BY JEFF FALK
There exists in local sports circles a little used catch-phrase called ”walking the halls.’ It refers to the number of potential student-athletes in any given high school who, for some undertermined reason, are physically capable, but choose not to go out for sports.
Theoretically, these non-competitors can be the difference between athletic programs enjoying success on the playing field or not.
Indirectly, Rob Miller has been charged with that task of recruiting all the football players at Elco who are currently just ‘walking the halls’. Given his success at working a similar magic for the Raiders track and field squad, Miller would seem to be the right man for the job.
Miller, a 37-year-old social studies teacher in the school district and the current track and field coach, was recently hired as Elco’s new head football coach. As Mark Evans’ replacement, Miller will be asked to take the Raiders’ program to the next level.
“The number one thing we need to do is get kids out,” said Miller. “Number two, the kids need to commit to more than 12 weeks of a football season. A lot of successful teams win by what they do in the off-season, weight lifting, getting in over the summer. We’ve had a bit of a rough spot the last few years and I’d like to get that turned around.”
“With Bob as the head coach, the numbers went up unbelievably in track and field,” said Elco athletic director Doug Bohannon, whose hiring of Miller closely reflected his own personal beliefs. “We were almost 80 to 100 strong, where we used to be 50 or 60. We always took the approach that there’s power in numbers.
“Yeah, that’s absolutely the mindset, ‘If he can do it in track, let’s see if we can do it in football’,” Bohannon continued. “We’re hoping for a few more kids. Our goal is always 15 a class. That’s more than respectable. Bob coaches three sports and he wants kids to play two or three sports. He preaches it.”
Larger turnouts, bigger numbers and greater depth can encourage competition for positions within a football team, provide a safeguard for injuries and help develop future contributors. From a program standpoint, it can be the key to continuity, stability and sustainability.
“The numbers have been in the 30s the last couple of years,” said Miller. “We’d like to get it in the mid 40s to the 50s. We want to get as many kids out as possible. Just because you’re not the starting quarterback, doesn’t mean you don’t have a huge role on the team. Larger turn-outs give you back-ups and creates competition.”
Miller’s magic with numbers gave him the upper-hand over John Carley during the recent hiring process, which was necessitated by Evans’ sudden flight to Manheim Township. Carley, a technical education teacher for 24 years in the school district, was Evans’ defensive coordinator, assistant head coach and right-hand man.
Miller and Carley were the only two of the six applicants interviewed by Bohannon. Bohannon’s recommendation of Miller was approved by the Elco school board at its July meeting.
“It happened fast,” said Bohannon. “Both guys are teachers. Both guys are really good coaches. It (the decision) was easy because it was one or the other. The hard part was telling John. I’m sure it will sting for a while, but I expect that he will stay on. Him and Bob are good friends.
“I’m highly confident that John could do the job, without a doubt,” Bohannon added. “That’s why we didn’t go anywhere else.”
“I have a great staff,” said Miller. “It can’t just come from one person. The track and field coach before me, Chuck Harrison was fantastic. The staff was extremely positive, and they all echoed the same sentiments.”
Miller was an assistant for seven years under Evans, but spent the past four seasons coaching wide receivers and special teams for Jim Cantafio at Cedar Cliff. Miller, a graduate of State College High School and Juniata College, has also coached middle school basketball at Elco for the last decade.
“It’s something I knew about a long time ago,” said Miller of the head coaching position at Elco. “I wanted to apply when Mark (Evans) applied for the Hempfield job. It was probably about ten years ago that I realized I wanted to be a head football coach. When I was with Mark it was pretty exciting. I knew then that I wanted to coach football.”
“The thing that Bob had over John was he was a head coach in other sports and he was successful,” said Bohannon. “You know what he’s done in track.”
There was a time when the Elco football program competed with the highly successful boys’ soccer program for athletes. Whether or not that competition is a thing of the past is a point of conjecture.
“We know how the program runs,” said Miller. “I don’t think that’s a big deal any more. Kirk Keppley’s the new coach (of Elco’s boys’ soccer program). He’s a great guy. I don’t think there’s any competition any more. We just want to get kids out.”
And time is of the essence. There are 25 days remaining until the first day of official practice for the 2012 scholastic football season.
As for the Raiders, they return eight starters on offense and eight starters on defense, from a 2011 squad that went 3-7.
“I understand what I want in terms of my program,” said Miller. “Sometimes I’d like it to be all about the kids. But there’s other things involved.
“Being a head coach, there’s just a lot more responsibility,” Miller continued. “There’s a lot more to do. Just making sure you have a clear vision of what you want and making sure the kids get the point. The staff is staying on and they have a great feel for the program.”