March 31, 2011 9:58:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Jay Miller''s appreciation of the game won''t let him indulge in the career milestone he''s approaching.
The Mississippi State softball coach has 997 career wins in a 29-year career in the college game.
Miller could earn win No. 1,000 this weekend if the Bulldogs sweep their three-game series against the University of Mississippi. That series will begin at 5 p.m. Friday in Starkville.
For a coach who has trained 48 All-Southeastern Conference players and 11 All-Americans in the past 13 years, Miller hasn''t given much thought to becoming the 12th coach in college softball history to reach 1,000 wins.
"I think it just means I''m getting old," Miller said. "It''s a tribute to the hard work and effort the kids put in. They''re the ones that win the games."
Miller, the program''s leader in career wins, has guided MSU to six postseason appearances in eight seasons. He is one of three national team coaches in the history of USA Softball, and he led the team to six gold medals in four international tournaments.
Miller coached former MSU players and All-Americans Chelsea Bramlett and Courtney Bures in his two seasons in charge of the national team.
Alabama coach Patrick Murphy, who has coached against Miller during his stints at Missouri and MSU, his counterpart''s work in charge of the U.S. National Team proved his talents as a coach.
"It''s a very select group he''s in," Murphy said. "The pressure of coaching the national team is like coaching the Yankees; if you don''t win, what happened? You''ve got the best players in the world. I was happy for him that they won the world championship in Venezuela last year because it''s a pretty thankless job."
Miller''s impact on softball goes far beyond his work in the college game. He has developed five softball skills videos and has served as an assistant or head coach for the national team since 1997.
Miller''s knowledge of the game is part of the reason Bramlett chose to come to MSU. During her first year on campus, the four-time All-American faced a situation in which she had to trust Miller''s experience and decision-making. Bramlett, a three-year starter at catcher, began her MSU career at second base.
"At the time, I thought it was crazy," Bramlett said, "but he knew what he was doing because I got All-American there."
Bramlett, the NCAA career leader in stolen bases, credits Miller with making her a better baserunner, though she was lauded for her speed, especially to first base, before coming to MSU. As a freshman, she learned how to hit the base correctly and round out.
Miller''s knowledge of the game is so deep, he holds an advantage against game officials.
"It''s funny, in the four years I was here just about any argument he got into about anything that wasn''t right, he ended up winning the argument because he knows the rules so well," Bramlett said. "Any team needs that, but not every team has that."
Murphy recalls a moment when Miller''s experience and competitiveness made the difference in a game. In fact, he still thinks of the moment whenever he''s in a similar situation against Miller.
"We played them one time and it was 0-0 going into the last inning, and it was two outs and a runner at third," Murphy said. "He squeezed and caught everyone by surprise and won 1-0. To this day, every time we play them, I remember that and know our third baseman can''t fall asleep. He does a good job of making sure his team doesn''t get too high or too low. You''ve got to be ready for anything when you coach against Jay."
Murphy credits Miller with helping shape the softball landscape of the SEC, which is now recognized as one of the nation''s top conferences. Seven of the 11 teams in the SEC are ranked in the top 25, and four are in the top 10, including Alabama, which is No. 1. Vanderbilt doesn''t field a softball team.
"The weather has helped our conference, and a lot of schools have done a great job with their facilities," Murphy said. "But every school has the top coaches in the country, and Jay is right up there at the top in making softball become baseball in our league. To me, we''ve passed women''s basketball in the SEC in terms of competitiveness."
Miller said earning his 1,000th win against Ole Miss will be meaningful only because it will mean the Bulldogs (17-17, 5-5 SEC) earned three much-needed wins after losing three last week at Kentucky.
Miller admits reaching 1,000 wins with this year''s squad will be special.
"I''ve been real proud of our ballclub this year," Miller said. "This has been the hardest working group we''ve had in nine years. The effort and energy they put in at practice and in the weight room to working in our community has just been tremendous. You want to see hard work rewarded."