The old-timers in Broncos Country remember Red Miller vividly for the energy, passion and winning spirit he brought to the sideline - not to mention the actual winning too. He led the team to a 12-2 record and its first division title plus first trip to the Super Bowl his first year in Denver.
I remember him for his autograph that he signed in red felt-tip pen when I was 7 and went to training camp.
But the franchise will always remember him for ushering in a championship mentality in Denver.
Though he was not the architect of the Orange Crush defense, Miller created the environment for Joe Collier’s newly invented 3-4 scheme to thrive, catapulting the team to relevance in the NFL for the first time.
The Illinois native and first-time head coach led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl in the 1977-78 season, but perhaps more important than appearing in the Super Bowl was winning the AFC Championship - and having to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders - two juggernauts in the NFL - along the way.
Miller led the team for three more seasons and to two more playoff appearances, earning a 40-22 regular season record. He was fired in 1981, after an 8-8 season, and replaced by Dan Reeves - the only other coach currently in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
Miller died last week at age 89, following complications from a stroke he suffered while watching the Broncos-Chargers game on Monday Night Football Sept. 11. The Broncos held a memorial service for him on Thursday.
Several former players and current Broncos personnel attended the service. Here were some of their reflections on a coach who helped transform the hapless Denver Broncos into champion Denver Broncos:
Broncos’ Ring of Fame safety Billy Thompson:
“He was a very unusual coach. He was one of those kinds of coaches that didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. In other words, if he wanted to show or tell you something, or coach you something, he would actually get down and show you how to do it. He was that kind of a guy, very motivating and had a lot of talent. Played the piano and like I said, it wouldn’t be strange to see him wrestling in the locker room with one of the guys. I mean, just a flat out brawl on the floor and I’m going like, ‘The head coach?’ Yes, that’s him. The guys loved him.”
Broncos’ Ring of Fame wide receiver Rick Upchurch:
“Coach Red Miller honestly and truthfully was the best thing that happened to the Denver Broncos when he came in 1977. He brought accountability, he brought toughness and he was the type of guy who was a player’s coach. A guy that you could sit down with and get true answers from. That’s what I loved about him. Not only that, after the game was over he still remained your friend. I would go over to the house and sit down with him in his backyard. He came down to Pueblo when I was trying to get the head coaching job down at East [High School]. He vouched for me and he stood there for me. This gentleman gave me my opportunity to be a starting wide receiver in the National Football League. So for me, Red was the man. I loved him, I still love him today and I love his whole family. Great people.”
Former General Manager John Beake:
“I think his legacy is he taught us all how to win. Work, play and play together. When he came in 12-2 in his first year and a Super Bowl. It’s unheard of. That was great. All of a sudden, everything started to catch on. It was expected of everybody, what are your work habits and how you treat each other. That’s his legacy that he brought to the Denver Broncos.”
Miller will be inducted into the Ring of Fame during halftime of the Broncos’ Nov. 19 game against the Bengals.
Beake was on the selection committee and was there when several told Miller of the induction.
“Thank God that he did know he was put into the Ring of Fame - and he was ecstatic. He was honored,” Beake said. “I think he’ll be there, just a hell of a different view.”
Upchurch believes his former coach will just be smiling during the ceremony too.
“I think he would just be smiling and sitting there and saying, ‘Thank you so very much. I'm thankful that you guys recognized me for what we accomplished during my tenure,’” Upchurch said. “He would be smiling big time. I know he's going to be smiling that day along with the rest of us.”