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Remembering Tyrone Sports Legend Tom “Coach” Miller
January 20, 2022
For nearly fifty years, Thomas Lynn Miller was a pillar of the Tyrone community. Born and raised in Tyrone, Miller graduated from Tyrone High School in 1962 and served the district as a teacher for 37 years, from 1968 to 2005.
Throughout his life, as an athlete, coach, teacher, and member of the community, Miller shaped many generations of Tyrone youth.
He was admired for his competitive spirit, athleticism, and dedication to coaching.
“I have very vivid memories of Tom, both from watching him play football when I was a kid and also from playing basketball against him on Sunday nights at the 17th Street playground in my last couple years of high school,” said Tyrone native Larry Turnbaugh, who looked up to Miller.
Sunday nights were special, according to Turnbaugh, because Tom and his friends were always there to play.
“Our games were always the youngsters vs. the oldsters. As one of the leaders of the “oldsters,” Tom taught me many tricks of the trade that helped me improve greatly, but mostly he helped teach me to compete. With his tenacity and bulky knee braces, he brought his ‘A’ game every single time he played. Such a special treat to be able to play against a Tyrone sports legend,” said Turnbaugh.
High School and College
In high school, Miller was a well-respected athlete, participating in football, basketball, and track.
According to Tyrone football historian Kerry Naylor, Miller was one of the last high school quarterbacks in Tyrone history to call his own plays. Following the 1961 season, he was named to the Central Counties Conference All-Star Team.
Miller led the Golden Eagles football team to an impressive 8-2 record as a senior in 1962. It was the first winning season the team had in five years.
Miller recalled the special bond between the players and the coaches on the football team.
“It was all blood and guts with the coaching staff. We loved and admired those guys,” Miller told Naylor in an interview.
Miller also made contributions as a starter on the Golden Eagles basketball team and as a track and field athlete, but he had one dream, to play college football.
He worked hard to accomplish this goal, which came true in 1962 when he was recruited by Colorado State University as a quarterback.
According to Naylor, Miller was one of the first Tyrone football players to be recruited to a Division I program.
The following year, Miller packed up and moved 1500 miles away to pursue his dream, with nothing more than his natural athletic ability, grit, and his future wife, Sandy.
Miller appeared at quarterback in 21 games in two seasons at Colorado State, averaging 58.6% passing completion rate with a 99.2% passing efficiency rating. Miller then transferred to the College of Southern Utah to finish his college football career, graduating in 1967 with a B.S in Physical Education.
Although his years as a Division I quarterback were over, Miller refused to let it be the end of his playing career.
Miller played semi-professional football for the Omaha Mustangs, Harrisburg Caps, and the Central Pennsylvania Whitetail Bucks. The Mustangs were in the Continental Football League and were widely regarded as an NFL-feeder team.
Teaching and Coaching
Miller returned to his alma mater in 1968 to teach Physical Education.
He could always be found in the gym playing Battle Ball with his classes, talking all things athletics, and recruiting for Tyrone sports.
In spite of his stern approach to education, everyone wanted Mr. Miller as their gym teacher.
“You always knew which students were placed with Mr. Miller by their cheers [when the schedules were released],” said TAHS grad Katie Riley.
Miller cared deeply for his students, always making an effort to get to know them in class and on their respective playing fields.
“One of the greatest things about him was how unflappable he was,” said former student Vincent Gray. “In 7th grade, I got knocked unconscious in a freak volleyball accident. When I came to, he was so relaxed and matter of fact that I didn’t even realize how bad it was or that I was out for a few minutes. I remember sitting in the nurse’s office looking down and finally noticing that my shirt was saturated with blood and Mr. Miller was explaining to the nurse ‘Well, we had a little run in playing volleyball today.’”
He was widely loved, respected, and cherished by students and fellow teachers alike.
“I absolutely loved having Mr. Miller in class,” said former student Emily Oakes. “He called everyone by their last names. I can’t imagine how a teacher keeps track of all those names, but looking back it made you feel close to him. It was a way to bond with students.”
In addition to teaching, Miller was head coach of the Tyrone varsity football team during both the 1980s and 1990s, as well as an assistant at Moshannon Valley, Bellefonte, and Philipsburg.
He coached basketball, baseball, and track and field at many levels. He also trained athletes of all sports in the weight room.
In 1979, Miller was hired as the head coach of the Tyrone varsity football team. With his college football experience and successes, Miller was perfect for the job. After all, his greatest passion was sports and sharing his knowledge of it with others.
“It was his ‘reason for being,’” said Jim Butler, former Tyrone High School social studies teacher and one of Miller’s assistant coaches. “He viewed everything through athletics. He was good at it and he made it his career. It wasn’t like work to him.”
Although ‘Coach’ could be tough when necessary, Miller cared deeply about his athletes and his relationships with them.
“I remember [one time] Coach [was] chewing us out on the practice field, [and he] turned away and then turned back to us and said ‘I love you guys,’” recalled former player, David Stack.
Miller was known as a “player’s coach” and always emphasized the importance of having fun while playing. He allowed his athletes to feel comfortable competing without added pressure.
“He was really good to us. It wasn’t ever a toxic environment. He could make you laugh…[but] he was serious about the game, and that came through,” said Kevin Ferner in Kerry Naylor’s second volume of The Tyrone Football Story.
Miller spent 10 years as Tyrone’s head football coach, finishing with a 46-42-6 record. He vacated the position when John Franco took over in 1994. Miller is tied for third all-time coaching wins in Tyrone football history, with 46 wins between 1979-1986 and 1992-1993.
After Franco was hired at Tyrone, Miller relocated his coaching talents to Moshannon Valley as a defensive coordinator.
“[Coach Miller] was the coolest. I wish I would have had more than one season with him. It meant a lot to all of us he was there for us, even without any ties to the area. He used to call us ‘the boys up the mountain.’ He’ll always be remembered as a Tyrone guy, but the boys up the mountain loved him too,” said Andy Stine, former Moshannon Valley football player and current sports editor at the Daily Herald.
When Miller’s five children started playing sports, he began coaching little league, youth football, and youth basketball.
Although typical for coaches to draft their own children, Miller’s two oldest, Barbara and Lance, played for an opposing team within the minor league.
“[Coach Tom Miller] was the first coach that believed I could pitch,” said former player John Harlow. “He told me that the key to pitching was own the inside corner. If they are leaning over the plate, brush them back so you get to the outside corner.”
During a regular season game that year, Harlow was pitching to Coach’s daughter and accidentally drilled her.
“When I got back to the dugout, I was worried about facing an angry father. He said ‘John, I said rule the inside corner, don’t drill my daughter,’” said Harlow.
Miller also coached various girls basketball teams during his tenure.
“He was the definition of grit. He was a man of character, integrity and hard work. He loved his family and [players] as if we were his own children. He provided me [with] a rock solid foundation on which I built my athletic career,” said former player Megan Delbaggio Fernandez.
Miller retired from the Tyrone School District in 2005 with 37 years of service.
Retirement gave him plenty of time to devote to watching football, spending time with his family, and coaching his grandchildren.
“He watched every football game that was on TV. One time he came up to me at a game and said ‘Hey Jim, did you see that Hawaii game last night? Oh well, it didn’t start until midnight. Yeah, I really liked their offense, they ran that one play, you know that play?’” recalled friend James Butler.
If there was one thing Miller loved more than sports, it was his family; particularly his grandchildren.
“He loved my mom, brothers, sisters, and me, but his greatest joy was his grandchildren,” said his daughter Maryellen.
Miller attended every one of his grandchildren’s athletic events that he could, always sporting a Colorado State sweatshirt and storing his car keys in his sock.
Miller also never gave up coaching, serving as an assistant on many of the teams that his grandsons, current freshman Ashton and seventh grade student Ben Walk, played on.
“I knew Coach [very] well because he coached me in football and basketball over the years. He was the best coach I ever had, he taught me a lot of things about the sport and he would always have confidence in all of his players, even if you didn’t think you could accomplish it,” said current TAHS freshman Ian Gibbons.
Tyrone sophomore football player Brady Ronan called Miller “ a great role model and always someone I looked up to.”
Miller has left a long lasting impact on every athlete that he has coached, from Tyrone and beyond, but it is safe to say that he has impacted his grandchildren the most.
“I have so many memories, every time I was with him there was something for me to remember. Whether it was sports or just talking about how Colorado State was doing. I can name beyond a lot of memories but I am so blessed to [be able to] call Coach Miller my grandfather. Thank you Grandfather for all you did in my life. I know you’re still watching and supporting me from above,” said Miller’s grandson, Ashton Walk.
Many will remember Coach as a foundation layer and recruiter for Tyrone sports. Some will remember him as a tremendous athlete and fierce competitor who played with strength and passion. Friends will remember him as a friendly guy with a distinct voice that will forever echo in their ears. His family will remember him as a devoted husband and father.
But, perhaps his favorite title of all was Grandfather. It was the name that demonstrated all he was, what he achieved, and how his spirit will live on.