Kent Miller spent 10 years as an assistant for the U.S. Women's National Team
March 20, 2009
In making his choice for assistant coach, Kevin Hambly was looking for someone who could help engineer a championship at Illinois. It seems no better person to do that than hiring an engineer, which he did in Kent Miller.
Miller possesses an analytical mind and naturally gravitated to the math and sciences growing up. He majored in engineering physics at Oregon State University, but along the way volleyball diverted his attention.
Miller is a native of Anchorage, Alaska, a place unique in culture and beauty.
"It has a diverse culture with a lot of adventuresome people," Miller said. "The beauty is overwhelming. Growing up there, you are tied to it in some ways. It was a great experience."
It's not everywhere you have friends whose parents owned gold mines, but such are the interesting people that populate that great state. Miller's father was an optometrist who grew up in the construction business, so Kent has lived the motto of Home Depot - "You can build it, we can help."
The family also loved to spend as much time as they could outside, no matter the temperature. He enjoyed skiing and played hockey, a sport he still enjoys. But he knew his skills on the ice weren't going to take him to the next level and he started playing volleyball recreationally.
It was that interest that led Miller to play club volleyball at Oregon State and to volunteer as a student assistant for the women's team in Corvallis.
"I don't really know why I did it; I just thought it would interesting," Miller said of his pursuit of student coaching.
From there, it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time. He worked for two head coaches, the second of which was Jim Iams. At the time OSU played in the same women's conference as the University of Pacific, led by legendary coach Terry Liskeyvich. The son of Soviet refugees, Liskeyvich led Pacific to six conference titles and to third place in the 1984 NCAA Tournament.
In 1985, Liskeyvich was named head coach of the U.S. women's volleyball national team. He brought Iams on board in 1985 and Miller followed in 1987.
"My dad thought I was crazy," Miller said of his career path. " Looking back at it, though, I probably realized that while I liked the engineering education, I would have been working at a cubicle and on part of some chip or on a defense contract. I was more of a people person."
Miller worked alongside Liskeyvich for ten years, serving first as technical coordinator, then as offensive coordinator. Liskeyvich had been assigned the daunting task of rebuilding a team that saw all the players and coaches leave following the 1984 Olympics. In 1987, the U.S. won bronze at the Pan-American Games. The team qualified for the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, where the U.S. won bronze in Barcelona in `92. The United States also won gold at the 1995 World Grand Prix.
"I often learned as much from the players as they did from me," Miller recalls of his days with the U.S. National Team. "It provided me exposure to a whole variety of ways volleyball can be played. Each country has their own systems or styles, but they are still successful."
Miller added some professional head coaching experience in addition to that with the national team. His experience includes coaching the San Diego Spikers to the National Volleyball Association title in both 1994 and 1995, while also guiding Team Forster to fourth on the Bud Light Pro Beach Tour and Team Chrysler to the gold medal at the 1993 America's Festival.
One of the biggest perks of the job was traveling the world. Among his favorite cities are Montrose, Switzerland, and Hong Kong, as well as some of the smaller isolated towns in China.
In 1997, Miller took the head coaching job at the University of Toledo, where he spent the last 12 seasons.
"It was an opportunity to get back into college coaching at Division I with the ability to have an impact on kids' lives," Miller said. "It's a wonderful time between the ages of 17 and 22, and a chance to play a role in how students develop is what I love about coaching at this level."
At Toledo, Miller inherited a program that had just two winning seasons in 17 seasons, yet had some success in his years with the Rockets. That included a 17-11 campaign in 2001, back-to-back winning seasons in 2004 and 2005 and two semifinal appearances in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
In coming to Illinois, Miller has the opportunity to work with a program expected to be ranked in the top 10 at the start of the 2009 season. The Illini are coming off a Sweet 16 season and have strong recruiting classes in the wings. Miller has known Hambly and former head coach Don Hardin for a number of years and coached one of Illinois' all-time greats, Mary Eggers, on the U.S. National Team.
"Illinois has a great history and tradition that only a handful schools can boast about," Miller said. "I know what volleyball means to this community."
Miller has seen the game grow over the past quarter century. In reflecting back on his experiences with the game, Miller says, "The top level of volleyball has always been very good, it just hasn't been as deep as it is now. Volleyball is getting the athletes that were playing basketball seven or eight years ago. The Big Ten Network and the general exposure of volleyball on TV have made it a very cool sport for girls to play."
Miller has been on the job for just few weeks. He brings with him his wife, Melissa, a Duke grad and an avid basketball fan. In addition to volleyball, he shares the same passion for a family environment that has been established by Hardin.
"The family environment of collegiate athletics is wonderful," Miller said. "This is a fantastic opportunity for me with a great staff. There are a lot of things in place to be really good, and I'm excited about what that means for our student-athletes. There are very few limits on just how good we could be."