Ralph H. Miller (March 9, 1919 – May 15, 2001) was a college men's basketball coach. The Chanute, Kansas, native coached at Wichita State University (1951-1964), the University of Iowa (1964-1970), and Oregon State University (1970-1989), compiling a 657-382 (.632) overall record in 38 seasons combined. Miller's NCAA basketball teams won five conference titles. He was college basketball's coach of the year twice and currently has the 30th most wins on the all time win list for college coaches. He was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach on May 3, 1988.
In addition to his wins, he was known for devising a system of full-court pressure defense that revolutionized the game in the 1950s. Miller was the first coach to have his players press full-court after every possession.
Ralph "Cappy" Miller was born in Chanute, Kansas. During high school, Ralph set the state record in the low hurdles, in 1937. He was all-state three consecutive years in football and basketball. By 1940, he was beating 1932 gold medalist Jim Baush in seven of ten events in the decathlon. While attending Kansas University, Ralph was an all conference basketball player and a standout football player. One of his professors at Kansas, James A. Naismith, would become his mentor as well. Naismith was the inventor of basketball and the first basketball coach at Kansas. In the Fall of 1937, he took a psychology class while at Kansas and met a woman named Emily Jean Milam. They were married five years later.
The year before they said their vows, Miller was asked to coach boys basketball at Mount Oread High School in Lawrence. The team consisted primarily of professors' sons. During World War II, Miller enlisted in the U. S. Air Force and held desk jobs in Florida, Texas, and California. After the war was over, Miller became an assistant director of recreation and oversaw a swimming pool and playground in Redlands, California. In 1949, a friend called him and offered him a head coaching job at East High School in Kansas. In three years at East High, Miller's teams finished second, third, and first in the state using his system of execution and pressure basketball. In 1951, the president of Wichita State University offered him a job as Head Coach.
Miller spent 13 years at Wichita State (WSU), winning 255 games, earning three National Invitation Tournament berths, and a spot in the NCAA Tournament in 1964. During his 13-year stint at WSU, Ralph Miller became the coach with the most wins in Shocker basketball history. In the spring of 1964, Miller left WSU to become the head coach at the University of Iowa.
Cleo Littleton was one of his first prodigies at WSU. He averaged 18.2 points as a freshman, which remains a school record. He was the first player west of the Mississippi to score more than 2,000 points, and is now one of only four Shocker players with their number retired. Littleton was also one of the first African-Americans to play basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Despite having to stay on the bus and eat, and not being able to play in some gymnasiums, Littleton still holds seven school records. WSU compiled a record of 71-43 during the 1951-55 seasons, in which Littleton averaged 19.0 points per game. The 1953-54 roster for the Shockers won a school-record 27 games.
Miller's next star player was 6' 7" Dave Stallworth. Nicknamed "The Rave," he became the Shockers’ first consensus All-America player in 1964, and finished then-second on WSU’s career scoring list with 1,936 points. Miller summarized Stallworth’s standout career by saying, "Stallworth was the best all-around offensive player I have had the privilege of working with.” Stallworth went on to succeed in the National Basketball Association (1965-1967; 1969-1975) as a member of the New York Knicks and Baltimore/Capital Bullets. He averaged 9.3 points per game in his career and won a league championship with New York in 1970.
In the six seasons Miller coached at Iowa, he won 95 games and lost only 51, for a winning percentage of (.651). The Hawkeyes averaged more than 100 points a game in 1970, and went undefeated in the Big Ten Conference en route to an NCAA Tournament berth. However, the weather in Iowa, in 1970, forced Ralph to consider a state with a more moderate climate. This led him to take his family from Iowa and take the head coaching job at Oregon State University.
In Ralph Miller's first four years at Oregon State he had a 58-46 (.557) record. Things were not going as planned for Miller and he and his family contemplated moving back to Kansas. The Millers toughed it out and stayed at Oregon State. Miller had only two losing seasons in 19 years at OSU, but even by his perfectionist standards the 1980-81 Beavers were extraordinary. The veteran team revolved around Steve Johnson, a mobile 6-foot-10 center with a wide body and a soft touch around the basket. His eye-popping 74.6 shooting percentage, an NCAA record, was a function of not only his talent but a disciplined offense that OSU ran with such precision that it established a school record for shooting (56.4).
The 1980-81 Beavers were so focused and businesslike that they couldn't always enjoy their achievements as much as the screaming fans who packed Gill Coliseum every night. Miller was viewed as a disciplinarian and demanded focus from his players. This led to an almost robotic and emotionless team in 1980. Heading into the season finale against Arizona State, the Beavers were 26-0 and had earned a first-round bye in the NCAA's West Regional at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. By then, OSU seemed invincible. The players believed it, and even opposing players seemed to believe it. In those rare close games, the Beavers found a way to win—and the opponent found a way to lose. The Sun Devils shocked the basketball world by blistering the Beavers 87-67 at Gill, shattering the perfect season. Up next was Kansas State, which had won its first-round NCAA game over San Francisco. The game was tied with the clock ticking away when Rolando Blackman, of Kansas State, made a game winning shot to send the Beavers home 54-52. This was Millers last best hope to win a national championship.
He would coach eight more years, finishing with 657 wins in 38 seasons. In his final three years as a coach, he had the opportunity to coach Gary Payton. Throughout his four-year career at OSU, Payton became one of the most decorated basketball players in OSU history.
In 1989, at the age of 70, Ralph Miller decided to retire from the game of basketball.
Miller died on May 15, 2001, at his Black Butte Ranch in Oregon. Miller was survived by his wife, Jean; a son, Paul Miller; daughters, Susan Langer of Vancouver, Washington, and Shannon Jakosky of Balboa, California. He had 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Ralph Miller left a lasting mark on college basketball with his win-loss record, but his coaching system has been preserved forever on his top selling basketball DVD, Ralph Miller’s Pressure Basketball System. Numerous Division 1 coaches in today's college basketball landscape use his system and fast break theories.
Miller had just three losing seasons during his 38-year coaching career. He won four Pac-10 titles at OSU and made eight NCAA tournament appearances in 19 seasons from 1971-89. His 1981 Beavers' team was ranked #1 for nine weeks. While at Iowa he won two Big Ten titles in six seasons. While at Wichita State, he won one Missouri Valley Conference title in 13 seasons. Miller was a two-time AP Coach of the Year, and was named NIT/Kodak Man of the Year in 1988. He was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988 and is currently 30th on the all time wins list for college coaches.
The last superstar he coached, Gary Payton, is still playing in the NBA. In 2006, the 38 year old Payton re-signed with the defending champion Miami Heat on a one-year, $1.2 million contract. During the subsequent 2006-07 NBA season, Payton continued to climb up several NBA all-time lists: He moved from 17th to 8th in all-time NBA games played, passed John Havlicek and Robert Parish to move into 7th in all-time minutes played, and passed Hal Greer and Larry Bird to become the 21st-highest scorer in NBA history.
"Ralph had superb discipline. His teams were well coached in all phases of the game. He was always able to get 100 percent out of each player. A genuine superstar in coaching. He was awesome baby!"—Dick Vitale, analyst for ESPN.
"Ralph Miller is one of the most outstanding coaches in the history of the game. He had great success at the high school levels and then built great programs at Wichita State, Iowa, and Oregon State with a system that put pressure on his opponents with quick hitting offense and great defensive play. Ralph Miller's approach to the game is very basic. His teaching methods are simple but sound."—Lute Olsen, coach of the Arizona Wildcats.
"Ralph Miller was one of the finest coaches in the history of intercollegiate basketball. His teams were always fundamentally sound, team oriented, well conditioned, and ran both their offense and defense with great patience. I know of no coach whose teams competed against his, whether it be at Wichita State, Iowa, or Oregon State, who did not have great respect for him."—John Wooden, former coach of the UCLA Bruins.
"I followed his truly outstanding coaching career, beginning at Wichita University, then to Iowa, and Oregon State. His teams were extremely well drilled and the confidence he showed as a player carried over to making all of his teams very confident. They were certainly fundamentally sound as well."—Dean Smith, former coach of the University of North Carolina.
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