March 3, 2012 11:43:00 PM
Dr. Stan Miller has just completed his second year as Starkville High School's athletic director.
A Jersey City, N.J., native, Miller returned to Starkville in 2009 after serving a 14-year stint as the school's principal.
A former coach, principal, and superintendent, Miller, 66, has had made numerous stops in the South. Miller's first time in Mississippi came as a football player at Mississippi State University. Prior to that, he played baseball at Miami-Dade College and Florida State University. While at MSU, Miller met future wife, Judy, who was a student from Illinois.
With degrees from Delta State University, MSU, and the University of Mississippi, Miller is pleased to be back in the Golden Triangle and sees no reason to slow down in a job he loves.
Q. Starkville completed another outstanding basketball season Tuesday night. The Yellow Jackets won 26 games and advanced to the state tournament for a third straight year. Even though the season ended with a loss to Wayne County, why was this team was so successful?
A. "You have to look at the history of the basketball program. It starts with the feeder program. Two years ago, they won state. Last year, we made state and the big boy (Gavin Ware) got hurt. This year, we have five seniors starting, with two seniors as the backups.
Everyone knows about (MSU signee) Gavin Ware. Then you have a blue-collar worker like Tory Rice, who scraps and cleans up all the stuff on the inside. At point guard, you have Jacolby Mobley, who can penetrate and hit the 3-pointer. On the wings are the Brand brothers (Steve and Mike). Each player can handle the ball. There is tremendous talent on this team. There is not as much depth, so foul trouble is always a concern.
"In Greg Carter, you could not ask for a better player-coach. The attitude he has toward his players. The way he works with his players. This program has the ingredients to be a state champion. Some years, the team will be younger than others. However, it will always be competitive."
Q. Prior to basketball season, the boys soccer team won its first title. How did that happen?
A. "The biggest thing over the last 15 years, soccer has blown out of the doors here in the south. Select soccer has taken us to a new level. What these kids are doing in the offseason is amazing. I have a coach (Brian Bennett) who does not stop with just his program. He is working with the youth. He knows our feeder system.
"The team was successful because it was a good mix of seniors and some talented younger players. I don't think we drop off much next year. The girls made it to the second round and (coach Anna Albritton's team) only had two seniors on the roster. It is a tremendous shot in the arm to see what our soccer programs have been doing.
"Brian has done a tremendous job and is a tireless worker. The girls program with coach Albritton is close to being very good and should stay that way for a long time to come."
Q. In the fall, football coach Jamie Mitchell led the Yellow Jackets to Jackson to compete in the Class 5A state championship. How has Mitchell shown you he is the right man for this job?
A. "I have had the good fortune of working with some outstanding football coaches. Larry Weems (of Pearl High at the time and now Meridian High), Chuck Friend, who won two state championships here, Tommy Lucas, Willis Wright ... these are all coaches I have been associated with.
"Jamie knows all the Xs and Os, but what I love about the man is the full package. All of his players, he gets them scholarships. When I got back, we were low in numbers, down around the low 60s. When we start spring practice, even if no one tries out, we will start practice with 101 players.
"The program is all about leadership, leadership, leadership. In his two years, we have turned over four or five (assistant) coaches and brought in some new blood. The excitement is at an all-time high. Players really love playing for Jamie because he allows himself to be so much to them. We only had 13 seniors this past year. Our ninth-grade team went undefeated. The community has really rallied around the program. People are excited again."
Q. Speaking of football, give us an update on the construction of the new field house, and what are some of the other projects on the drawing board?
A. "When I get here, the biggest weakness we had was our facilities. As an athletic director, you have to deal with the total picture. In softball, we have added signage, a new scoreboard, and painting. We over-seeded the infield. In basketball, we have an old facility. We went in and re-painted all of the locker rooms. We put new lighting in the gym. All of the signs have been replaced. We now have banners up. The five state championships are on the wall. We did all of the locker rooms over and modernized them. These are little things you can do without much effort to make a place a lot nicer.
"For football, we are building a new field house. We are probably two months away. It will have 85 varsity lockers and 45 junior high lockers. And it's not just football, either. Girls track will be in there with 40-something lockers. Boys track will be in there. Girls soccer will be in there. The weight room encompasses the whole middle section.
"Coach Mitchell is working on fundraisers to put all new weights in there. There will be all new furniture in there. The other football project is to raise funds to put some turf down. We have gotten several corporate sponsors on board with 10-year packages. (Supporter) Omis Avant and myself have been out there raising funds. We have 10 to 15 corporate sponsors on board. We want to put turf in the stadium. That will help football, but it will also help the band. It will help the soccer programs. We have two great soccer programs, but they only played two home matches this year due to the wetness of the field. The turf is good for 10 to 12 years. We will go back to the school board this spring, and we look forward to getting that done.
"We will move a couple of other sports into the old field house. The other big project we are working on here is a new track. We have a tremendous track program with two good coaches (Chris Barnett and Caroline Woomer). Our cross country teams were third and fourth in the state, but we have no surface. An engineering firm has already been here and given me a price for what we want to do. The good news is we don't have to destroy what is there. We will break the top and build the asphalt back up, then the curving, then the finishing surface. We want to do that next year. The board has been very gracious in the field house and air conditioning the basketball gym. Now our job is go out and get the financial support for the other projects we want to do.
Q. With coach Danny Carlisle retiring from coaching, baseball is in a transitional period. I know everyone is looking forward to Carlisle's final season. Where does the program go from there?
A. "Danny did retire and I wanted to do something special. Danny Carlisle Day is noon March 24, rain or shine. Hopefully, it will be a beautiful day. Danny has had 29 seasons as head coach here, and 37 altogether. The boosters will be doing something that night. The administration is going to do something, as well. We look forward to having several players back for that special occasion.
"We have painted the baseball facility. We now have a big Yellow Jacket on the back. The wooden bleachers have been replaced by aluminum.
"As far as the coaching situation goes, we will advertise for the month of March. In April, we will interview. If I don't get 25 to 30 applications, I will be shocked. Danny has done a nice job, and I think we will have a pretty good team this year. We should be very competitive in Class 5A this year."
Q. It seems like there is a common thread among your coaches. It appears you have coaches who are committed to the kids and who treat that part of their job as a 12-month responsibility. Do you feel that way?
A. "That is the only way to be a successful coach. An athletic director is like a good official on the basketball court. You don't know he is there. My job is to build facilities, give support to our players, and give support to our coaches, especially from a budget standpoint.
"The job is also to critique and make sure they are giving us 100 percent. I don't want a three-month coach. I want a coach working with their kids 12 months out of the year. I want them to know their kids, in and out of the classroom and playing field. They need to know where they are and what they are doing.
"Greg Carter is that way. Jamie Mitchell is that way. At the beginning of the year, 75 (football) players were eligible to play. Seventy-four of them were eligible in May. One of them had to go to summer school. That is what is so important. Coaches have to make sure players know they are there for them. My job is to make sure they are critiquing their program and sitting down and talking to them and asking questions about this and that.
"Another example is fast-pitch softball. We need to have summer travel program. We have been working with Sheila Runnels, who works with the city, to put such a team together. You can't put the glove down here or the ball down there and come back five months later. There has to be continuity and they need to always be working on their skills.
"We are making a run at the all-sports trophy this year for Class 5A. From swimming to bowling, we have been accumulating points. That is the ultimate for an athletic director, a coach, a school district. At the end of the year, the goal is to have to the most comprehensive sports program in Class 5A.
Q. One of the most difficult things you have had to deal with in administration has to be the passing of a youngster. Tell us a little bit about the outpouring of love and support for (football and baseball player) Devin Mitchell, (who was shot and killed in the early hours of New Year's Day).
A. "It is so shocking that on Jan. 1, we lost two young people in our school district. One was the sixth-grader who was killed in Alabama while on Christmas vacation. We all know about Devin Mitchell. Devin did not even know this man who took his life. Everything you heard about Devin was positive. He was good in the classroom. He was a leader in sports. He was a leader in church. He was such an outstanding Christian young man.
"At the football banquet (Sunday night), he won the Most Valuable Offensive player. His parents were there to receive the award. Devin will be a part of our team all of next year. That is what I loved about coach Mitchell. He was with the parents every day through this tragedy.
We don't want to lose anyone. When everything was said and done, our team grew a lot closer. His name is never left out when we talk. His jersey will never be missing. It will always be in his locker in that new field house. We know he is in a better place, but it broke all of our hearts and we felt a pain you never want to feel again."
Q. In December, the basketball team hosted the first Travis Outlaw Slam Dunk at the Hump tournament on the MSU campus. The event brought in some of the nation's best high school basketball teams. Where does the event go from here?
A. "This was Greg and I's dream. Instead of sending the team on the road during the holidays, we wanted to host a tournament. I cannot say enough about (administrator) Jay Logan and the staff at Mississippi State. They were tremendous to work with. I think we worked the kinks out. Every team that came had accolades for how great the tournament was. From volunteers to the booster club, so many people poured so much into making it a success.
"Next week, Greg and I are going to sit down and go to the Internet and find some of those great teams who have a lot of players returning. We want to use the same format. I have heard from teams in Florida, North Dakota, Nashville, they all want to come to our tournament. We will tweak some things.
"Jay Logan called last week. We have already been looking at the window around both the men's and women's schedules at MSU to find us some dates that will work. We look forward to bigger and better next year."
Q. So in closing, the buzzword is build, build, build?
A. "The old cliché is if you stand around, people will pass you. We don't stand around here. We don't let grass grow under our feet. I was a pusher as a principal and a pusher as a superintendent. I am going to push my coaches and support my coaches.
"The administration is great. They do everything they can to support our programs. I cannot be happier about where we stand in Starkville athletics. Just look right now at what is going on. The golf team is close to a state championship. The tennis teams are going to be good. The track teams are top notch. We have tremendous booster clubs. From the bowling boosters to the tennis boosters, we have a great group of people working to promote and help our kids.
"We have great coaches, great players, and a great administration. That is why I am not slowing down. They are way too many good things we have going. That is why it is fun to come to work every day."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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