Al Miller has taught his last class, at least as a full-time teacher, and he is leaving with a bang.
On his last day in the classroom at Cleveland High, the coaching veteran learned that he had been named the National Wrestling Coaches Association assistant coach of the year.
"Wrestling has been my job, my hobby and my passion, but it was a nice surprise," Miller said. "I never thought about the award, not at my stage. I didn't know Jake [Yost, Cleveland's head coach] had nominated me."
Miller, former Baylor assistant Schaack Van Deusen and Soddy-Daisy assistant Ashley Brooks are the only area coaches who have won the award.
A former University of Chattanooga wrestler, Miller has spent four decades building and promoting wrestling.
"I don't think he will every truly know the impact he has had on the sport," said Cleveland athletic director Eric Phillips, who served for several years as the Blue Raiders' head wrestling coach and had Miller as a member of his staff.
Miller worked at Cleveland as both an assistant and as a head coach and stepped aside willingly when the Blue Raiders had a chance to hire Heath Eslinger, who stayed for three seasons before becoming the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach.
"Wrestling in Bradley County garners the same respect as football or basketball," Phillips said, "and it's rare that one goes into a local grocery store and doesn't see someone that has won a state wrestling championship or been a hero on a title-winning team, and Al Miller is a large part of the reason that our community reveres wrestling."
Miller directed Cleveland to a state title and helped get the program off the ground at Bradley Central, which became a state powerhouse.
"People that don't coach don't understand the demands of coaching, and he went beyond those demands," said former Bradley coach Turner Jackson.
Miller always was willing to help others in wrestling, including Soddy-Daisy and rival Bradley when they were up-and-coming programs. As he said, it was about "growing the sport."
He also traveled often in the summers, coaching in national and international competition with many of the team members coming from Bradley County or elsewhere in the area.
"I'm so happy that wrestling in Bradley County is a really big deal and is an important happening at Cleveland, Bradley and Walker Valley," Miller said when he announced his retirement plans in February.
He was an integral part of the coaching staff that led Cleveland's sweep of the state duals -- which included a 78-4 championship victory -- and the Blue Raiders' near 100-point victory in the traditional tournament.
"Those two accomplishments pale in comparison to the longevity Al has displayed as a teacher, coach and ambassador for wrestling," Phillips said.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.
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 ...