The New Young Coach at UNC-Greensboro
Many veteran college basketball coaches have thinning hair, wrinkles and a scowl to protest questionable calls. This isn't the case at UNC Greensboro, where Wes Miller has a full head of hair, the smile of a college student and just two months of experience. He’s the youngest coach in men’s Division 1 and is trying to get his team to think about a championship, all while removing the ‘interim’ next to his name. Jeff Tiberii reports on the former Tar Heel turned Spartan.
Jeff Tiberii: Last season the UNC-Greensboro basketball team won seven games, total. On a recent weekday evening the Spartans are at home playing for their seventh consecutive victory – the longest winning streak the school has seen in 17 years.
Public Address Announcer: And your final score: Spartans 82, Bulldogs 71.
Things are improving for the UNCG basketball team and part of the reason why is 29-year-old interim head coach Wes Miller. Sophomore Bradley Sherrod and senior Josh McCullough watched the win from the stands.
Bradley Sherrod: The school pride has really gone up. I think he's just made this team more aggressive.
Josh McCullough: We all love Wes Miller. We all think he’s the best that has happened to UNCG in a long time. We know that he came from Chapel Hill and we know that he’s giving their secrets to us, and we love him for it.
Miller was an assistant at UNCG and got the nod when long-time head coach Mike Dement resigned back in December. Upon finding out the news, Miller’s first call was to his wife. The second call was to his mentor and college coach Roy Williams of UNC. Miller knew it would be a big change for himself and his players.
Wes Miller: The biggest transition and the biggest emotional roller coaster is for our players. And so I think we really tried to focus on them and get them to a good place as quickly as possible.
It wasn't a smooth change-over, at first. UNCG lost its first six games under Miller. But sophomore guard Trevis Simpson says the team was building confidence and improving as it entered Southern Conference play.
Trevis Simpson: He’s an unbelievable coach. His spur of the moment thinking and ideas is off the charts. He’s very energetic, he believes in us. When he fusses at you … like most coaches when the fuss at you it’s like ‘oh man he’s getting on me’, but with him it’s like he knows what he’s saying and he knows you can to better so do it. It feels good.
Simpson is now the leading scorer in the league and would like to see Miller stick around as head coach for his remaining years in Greensboro. The woman who will ultimately make that decision is UNCG Athletic Director Kim Record. She describes Miller as wise beyond his years and says she had no idea how young he was when she gave him the for-now-temporary promotion.
Kim Record: He has done some very remarkable things in the short term. But I have to look at what is best for the basketball program in the long term. Tiberii: Would you like to see him as your coach for the next few years? What I’d like to see is a head basketball coach who fills a lot of rolls, winning – and being competitive is a huge component; I would like to find someone who is young and aggressive.
Record says she must go through her due-diligence before giving anyone the job. She hopes to make an announcement shortly after the season. Meanwhile Miller has deflected praise during the recent success. He is passionate; encourages his players to dream big and tries not to spend too much time thinking about the interim label.
Miller: Winning a southern conference championship, that’s the goal. We talk about that, we talk about how to do it a lot, too. And saying, OK the big picture is where we want to go. Well how do we get there? By focusing on the really small picture and that’s the moment we’re in right now; whether that’s a practice moment, or a game moment or a film moment."
Miller played on the 2005 UNC National Championship team. He uses the Carolina Way when he gets stuck on the sideline.
Miller: I always want to get better at what I’m doing. And I’m so much better for this experience because when you get thrown into the fire you only have two directions to go. And I feel like if anything, I don’t know how good I’ve been, but I’ve gotten a lot better as a coach and I’m happy for that.
Just two months into his first head coaching job Wes Miller describes this current post as a dream. He has only nine career wins but sounds like an old pro when repeating that his team is taking it one game at a time. The Spartans are atop the Eastern Division in the Southern Conference. Their next challenge is Wednesday evening when they host College of Charleston at the Greensboro Coliseum.