By Colin Bergen
Jay Miller is a man of many accomplishments. He’s been an author, clinician, and, perhaps most famously, a soccer coach with multiple local and national titles under his belt. He is also a resident here in Big Canoe who spent some time to talk a bit about his remarkable life on and around the soccer field.
A: My idea of retirement was to roll out of bed and onto a golf course or onto a boat near the ocean. My wife Lauren’s input was that she wanted to live within a two-hour drive of her identical twin, Karen in Cumming, Ga. So, on to the internet, I go, and Big Canoe pops up. I’ve never heard of it. We scheduled a visit with a realtor. The covered bridge, Lake Sconti, the tee box of Cherokee #2. We were an easy sell.
Q: What was your first exposure to soccer, a sport that hasn’t always gotten the kind of attention as other sports in the U.S.?
A: I grew up in the small town of Dover, Pa., population of 900. The sports for boys offered at Dover Area High School were soccer, basketball, wrestling, baseball, track and field, golf, and volleyball. No football! I remember at age 11 riding my bike to the high school to watch my older brother John play soccer. There was no stadium. The field was lined in a grassy area right next to the school. No bleachers. The town’s people surrounded the entire field. In some areas, they stood three deep to watch the game. I would carefully navigate my bike right up to the sideline where I would take in all the action. Post-game, I would ride home to the back yard of our row home and recreate the game.
Q: Why was football not offered at your high school?
A: According to my older sister JoAnn, it was too expensive. Eventually, a football program was started there in the late 70’s.
Q: What appealed to you about the sport?
Well, it has been described as the beautiful game. I think that refers to the fact that most anyone can play. All you need is a ball, two or more players and two goals. The game is free-flowing, no time-outs. Within the game, each player can display their personality, unique skills, and tactical solutions.
A: My interest peaked when I watched the 1966 World Cup final of England vs. Germany. Soccer a.k.a. football is globalization personified. 250 million people in 220 countries play soccer. At age 12, I remember lying on my back in my yard resting and looking to the sky. I saw a plane high above Dover, PA. I thought, there are people on that plane. Where are they going? I want to be on a plane going somewhere. Be careful what you wish for. My soccer travels have taken me to 41 countries. I competed in 29 countries representing the United States as a national coach 57 times. Some additional experiences Included dinner on the Nile with the Mayor of Cairo, being tear gassed in South Korea, and being followed by the KGB in St. Petersburg, Russia. A nice merlot at the Bear Pub would convince me to share more.
Q: What are the challenges of being a soccer guy in the SEC football universe?
A: Ha! Having to explain why soccer is the most popular sport ever. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy watching most sports, especially SEC football.
Q: Did you grow up with a favorite player – or do you have a favorite playing today?
A: My favorite player when I was playing was the Brazilian star Pelé. He is and will always be in the conversation as the best player ever. I had two occasions to meet him.
Q: Outside of the world of soccer, how would you describe yourself?
A social butterfly. Sometimes a social moth caught in a lamp shade. My career has always been to engage, interact and organize groups of people.
Q: How did you discover that coaching was the career for you?
A: I played four sports in high school and was captain of each team. I loved the athletic experience. I was blessed to have three extraordinary coaches. I was intrigued by the process and dynamics of team building, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and trying to make the whole larger than the sum of the parts.
Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your 40 years of coaching?
A: Players want organization, motivation, and discipline. They also want their coach to be honest and fair. The art of coaching is saying the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right person. A coach must be mindful of his influence on each player.
Regarding coaching as a career, one must strive to maintain a balance between the demands of coaching professionally and one’s family life.
Q: What prompted you to write your book “Attacking Soccer” and what kind of reception did it get?
A: A lot of my colleagues were pushing me to get published. I figured I should add this to my career. It was received well by a targeted group, soccer coaches.
Q: What moment of your career are you most proud of?
A: Gee, this is the most difficult question. I have been fortunate to have several. I’ll list three:
Winning the Pennsylvania state high school championship. ELCO high school in Myerstown, Pa. 1,100 students. The semi-finals were on a Friday, a two-hour drive from the school. 19 bus loads made the trip. On Saturday, we won 2-1. That night, a parade of fire trucks and convertible cars and trucks escorted the trophy through the three small towns of Myerstown, Nemanstown and Richland, Pa. The streets were lined with people. Great fun.
University of Tampa –1981 National Champs. The first for the university.
Qualifying the USA for the U-17 World Championships. We were one of 16 countries to compete in Egypt. We finished 12th in the world.
Q: How far can the U.S. national team go in the World Cup later this year?
A: There are 32 teams competing. Our first-round group is USA, England, Wales, Iran. I expect us to do well against Wales and Iran. The last time we played England in a world cup was 2010. It was a draw 1-1. Two teams will advance to the next round of 16. I predict we will advance. Our chances in the next round are 50-50.
Q: Have you been involved with the team preparing in any way?
A: No, not with this team. My last involvement with international competition was for the team that competed in the 1998 World Cup in France. I was involved with the preparation leading up to the tournament. At the tournament, I spent two weeks in France scouting our future opponents.
I did some scouting for the 2002 and 2006 teams.
Q: What do you do when you are NOT involved with soccer?
A: Lauren and I enjoy life in Big Canoe. July 1 will mark our seventh year here. We try to stay involved with our two newly educated grandkids, Nichole (Tennessee, 2020) and Tyler (North Dakota, 2022). Lauren and I enjoy live music and support the arts in the ATL. Golf is my athletic passion, now. However, soccer still influences my leisure time. I do serve as an instructor for U.S. Soccer Coaching Certification. And I do some work for the Major League Soccer. I am a match director for the MLS games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Q: What’s a perfect day in Big Canoe for you?
A: It starts with coffee with Lauren by our fireplace, soft relaxation music in the background. Our day is planned. I’m off to do battle on the golf course. Lauren will walk three to four miles and then retreat to her office to work on one of her novels. That afternoon, I will collect my winnings at the Clubhouse and share a beer with the losers. Dinner will be shared at one of our many friends’ homes. Add a nightcap and a walk home. We love this place. We fit right into the profile of Big Canoe people.