Smith resigns; Miller hired at St. Aloysius|[12/06/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gary Miller passed on a coaching job at St. Aloysius earlier this year because he wasn’t ready to end a long-awaited retirement. When the offer came again, he couldn’t resist.

Miller, a longtime Clinton High girls coach and former Mississippi State assistant, was hired as the latest in a string of St. Al basketball coaches on Wednesday after boys coach Larry Smith resigned to take an unspecified job with an NBA team.

“I feel we were very lucky,” St. Al athletic director Jim Taylor said. “I think he’s going to relate well with the kids and he’s got an outstanding coaching background.”

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Miller was also somewhat familiar with the St. Al program. He interviewed for the vacant coaching job this summer, but passed on an offer. After a 30-year career that included two stops at Clinton from 1979-86 and 1997-2005, he said he felt burned out.

Miller had retired from Clinton in 2005, spent two more seasons at Hillcrest Christian in Jackson, then retired again. It didn’t take long for the itch to return.

“I needed a break. I kept going to basketball games. My son’s at Hillcrest. I wasn’t looking to go back to coaching, but after (Taylor) called I felt like my batteries were recharged,” Miller said. “Taking a little time off was good. You don’t realize how much time you put in until you stop doing it.”

Miller watched Tuesday’s game against the Mississippi School for the Deaf — Smith’s finale — from the stands, then led his first practice on Wednesday. After a quick introduction, he put the Flashes through about an hour of drills. He’ll make his St. Al debut on Friday night at home against Sebastopol.

While it’s too soon to see how the Flashes respond to their third coach in less than two seasons, Miller had a positive outlook.

“I hope they give me a chance and we can establish a good relationship,” he said. “I watched them play (Tuesday) night. The kids play hard and the environment is tremendous. And the administration, I’ve been very impressed with them.”

Smith, a longtime Vicksburg resident who spent more than two decades playing and coaching in the NBA, lasted just seven games with St. Al before returning to the pro ranks. He went out a winner, leading the Flashes to a 78-69 victory over MSD on Tuesday night.

“It was shocking. Coach Smith came into the locker room and told us he was leaving,” St. Al senior forward Alex Lanier said. “We were all pretty upset. But I’m glad they found a new coach.”

And, Taylor was hoping, they won’t have to do it again for a while.

First-year girls coach Carolyn Bradley teaches at Vicksburg Intermediate and could be offered a teaching job at St. Al for next year, while Miller could be wooed back to teaching and coaching if he likes what he sees this year. Taylor said he was happy with Bradley’s enthusiasm and Miller’s experience.

Miller said he’d decide his future at the end of the season.

Lanier was hopeful Miller would stick around, if for no other reason than to put some stability back into the program.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s hard to build on next year knowing we won’t have a coach. It’s hard to build a basketball program when you don’t have a coach,” Lanier said. “Hopefully this will work.”