Miller steps down from 'dream job'
The decorated Wartburg coach will retire after this season
WAVERLY, Iowa -- Jim Miller, Wartburg’s co-head coach, announced Tuesday he will step down from his position following the 2012-13 season. Current co-head coach Eric Keller will continue to oversee the program.
Miller, a member of six athletic halls of fame, will remain at Wartburg and serve in other capacities still to be determined.
Since coming to Wartburg in 1991, Miller has amassed a career record of 394-34-2, won nine Division III team championships, 20 consecutive Iowa Conference championships and six National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) dual championships. The Knights haven’t lost in 157 dual meets against Iowa Conference opponents since 1993-94.
Miller has coached 34 individual national champions, 138 All-Americans and 70 NWCA Academic All-Americans.
“This was not a spur of the moment decision. I’ve thought about it a great deal over these last five years,” said Miller. “Sometimes in life you may not have a lot of specific reasons why you know it’s right at this time, but you just know. The Wartburg College wrestling program has been the majority of my life’s work. This coming season will be my 22nd at Wartburg and 37th overall. I am very, very proud of what has transpired here with our student-athletes on and off the mat.”
“For me Wartburg College wrestling became my dream job,” Miller said. “I found that there were no limits on what you could accomplish here, if you were willing to work hard at it and dedicate yourself to your dream, no matter how high that dream might be. I am excited about this season and I wanted to get this announcement behind us so all would know the situation up front and our team and staff could move on and attack the upcoming year.”
Wartburg Athletic Director Rick Willis praised Miller for “diligently preparing our program and the college for this eventually.”
“Sooner or later,” Willis said, “we all reach that moment when we know it’s the right time to make a change. Jim has made sure we have the perfect succession plan in place. We couldn’t ask for a better choice to step into Jim’s shoes. Jim Miller’s impact on our wrestling program, athletic department and college is immeasurable. We are all indebted to Jim for his tremendous work and service.”
Miller’s new role at Wartburg remains under discussion.
“We are indeed fortunate that Jim will remain at Wartburg,” Willis said. “Jim has many skills and talents to offer. He is a teacher, a motivator and a leader. We look forward to engaging his energy, insight and passion in new ways. We have several ideas about how best to use his talents. We’ll take the next several months to choose exactly the right ideas that mesh with Jim’s goals and Wartburg’s needs.”
Wartburg President Darrel Colson lauded Miller’s contributions as a coach and teacher.
“Not only has Coach Jim Miller put together a wrestling program that is the envy of the nation, but he has lived the Wartburg mission in a way that I envy,” Colson said. “His coaching really is teaching, guiding and mentoring in ways that all of us can admire. Many of his wrestlers have gone on to become coaches. They’ve carried with them the Wartburg mission that Jim has lived out...in every conceivable workplace.”
Miller wrestled at the University of Northern Iowa, where he had a 128-22 record while winning Division II championships in 1974 and 1975. After coaching at the high school level, he was the top assistant coach at UNI from 1983-91.
Miller has been inducted into six halls of fame — NWCA Divisions II and III, Glen Brands Wrestling, University of Northern Iowa Athletics, East Waterloo High School Athletics and Iowa Wrestling in Cresco.
Keller was named co-head coach of the program in March 2010. He had served as Miller’s assistant at Wartburg from 2000-05 and was part of five consecutive IIAC championships and NCAA national championships in 2003 and 2004. He left Wartburg briefly to become head coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., where he guided the Cardinals to a perfect dual-meet record in 2006 with three Division III All-Americans. He was named the NWCA’s Rookie Coach of the Year.
He returned to Wartburg the next year as associate head coach. In 2008-09, he was named NWCA’s Division III Assistant Coach of the Year. In the last three years, the Knights have won the Iowa Conference tournament title and claimed three national championships. The duo of Miller and Keller received Coach of the Year honors.
Keller was an NCAA All-American and Academic All-American for the Panthers. He had been a two-time state champion for Indianola High School, compiling a 161-10-1 record.
“Obviously, it makes it easier knowing that Eric Keller is totally ready to take the full reins,” Miller said. “The more he has taken over in the last five years the better we have done, and that’s not a coincidence. We have won four out of five championships in that time span. When the opportunity came to get him back [from North Central College], I did, knowing he was the right guy to take over at some point.”
Willis believes Keller will help the team transition at the end of the season without missing a beat. “No one knows better than Eric Keller how big those shoes are, but at the same time, no one is better prepared to step into them.”
Keller shares Miller's goals for Wartburg's future. "For me, helping our student-athletes become great men both on and off the mat, and winning championships are my passions,” Keller said. “There is a tradition of excellence that Coach Miller has established, and I look forward to continuing it.”