published Friday, February 15th, 2013

Al Miller retiring as active coach at Cleveland High School

He may have wondered on more than one occasion if he would last this long. So many things can happen and so many lives can be touched over a career that has spanned four decades.

Al Miller, considered by many a pioneer in Tennessee wrestling, is retiring after 40 years, many of them as Cleveland High School's head coach. He has been an assistant in recent years.

"Kids of today don't understand what Al has done with and for the sport of wrestling," said Turner Jackson, the Bradley Central athletic director who has been both friend and foe of Miller. "They weren't even around when he was 20 years into the sport. We competed hot and heavy -- Bradley and Cleveland -- and he was always up front."

The door to the first Blue Raiders wrestling building, in which part of Miller's heart still lies, always was open as well. Come state tournament time, he always invited those with less into his domain for spirited preparations.

"I owe him beaucoup," said Steve Henry, the Soddy-Daisy assistant principal who took his wrestling teams to championship heights. "When I first started, he was one of those who helped me every step of the way. He invited our team up for pre-tournament practices. He got me started going to the NCAA tournament. He was instrumental in getting our program off the ground. He was always there."

That, Miller noted, is a part of the package he learned while wrestling at Red Bank for legendary John Farr, who helped break ground for wrestling to become a recognized TSSAA sport.

"He invited teams in and he told us why -- to help grow the sport," Miller said.

He also helped create a monster in wrestling at Bradley Central, first encouraging the Bears to start a program and them helping them.

"I'm so happy that wrestling in Bradley County is a really big deal, an important happening at all three schools," he said, including Walker Valley in the reference.

If it was wrestling, Miller was a part of it, from leading the fledgling Tennessee Wrestling Coaches Association to summer freestyle programs that have taken him as a coach to France, Bulgaria, Russia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic.

"Wrestling has been my job, my hobby and my passion, and I am very fortunate to have a very understanding wife who has allowed me to do those things," he said.

He has been to all but one of the NCAA tournaments since 1975.

A member of the Tennessee chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Miller has more than two dozen former wrestlers who followed him into coaching. That goes well with five state team championships, more than a dozen individual state champs and more than five dozen wrestlers who medaled at state tournaments.

"I didn't always handle kids as well as I might've liked, and I would like to have had second chances with some," he said. "I never got upset with a kid that lost a match, but I felt the loss when a kid left practice and never came back."

His peers praise his passion for the sport.

"People that don't coach don't understand what it takes, and he went beyond those demands," Jackson said.

"Al is one of the most loyal people to the sport that I know," Henry said. "He has always been a contributor, but beyond that he's a fan."

Miller's early-years coaching partner, Duane Schriver, echoed those sentiments.

"Al is the greatest wrestling technician I have known, and he knows more about the sport than anyone I know," Schriver said. "He loves the sport and has dedicated himself to it."

Although he'll retire at the end of this school year and plans to spend more time with his wife, Pam -- and even do a little gardening -- Miller will keep wrestling in his life.

"I have a bucket list," he said. "Let's see, I'd like to go to an Army-Navy match, an Iowa-Iowa State match and an Oklahoma-Oklahoma State match. I'd like to see a match at Lehigh."

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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