Cemetery, followed by a reception at Canyon Oaks Country Club at 11 a.m.
The University flag will be lowered Monday, October 25, in his memory.