October 29, 2009 8:35:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
MACON -- The toothpick and straw hat have become his trademarks.
Noxubee County High School football coach M.C. Miller can roll a toothpick in his mouth as he shouts instructions to his players or as he talks to a reporter.
The straw hat usually remains atop his head to cover his graying hair and his salt-and-pepper beard.
But Miller has become known for something more important in his second stint as football coach at Noxubee County: Winning.
"(The players) love playing for him," Caledonia High football coach David Boykin said. "He is a disciplinarian first and foremost and he knows football. He is one of the best football coaches I have been around. He knows how to get the kids to play for him, too. His philosophy is to play good defense, and what he''s selling they buy into it."
The veteran head coach has guided the Tigers to six seasons of 10 wins or more this decade, including consecutive trips to the Class 4A title game.
Noxubee County broke through last season when it defeated D''Iberville 12-10 to win its first state title.
The Tigers hope to make it seven seasons with at least 10 victories in a season this decade tonight (7) when they play host to Caledonia (0-9) in a Class 4A, Region 4, District 4 matchup. The game was moved from Friday to try to avoid expected bad weather in the area.
Noxubee County (9-1, 4-0 district) defeated Louisville 28-0 last week to secure the No. 1 seed in the district. The title is the latest piece of hardware Miller has added to the school''s trophy case.
But success in football wasn''t always the norm at Noxubee County.
The Tigers suffered through a 1-9-1 season in 1994 under coach Sam Williams. Miller returned the following season after serving as defensive coordinator for eight years at Louisville High. The Tigers went 2-8-1 in 1995 and 4-7 in 1996 before the program started to reverse its fortunes.
Noxubee County went 9-2 and 8-3 in 1997 and ''98 before it slipped to 3-8 in ''99, one of two losing seasons in the past 11 years. Noxubee County was 4-5 and didn''t make the playoffs in 2006.
This decade, the Tigers are 93-29. Miller credits a talented and ever-changing group of assistant coaches for helping him establish, fortify, and sustain a program that has earned the reputation as one of the state''s best, regardless of classification.
Boykin, who is in his second stint as head coach at Caledonia High, served as offensive coordinator when the Tigers were building their program. He said Miller never ran up the score on opponents and relied on a stout defense to put it in position to win championships.
"He has one of the best defenses in the state every year," Boykin said. "They feed off the way he coaches. He puts kids in position to make plays ad he lets them play. Just look at what he has done there. He took a bottom of the barrel program and has built it into a state powerhouse. I have a lot of respect for him, and I loved coaching for him."
Tyrone Shorter, who is the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, has been with Miller for the past 11 seasons. He said Miller is "a legend coach" in Noxubee County who has coached many of the fathers of the current group of Tigers.
While some might think Miller''s age wouldn''t allow him to relate to the kids, Shorter said Miller is equally tough and loving with his players, which helps build team chemistry.
"He is a good role model, he is a good motivator, and the kids look up to him," Shorter said. "We work good together as a coaching staff."
Shorter said the Tigers are successful because they instill one system in the Pee Wee ranks and the players use it at every level until they get to the high school level. Once there, the transition time is limited and Miller and the coaches can focus on trying to get the players to reach their potential.
Miller said it was OK to call his approach "tough love." Shorter agrees.
"The kids know coach Miller doesn''t take nothing," Shorter said. "He expects great things from them. He teaches discipline and what he expects from them in the classroom and on the streets. He is constantly talking to them about drugs. He teaches them, and all of us do, to be a man."
Miller, who also coached track and field, also has coached his share of young women who have grown up to be parents of his players. He said a "tough love" policy isn''t difficult to balance because he can get the best out of players.
"They know if they can''t take a scolding they don''t need to be out here," Miller said. "I don''t allow them to scold each other because they''re going to get enough from the coaches."
Miller also doesn''t allow himself or his players to boast or brag. He has coached long enough to know winning isn''t guaranteed, so when people ask him if his team is going to win tonight, he will say, "We''re going to play hard."
That has been more than enough this decade to ensure a lot of success.
"As long as my kids give me their best effort and I feel like they''re giving me their best effort, I am satisfied," Miller said. "We''re just going to keep doing the things that we do best. Two things we work on are being quick and being aggressive."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.