Legends: Rick Miller meant a lot to Hancock athletics
HANCOCK — While his talents as an athlete were outstanding, the late Rick Miller used motivation to succeed in every other area.
Miller was involved in Hancock area sports for better than five decades and he forged a record that went beyond the lines.
Jerry Parker, who coached Miller, and has been involved in Bulldogs’ athletics for nearly 60 years as a player, coach and administrator, said Miller knew how to motivate people.
“Rick was one of those kind of people who used motivation to get the best out of his students, players and teammates,” Parker commented. “He was a very good athlete himself … later in his career … and he learned how to get the most out of his skills.”
Growing up in Hancock, he had a good role model in older brother Don.
“I followed Don wherever he went,” Rick said in a 2002 interview. “Whether it was on the baseball field or the hockey rink, I was there.”
Smallish in high school (about 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds), Rick grew to 6-1, 205 pounds by the time he was out of school.
“He (Miller) just got bigger with age, the way you see a lot of Finnish kids do,” said teammate Rich Salani, who was a Hancock standout in football, basketball and track along with classmate Bill Tarbox.
And while he provided a lot of help for the Bulldogs teams of the late 1960s, Miller hit his stride after leaving high school.
He earned his college degree at Northern Michigan University, where he played on NMU’s first hockey team.
He returned to HCHS as a math/computer teacher in 1975 and quickly became a coach in several sports, including hockey, football, basketball, golf and track
He was also active in independent sports, playing baseball and basketball.
Current Hancock athletic director Chris Salani, who was on the same Twilight League baseball team, remembered him as an intense competitor.
“Rick always played to win but he was always teaching out there,” Chris Salani said a few years ago. “He was looking for ways to help you get better.”
As a member of the Bulldogs football and hockey teams, Givens said that winning the state hockey title in 1999 was special to his former coach.
“That really meant a lot to him,” Givens said. “He had helped his brother win a state title as an ‘unofficial’ assistant coach in 1982. That one ranked up there.”
With a record of 357-239-22 between 1981 and 2004, Rick combined with his brother to record the most wins nationally for a hockey brother coaching duo.
The Miller brothers head-to-head coaching record was virtually even (57-57-1 after 20 years) before Rick gained a slight edge in the last few seasons they faced each other.
Playing for the Superior National Bank baseball team, he managed that team to several league and playoff titles with players like Doug Larson, Dave Plowe, Dennis Raasio, John Hosking and Tom and Tim Kearly.
Possessing a strong arm, Miller pitched and played shortstop for the Bank.
Playing against a Felch team that featured former Detroit hurlers John Hiller and Mark “The Bird” Fidyrch was a special moment.
He also organized the WMPL Radio basketball, which dominated the local league and captured many invitational tournaments around the Upper Peninsula.
He had the opportunity to coach his two sons, Blake and Owen, in high school. Both of them went to star for the Finlandia University hockey team.
Also an official in hockey and basketball, Miller earned recognition in those sports for his many years of service.
Rick passed away in 2008 after a long battle with cancer in California where he was an assistant hockey coach for San Diego State University. His brother Don, died a couple of years later.
Givens said having Miller as a coach gave his teams an edge.
“He put a lot of work into preparing us for the next opponent,” Givens commented. “He was a teacher and motivator … a great guy to have on your side.”
Givens passed his former coach for career hockey victories at Traverse City Central High this past year and was named to the Michigan High School Hockey Hall of Fame as well.