BY DALE A. LEONARD
HATLEY - For almost three decades, his presence on the sidelines personified the very essence of success.
As head girls basketball coach at Hatley High School, Mickey Miller coached 865 games, compiling an astonishing .825 winning percentage.
The veteran mentor, with 718 career wins - all at the Monroe County school - has decided to throw in the towel. Miller, 51, recently announced his retirement after 28 seasons.
"It's something I've been thinking about for a long time," Miller said. "I've been coaching 28 years or so and just wanted to spend a little more time with my family. It's sort of a burnt-out thing, I think, over the years. It just seemed like it was time to do something different."
This past season, Miller guided the Lady Tigers to 25-5 mark before bowing out in the opening round of the 2A North State Tournament to eventual state champion Shelby Broadstreet.
"Coach Miller in his own right has had an outstanding career at Hatley - his record indicates that," said school principal Van Pearson. "He's highly respected by his peers at Hatley School and I feel like throughout the area. He's always been a great leader for our girls and conducted himself in a competitive but very moral manner."
Starting on a positive note
Miller's success in the game began at an early age. As a player during his senior year at Hatley, he scored all but 10 of his team's 82 points in a loss to county-rival Hamilton. The mark set a single-game national record for the most points by a player on a losing team and is still third all-time, according to the National Federation of State High Schools Association's record book.
In college, as a graduate assistant at Delta State University, Miller helped direct the Lady Statesmen to a national championship and a perfect 28-0 record.
Back to where it began
Still surrounded by success, Miller's former high school coach Harry Adair presented the opportunity to return to Hatley as girls head coach.
Six years later, the Lady Tigers were within one game of a perfect season. Playing nemesis Belmont for the fifth time that year, Game No. 35 was not so lucky. Hatley lost 37-33 to the Lady Cardinals in what was known then as the Class BB state title game.
Two years later, in 1985, the Mississippi High School Activities Association expanded to five classifications. Sporting a 36-2 record, Hatley - once again - fell to Belmont in the finals. The Lady Cardinals prevailed 32-31 to win the first ever Class 2A state championship.
"We had a couple of unbeaten regular seasons, and we had a few where we lost one or two games," Miller said. "We were 34-1 the '83 season and lost in the championship. That, indeed, was a special season."
Following in his footsteps
Missy (Farrar) Blissard, a three-time All-State selection, was one of the stars on Miller's two state runner-up teams. Blissard has just completed her ninth season as head coach at Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
"Thinking back on those days brings back so many fond memories," said Blissard. "Those were probably some of the best years of my life.
"Coach Miller has done such a wonderful job. To win 20 or more games year after year is a remarkable accomplishment.
"He taught me about hard work, building character and the importance of playing as a team. He instilled all those things that are outside the realm of basketball."
Retirement or a break?
Miller, who drives a tour bus part-time, has not closed the door on education, nor on re-entering coaching.
"I just think I needed a break from it for a while," he said. "Right now, I'm driving a tour bus and seeing some of the country.
"To sum it up, it's been a great run. I've had great kids to work with over the years. Just the association of the kids, even now when you come in contact with them, it still means a lot. And of course, the association with the people here at Hatley. They've been real good to me over the years, and it's just something I'll never forget."