Wartburg's Miller stepping down after season

WAVERLY, Iowa -- Jim Miller, Wartburg College's co-head wrestling coach, announced today he will step down from his wrestling coaching position following the 2012-13 season. Current co-head coach Eric Keller will continue to oversee the program.

Miller, a member of six athletic halls of fame, will remain at Wartburg and serve in other capacities still to be determined.

Jim Miller (Photo/Julie Drewes)
Since coming to Wartburg in 1991, Miller has amassed a career record of 394-34-2, won nine NCAA Division III team championships, beginning with the school's first title in 1996; 20 consecutive Iowa Conference championships; and six National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) national dual championships. The Knights haven't lost in 157 dual meets against Iowa Conference opponents since 1993-94.

Miller has coached 34 individual national champions, 138 All-Americans and 70 NWCA Academic All-Americans.

"This was not a spur of the moment decision. I've thought about it a great deal over these last five years," said Miller. "Sometimes in life you may not have a lot of specific reasons why you know it's right at this time, but you just know.

"The Wartburg College wrestling program has been the majority of my life's work," he continued. "This coming season will be my 22nd at Wartburg and 37th overall (seven at the high school level and eight as top assistant at Northern Iowa before coming to Wartburg.) I am very, very proud of what has transpired here with our student-athletes on and off the mat."

"For me Wartburg College wrestling became my dream job," said Miller. "I found that there were no limits on what you could accomplish here, if you were willing to work hard at it and dedicate yourself to your dream, no matter how high that dream might be. I am excited about this season and I wanted to get this announcement behind us so all would know the situation up front and our team/staff could move on and attack the upcoming year."

Wartburg Athletic Director Rick Willis said, "Jim Miller's impact on our wrestling program, athletic department and college is immeasurable. We are all indebted to Jim for his tremendous work and service."

He praised Miller for "diligently preparing our program and the college for this eventually."

"Sooner or later," Willis said, "we all reach that moment when we know it's the right time to make a change. Jim has made sure we have the perfect succession plan in place. We couldn't ask for a better choice to step into Jim's shoes."

Miller's new role at Wartburg remains under discussion.

"We are indeed fortunate that Jim will remain at Wartburg," Willis said. "Jim has many skills and talents to offer. He is a teacher, a motivator and a leader. We look forward to engaging his energy, insight and passion in new ways. We have several ideas about how best to use his talents. We'll take the next several months to choose exactly the right ideas that mesh with Jim's goals and Wartburg's needs."

Wartburg President Darrel Colson lauded Miller's contributions as a coach and teacher -- and his legacy.

"Not only has Coach Jim Miller put together a wrestling program that is the envy of the nation, but he has lived the Wartburg mission in a way that I envy," Colson said. "His coaching really is teaching, guiding and mentoring in the ways that all of us can admire.

"Many of his wrestlers have gone on to become coaches," he added. "They've carried with them the Wartburg mission that Jim has lived out. They know that when they are wrestling here and when they are coaching elsewhere, they are called to leadership and service. Dozens and dozens of his wrestlers live out the lessons they learned here in every conceivable workplace."

Miller wrestled at the University of Northern Iowa, where he had a 128-22 record while winning NCAA Division II championships in 1974 and 1975. After coaching at the high school level, he was the top assistant coach at UNI from 1983-91.

Miller has been inducted into six halls of fame -- NWCA Divisions II and III, Glen Brands Wrestling, University of Northern Iowa Athletics, East Waterloo High School Athletics and Iowa Wrestling in Cresco.
Among Miller's many other accomplishments are:

  • Division III Rookie Coach of the Year and National Rookie Coach of the Year in 1992 (AWN)
  • NCAA Division III Coach of the Year in 1993, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2009
  • Iowa Conference Coach of the Year in 1993, 1995-98, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012
  • Dan Gable All-Division Coach of the Year in 2004 (W.I.N. magazine)
  • Iowa's Man of the Year in 2003 (Wrestling USA magazine)
  • Coach of the Year (2012)

    Keller was named co-head coach of the program in March 2010. He had served as Miller's assistant at Wartburg from 2000-05 and was part of five consecutive IIAC championships and NCAA national championships in 2003 and 2004.

    He left Wartburg briefly to become head coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., where he guided the Cardinals to a perfect dual-meet record in 2006 with three Division III All-Americans. He was named the NWCA's Rookie Coach of the Year.

    He returned to Wartburg the next year as associate head coach. In 2008-09, he was named NWCA's Division III Assistant Coach of the Year. In the last three years, the Knights have won the Iowa Conference tournament title each year and claimed three national championships. The duo of Miller and Keller received Coach of the Year honors from both the Iowa Conference and

    The Indianola, Iowa, native earned his degree in health and physical education at UNI in 1999. He was an NCAA All-American and Academic All-American for the Panthers and was also a world team wrestling trials qualifier and Northern Plains Regional Olympic. He had been a two-time Iowa state high school champion for Indianola High School, compiling a 161-10-1 record.

    "I am extremely humbled and honored to be taking over a program that has meant so much to me over the past 12 years both personally and professionally," said Keller. "I want to thank President Colson, Gary Grace, Rick Willis, Coach Miller and the entire Wartburg College family for this opportunity."

    "Coach Miller has created a legacy here at Wartburg over the past 21 years," he continued. "I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach beside him for the past 12 years. The lessons I have learned from him extend far beyond the wrestling mat. He is a coaching legend and I truly believe there is no one better at mentoring young coaches. I am forever grateful for all he has taught me, and for his guidance both in and out of wrestling."

    "I couldn't be happier that Eric Keller is here to lead this transition," said President Colson. "It's a blessing to have him in place, and we all know that he is the perfect choice to lead this team into the future."

    Miller called Keller a "special coach. He could have done this five years ago."

    "Obviously, it makes it easier knowing that Eric Keller is totally ready to take the full reins," he said. "The more he has taken over in the last five years the better we have done, and that's not a coincidence.

    "We have won four out of five NCAA Championships in that time span," Miller continued. "He came here right out of college, left after five years to become the head coach at North Central College, where they had their best year in history -- to that point and was voted National Rookie Coach of the Year. None of that surprised me. So when the opportunity came to get him back I did, knowing he was the right guy to take over at some point."

    Willis agreed. "No one knows better than Eric Keller how big those shoes are, but at the same time, no one is better prepared to step into them. He knows the value we place on excellence, whether in sports, class or life. We will make this transition at the end of the season without missing a beat."

    "Looking ahead to the future, the goals remain the same. For me, helping our student-athletes graduate, become great men both on and off the mat, and winning championships is my passion," said Keller. "There is a tradition of excellence that Coach Miller has established, and I look forward to continuing it."

    Six All-Americans will return for the Knights when they open the season Nov. 13 at the Loras Open, beginning the quest for the program's 10th NCAA title.

    Additional Quotes:

    "Jim is hearing a new call, and we'll support his process of discernment. I'm delighted that he's called to stay here at Wartburg." -- Wartburg President Colson

    "The leadership Coach Miller has provided on the mat has been unprecedented and obvious. Most would not be aware of the contribution he has made in shaping the environment and culture of the Wartburg athletic department as a whole. He has mentored many young coaches and provided a blueprint for numerous teams to be successful, not only winning championships, but also in nurturing the lives of young men and women participating in intercollegiate athletics. His pursuit of excellence enhanced the athletic experience at Wartburg and positively impacted the sport of wrestling in the IIAC and NCAA." -- Gary Grace, Wartburg's Vice President for Administration and former Athletic Director

    "Part of the Iowa Conference's Vision Statement speaks to academic and athletic success nationally, and that's exactly what Jim Miller has done during his time at Wartburg. Our league, overall, has been strengthened by Wartburg's remarkable success in wrestling. As we celebrate 90 years of Iowa Conference athletics this year, it's been an honor and pleasure to get to know one of the coaching giants in our league. I'm also very happy for Eric Keller, who is also a huge proponent of Iowa Conference wrestling and a terrific young coach." -- Chuck Yrigoyen, Iowa Conference Commissioner
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