CROOKSTON, Minn. -– Minnesota-Crookston football coach Paul Miller has announced that he will take a leave of absence from the football program, effective immediately, due to health concerns. Mike Fritze, who joined the staff in January as the team’s defensive coordinator, will take over as interim head coach.

“Over an extended period of time since starting my job here at UMC I have experienced and continue to deal with a number of interrelated medical problems,” said Miller. “It has been recommended to me by several doctors that I need to confront these issues, and not shove them to the background. This decision is very difficult due to my love for what I do and the people I have the good fortune of being connected with here at UMC. However, it is a decision in the big picture of life made with the belief that it is the correct step to take for myself and my family.”

Miller led the team to its best record in four seasons as the Golden Eagles defeated Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opponents Southwest Minnesota State University and University of Mary to finish 2-9 in 2012. The pair of conference victories was the most NSIC wins for the program since 2004 when the Golden Eagles defeated MSU-Moorhead and Wayne State (Neb.). In addition, the Golden Eagles had one of their most prolific offensive seasons in the program’s history as they set many career and season marks for passing. UMC also boasted one of the program’s all-time leading rushers last season in Richard Haley, who would earn his second consecutive nod on the NSIC North Division First Team.

"I want to thank Coach Miller for his tireless dedication to the football program. We have made great strides under his leadership, and my thoughts are with him and his family," Stephanie Helgeson, Minnesota-Crookston director of athletics said. "I have great confidence in Mike Fritze’s ability to step in and continue to move the football program forward. Coach Fritze is an accomplished coach, and I believe he is the right fit for the program at this time."

Fritze, who will take the reins of the Golden Eagle program for the 2013 season, has worked closely with Miller in the past as the two coaches have a 32-year coaching relationship that dates back to when Fritze started as an assistant coach under Miller in 1981 at Apple Valley High School. Fritze worked 14 seasons under Miller at Apple Valley High School and was a part of Miller’s state championship teams in 1986 and '93. He would take over the football program at Apple Valley in 1995 and lead the Eagles for the next 18 seasons. Last season, Fritze helped lead Apple Valley to an 8-3 record and their first state playoff berth since 1993 when they won the state championship under Miller.

“Mike Fritze will be a tremendous leader for UMC football,” Miller said. “I know from first-hand experience working with Coach Fritze over a number of years that he is both a fantastic football coach and person. Furthermore, without question the growth and improvement of the Golden Eagle football program will continue under his direction.”

In addition to coaching football, Fritze was also the head boy’s basketball coach and an assistant track and field coach. He coached a combined 103 seasons between the three sports at Apple Valley High School. He led the Eagle basketball program to two state tournament appearances.

“I feel very fortunate and honored to have this opportunity to work with a great group of people at UMC, and to be a head coach in this conference,” Fritze said. “Chancellor Fred Wood and athletic director Stephanie Helgeson offer tremendous support for the football program. Head coach Paul Miller has everything ready to go, enabling us to hit the ground running.”

Mark Dufner, who has spent the past 11 seasons at UMC under three head coaches will move into Fritze’s former role as defensive coordinator and will also remain as the program’s assistant head coach while coaching the linebackers. Jeff Cheek who spent last season as the offensive coordinator for Miller will remain in that role. Sean Knox will remain as the team’s defensive back coach and strength training coordinator, while Robby Case will serve as the program’s recruiting coordinator and special team’s coordinator, in addition to his role as the team’s fullback and tight ends coach.

UMC will work to fill the remaining two spots on the football staff for a quarterbacks and wide receivers coach and a defensive line coach.