I met Coach Rick Miller last May at the North Texas Cross Country Coaches Seminar; he and I were guest speakers and I really enjoyed his presentation on what he does at Grapevine High School.
For those that do not know Coach Miller, he is an extremely successful coach, and might be one of the most detailed oriented coaches I have ever met. But the thing that I really like the most about Coach Miller is his enthusiasm for improvement. At a high school meet a few weeks ago I saw Coach Miller (for the first time since the seminar) and he was so excited about the improvement a few of his kids had made. Neither kid was an all-star or all-state runner; but they worked hard and they saw improvement and he was so excited for them.
We need more coaches with Coach Miller’s enthusiasm. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
How long have you been at Grapevine High School and what is your official title?
I have been at Grapevine High School for 15 years. I assisted coaches Jerry Carter (2006) and Ron Mitchell (2007-2011) before taking over as head coach. I have been the Head Cross Country/Distance Track Coach now for 6 years. I also teach English II classes. This is my 34th year in the Texas Public Schools (first 19 years were in El Paso).
What is your educational background?
I attended Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, California, for three years. When my Dad got the Head Track & Field coaching position at Arizona State in 1979, we moved to Tempe where I graduated from McClintock High School in 1980. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Education at Arizona State University in 1984. I earned a Master of Education degree at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, in 1999.
What is your running background?
I ran cross country at Corona Del Mar High School. As the son of a great cross country and track coach, I grew up with running. My father, Len Miller, coached National Championship cross country and track teams at UC Irvine; his Arizona State men’s track & field team won the Pac-10 in 1981. I have been fortunate to learn from him as well as some of his former athletes. When you grow up surrounded by athletes like Eric Hulst, Ralph Serna, and Steve Scott, a love and appreciation for distance running comes naturally.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I believe that attitude and effort are the keys to success. Distance running is all about progression. Like my Dad always says, “Life is dynamic, not static. Nothing stays the same.” Athletes must make a serious commitment and embrace the lifestyle of elite distance runners in order to realize their potential. I emphasize to our athletes that “consistency wins” and that “everyday people” are successful. There is no sport that will test a person’s character or level of motivation like distance running.
What is one of your favorite XC workouts?
A XC workout we look forward to every October is 5-4-3 x 1600m @ 88% of VO2 max with a 3:00-3:30 rest interval. The number of reps and rest depends on the strength and experience of each athlete. I give them a time window with the goal being to slightly negative split each repeat. After the last repeat, athletes jog 400 meters and run a ROHO (“Run Our Heart Out”) 400. The goal for the boys is sub-65 and the girls sub-80 (sub-75 for elite finish). This workout really gets the competitive juices flowing and emphasizes finishing strong. The kids really love the challenge of this workout and feel great when they see how many of their teammates were able to finish strong and meet their time goals.
What is one of your favorite 1600/3200 meter workouts?
My favorite track workout for a 16/32 kid is 3 sets of 4 x 400 at goal 3200m race pace. We do this late in the season for lactate tolerance. I give them 60 seconds rest and a 5:00 jog between sets. The first and last set are 2-3 seconds faster than the middle set to simulate a race. Late in the season, I like to go back to a workout where the athlete walked away with his head held high and chest puffed out. Confidence is far more important than the type of workout late in the season.
What is the most challenging part of being a high school coach?
The most challenging part of my job as a high school coach is keeping kids focused, motivated, and healthy year-round. These days, there are so many other things that interest kids besides running that could steer them away from what it takes to develop into the athlete they are capable of becoming. Running is hard, and there are times in training and racing where it is going to hurt. Athletes must be able to increase their pain threshold. Steve Scott used to say that he could “make friends with pain” better than anyone he ever had to compete against. Mental toughness can be cultivated with a strong, “Hard Rock” mindset. Injuries can be frustrating for athletes and coaches. I tell the kids to let me know about “irritations” so we can catch something before we have a serious injury. Daily maintenance, nutrition, hydration, and getting plenty of sleep are key factors in staying healthy.
What is the most enjoyable part of being a high school coach?
The most enjoyable part of my job as a high school coach is building positive relationships and trust with my athletes. Coaching is an art, not a science. I want my athletes to know that I sincerely care about them. The key to having a successful program is to build a culture where the kids have high standards and embrace the training process. I believe that cross country is the ultimate team sport, and we create an atmosphere where the kids hold each other accountable to staying focused on our team goals.
What is your favorite coaching memory?
My favorite coaching memory is our 2015 girls’ team winning the 5A State Cross Country Championship. We had tremendous senior leadership, and I have never had a team more determined and focused throughout the grind of a season. The rain poured the night before and morning of the meet, and the race at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock became the biggest mud bath in the history of the UIL State Meet. Our girls showed tremendous focus and mental toughness. They used the muddy conditions to their advantage and let their goal drive them through that race. I will never forget that “magic moment” in time and will forever keep my muddy shoes.