One-on-One with Edinboro Offensive Coordinator Mike Miller

Tyler Trumbauer/Spectator
Mike Miller (right) talks to quarterback Cody Harris on the sideline during the season-opening game vs. Carson Newman in Jefferson City, Tn.
Miller talks about days in NFL, CFL

By: Mike Fenner

Staff Writer

Mike Fenner: “What’s your experience been like in year one at Edinboro and just coming in late to the game?”

Mike Miller: “It’s been great, it really has been. Unfortunately, our record is what it is. I think everybody’s frustrated with that, but coming in with two weeks before training camp, overall I feel like the offense has made strides each week (and) have gotten better. We’ve been able to execute better I think as the year’s gone on. I really enjoy it, and for me getting back to western Pennsylvania, I went to Clarion so I was aware of Edinboro’s tradition and I really enjoy coach [Scott] Browning and the rest of the staff. It’s been great for me and a big plus for me was having Kevin Sonnie. It was an unfortunate situation for him, (he) sustained a final concussion in training camp, but he transitioned right over coaching our receivers and helping me out. That’s been a huge plus for me this year.”

MF: “What was the adjustment like for you coming down to the Division II level and making that transition coming into this coaching staff?”

MM: “The thing for me, for the most part was really just getting the offense built on a college hash. That was probably the biggest adjustment and that was an adjustment. We’re really blessed here, we’ve got some really good players, but they’re also great people and I’ve always said that I feel that we have a good starting point, but we like to take input. I leaned on those guys a lot for adjusting splits and depths and some of the reads based on a college field, but for the most part other than that I worked with Joe Walton at Robert Morris when I was a GA (Graduate Assistant) and he had a long, successful career in the NFL and one thing he used to say back then was ‘their minds are the same, just their bodies are different’, bigger, stronger, faster in the NFL and I use the same approach here. It’s the same offense we used in Arizona, in Buffalo, in Pittsburgh. I tweaked it some with our zone-read schemes from Canada, but I mean that really was the adjustment, was the college hash. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same as I’ve always done it.”

MF: “What were some of your expectations and goals coming into this season working with these new guys and trying to implement your pro style attack?”

MM: “For our goal, our goal always is to win a championship, (and) that’s why we’re here. We fell short and that’s disappointing. What we wanted to achieve with the offense is just to be able to execute the plays, get better each week, and we’re always talking about our preparation. Our focus is on detail and urgency of preparation. We want to get better each day. Execute the play, understand the dynamics involved, how it works, how we communicate, and let’s get better with each play, each practice, each day, each game. That’s really what are focus always is.”

MF: “What was your experience like in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes, and then how do you bring some of those dynamics to Edinboro?”

MM: “Well, Canada was interesting on many levels. For an offensive guy, it’s a lot of fun. You can motion everywhere, multiple guys in motion, shifting. Now only having two downs before you have to make a decision to punt or not, I mean only having three total downs is a lot different. The zone-read schemes were a big thing we brought down here (and) some of our rollout concepts I brought down here.  Ultimately, it just really wasn’t something that was for me and I was disappointed in some things up there with that particular organization, but the football aspect of it was a lot of fun. The zone-reads and the rollout schemes were the big thing that I was able to take from there and implement it right into our game.”

MF: “How was your experience in the National Football League, with Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Arizona, some of those relationships you made and some of the friendships you have from working with those guys?”

MM: “A big thing for me is the education I got while I was there. From all the way from a quality control guy, an assistant under Bill Cowher, that’s where I first worked with Russ Grimm, one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. I was also lucky too, when I was a GA at Robert Morris I was with Joe Walton and Dan Radakovich, was really the cornerstone of what I do coaching wise. Into Buffalo, working with Tom Clements (who) became our coordinator…I can name guys that have all impacted me. Sam Wyche was on our staff there, Eric Studesville, Tyke Tolbert, and Frank Verducci. And then when I had a chance to go to Arizona, I did a lot of work. Todd (Haley) and I put that offense together and working with Kurt Warner and I had Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, and then becoming the coordinator and working with Frank Reich (who) became our receivers coach. I was still was with Russ Grimm. It’s the techniques that you learn, the fundamentals that you learn, situational strategies that you learn, how to attack coverages on a level that you’re dissecting each week and you’re around these great minds. Mike Mularkey, Bob Bratkowski, they have different packages. My first coordinator was Kevin Gilbride; that’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around. Just attacking these defenses, understanding how to adjust protections, and coach Browning, that guy’s forgotten more about football than most will ever know. It’s been great. This guy is a wealth of knowledge and it’s been great with him. Jim Henson is another one, (he’s) been around football for so long. It all ties in together and it’s all God, really for me. I’ve just been fortunate to be where I’ve been.”

MF: “How unique and special was it to work with a guy like Kurt Warner who made the transition to a school like Northern Iowa to the CFL and then making the leap and doing some of the things he was able to do in the NFL with appearing in multiple Super Bowls and winning a Super Bowl?”

MM: “I would say that Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner are very close in that they’re even better people than they are players. That’s obviously saying a lot, because I think they’re both Hall of Famers, but Kurt and I had a great relationship. See, I’ve scratched and clawed my way up and been blessed to be around good people and so was Kurt. Kurt would talk about his bagging groceries stories and I’d say, ‘Listen, I was unloading Fed Ex planes from two till eight in the morning while I was at Robert Morris, I don’t want to hear about your grocery bag stories’ and we’d laugh and it was great. Kurt, it was a week to week mental sparring all week and it made us both…it made me a lot better and hopefully it made him a lot better too. He’s just an amazing quarterback. His anticipation, his knowledge of the game, his understanding where the weak spots are in coverages and protections and so it was great to work with a mind like that and then you put it with his physical ability and then like I said, on top of all of that, just the human being that he is just made it so much fun to come to work every day.”

MF: “Having a group of wide receivers like Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, how fun was it to work with those guys on a daily basis with just all the talent in the room that you had?”

MM: “It was a lot of fun, in fact, we had Sean Morey who was also in that room, was the NFL special teams Pro Bowler. Kurt was a Pro Bowler and then the two receivers (Boldin and Fitzgerald) were Pro Bowlers and Steve was in his second year and got a thousand yards. The things that you can do with them are unlimited; the ideas were unlimited. Like I said about each one of those guys, not only did they have great ability, but their work ethic was great, their attention to detail, their sense of urgency and again the human beings that they were, that’s what makes people special and it all starts with the quarterback; don’t ever kid yourself. We had Kurt and he was able to do great things with some great players on the perimeter so it was a lot of fun. It was a year I’ll never forget (Arizona’s Super Bowl run in Feb. of 2009) and I still draw on lessons that I learned from teaching those guys to this very position here. And so I was very lucky.”

MF: “At any level, who do you think is the best player or most coachable player that you’ve coached in your career to this point?”

MM: “Anthony Wright was a running back that we had, ‘A-Wright’ we called him, in Arizona. He went to Northwestern, got a free agent (deal) out of Cleveland and that’s a special human being…and Alan Faneca, another special human being. They have all been very coachable. Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston for sure, Early Doucet, Andre Hastings, Kurt Warner, guys in Buffalo, Ryan Neufeld, Mark Bruener from the Steelers…so for me they’ve all been very coachable. It’s just, I have some very special memories of some people and often times these are the guys that are probably some of the greatest people I’ve ever known and so that’s what’s special for me.”

MF: “What are the relationships like for you with yourself and Ken Whisenhunt and Todd Haley specifically?”

MM: “It’s very professional. Todd and I worked together for two years and then he went off to Kansas City. He unfortunately, I think they had one season where they did make the playoffs, but a lot of things contribute to why the wheels will come off so to speak so that’s always tough, but Todd’s gone on to do some good things in Pittsburgh. As of late, I believe they’re having a pretty good season, unfortunately really I don’t have a chance to watch really a lot of NFL right now because of how much time it takes for us to do our jobs. Whiz (Whisenhunt) went to Tennessee. I know some guys on his staff. He’s done some good things there in preparation. They’re having a tough year, but when you come in your first season sometimes it’s trying to figure out who you want, who fits, who doesn’t fit, it’s a learning process and they’re going to get it going down there. They’re going to have some free agency periods and the draft’s coming up so they’ve done it before. They’ve got a phenomenal staff and I have all the belief that they’ll get it going.”

MF: “With Cody Harris, a sixth year guy at quarterback here at Edinboro, with some of the things that he’s done what were your initial thoughts and expectations of him and now what do you make of him now that you’ve got to work with him as your quarterback in this offense?”

MM: “That’s a good question. Cody, coming in it’s a special circumstance, he’s a sixth year senior, had a redshirt then had a medical redshirt and really I just felt real lucky to have him. Anytime you come in that quick before training camp, it’s great to have an experienced guy. He’s got a great mind, has excellent ability, can extend plays, makes plays on the run, and I would put him in that same category with all of these other people I’ve mentioned. He’s an even better person and so that really makes my job easier. He’s been great. The things we’ve been able to do this year, it’s funny we laugh and say ‘imagine if we had just one more year or two more years’ because really there are certain other phases of the offense that I never even put in yet, because we just didn’t have the time, but he’s also done a great job mentoring Jake Sisson. Jake’s got a great future in front of him and his future has been greatly impacted by having the opportunity of also working with Cody. Cody takes his mentoringship very seriously too and he’s a good leader. Edinboro’s lucky to have had him for the time they’ve had him.”