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EGGERS: OIT's 'Little General' nears 1,000-win Miles-post

by: COURTESY OF KLAMATH FALLS HERALD AND NEWS - Danny Miles, coach of the Oregon Institute of Technology Owls, gives instructions during a timeout. He needs two more wins to reach 1,000 for his career.As a fresh-faced graduate of Southern Oregon College, Danny Miles' first coaching job was as freshman basketball coach at Klamath Union High in 1970-71. The varsity coach was the legendary Al Keck, who had guided the Pelicans to the 1965 A-1 state championship.

"Al won his 500th career game that season," Miles says. "I could not imagine somebody winning that many games. I remember thinking, 'That's 25 years of winning 20 games a season.' "

Double that and let sink in the milestone that Miles is himself approaching.

In his 43rd season as head coach at Oregon Tech, the "Little General" can put himself in the four-figures category this weekend if the Owls (11-7 overall, 4-2 in Cascade Collegiate Conference play) beat Northwest University at Kirkland, Wash., on Friday and Evergreen State at Olympia, Wash., on Saturday.

To think about 1,000 victories is mind-boggling, even for the man on the precipice of such an achievement.

"It's something you never dream about when you start coaching," says Miles, whose career record stands at 998-404. "Your goal as a coach is to impact your kids. You'd like people to look at you as a solid coach and good person. And you want to win games.

"But looking back, I can't imagine coaching that many games, let alone winning that many. It's hard to believe what's happened."

  • What has happened is Miles, 68, has quietly gone about building a legacy in the state that may never be matched. He is to basketball what Linfield's Ad Rutschman was to football on the small-college scene.

    Miles has coached OIT to NAIA Division II national championships in 2004, '08 and '12 along with one national runner-up finish. He has 10 seasons of 30 victories or more, including three of the last four. He has averaged 23 wins per season and has amassed 14 district or conference titles.

    It has gone largely unnoticed throughout Oregon, where the focus is on the Trail Blazers, the Ducks and Beavers and even the preps before attention turns to the small-college level. Plus, he is doing his thing at the opposite end of the state from the Portland metro area, which leaves him underpublicized and underappreciated in these parts.

    Miles is a big deal, though, in Klamath Falls, where he is regarded as a local treasure.

    "Danny is a humble man and an incredible human being," says Bob Kingzett, executive director of the Jeld-Wen Foundation in Klamath Falls. "He's a lot more than a coach. He's a great leader in terms of developing young men into husbands, fathers and community leaders. What a privilege it's been for Klamath to have had him as long as we have."

    Those who have coached against Miles know his value.

    "Danny is terrific with players in terms of teaching them not only the game of basketball but life," former Warner Pacific College coach Bart Valentine says. "He's a great role model for young people and a credit to our profession."

    Only one coach has won more basketball games at the four-year level in the U.S. That's Harry Statham, 76, in his 48th season at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill. Statham is 1,074-437 at McKendree, which is transitioning from the NAIA level to NCAA Division II.

    Miles considers Statham a good friend. The teams squared off only once, in the NAIA Tournament in 1989. McKendree won 94-91. Since then, they have sat together at a Final Four game and worked several clinics together.

    If Oregon Tech doesn't get a pair of wins this weekend, the next game is a road test at Southern Oregon on Jan. 18. If the Owls win only one of the next three, Miles could get win No. 1,000 at home vs. Eastern Oregon on Jan. 24. Would he like to get his landmark triumph before the home fans?

    "I'd just like to get it over with and get the focus back on the kids," he says, adding, "but I'd love to win these next two games, to put us near the top of the league. We'll take it wherever we can get it."

    Not that Miles isn't appreciative of the fuss being made in town about what he is about to accomplish.

    "Everybody is making a big deal about it," he says. "The community has been so supportive. They're pretty excited. Our fans and all the players and coaches -- it encompasses a lot of people. That makes it pretty special."

  • Before he was a coach, Danny Miles was the son of a coach. His father, Claude Miles, was 58 when Danny was born. Claude Miles had been a professional baseball player in the early 1900s -- "he played as a pro when he was 14 years old," Danny says -- and later coached professionally. Claude Miles was such a supporter of sports in Medford, the baseball field was named "Miles Field" in his honor.

    "It got torn down in 2002," Danny says. "They put a Walmart in there."

    Claude Miles built a baseball field for his three boys in the cow pasture behind their Medford home, replete with dirt infield, backstop and dugouts.

    "We played a lot of games back there," Danny recalls. "When somebody would hit a home run, we'd drop our gloves and take off for the bridge to retrieve the ball from the river underneath."

    Danny, who would grow to only 5-7, was a three-sport star at Medford High, playing for coaching legends in football (Fred Spiegelberg), basketball (Frank Roelandt) and baseball (John Kovenz). Miles was known as the "Little General" when he moved on to Southern Oregon, where he was a quarterback in football, a guard in basketball and a shortstop in baseball.

    (Miles shares my opinion, incidentally, that kids should play as many sports as they can for as long as they can. "Specialization is terrible," he says. "A kid doesn't know what his best sport is. Mine changed each year from the ninth grade on through. A kid who is forced to specialize in one sport in eighth or ninth grade could have been really good in another. High school kids are having to choose. I don't think it's right. For me, it was nice to go from one sport to the next to give yourself a mental break, if nothing else.")

    As a sophomore at SOC, Miles led the nation in total offense and set a national record with a 77.9 completion percentage. "I think it's still the NAIA single-season record," he says.

    Miles came to Oregon Tech at age 24 as an assistant coach in football, basketball and baseball. He worked 13 years on the football staff, coaching under the likes of Don Read and Greg McMackin. He coached nine years each of baseball and softball and also served as the school's athletic director for a time.

    "I've done quite a few things," he says. And has been a part of quite a few victories.

    "Counting American Legion ball, close to 2,000," he says. "When I first started coaching, I wasn't sure which direction I wanted to go. At that time, I wanted to coach at the D-I level. I figured I'd have a better chance to get there by coaching (football, basketball and baseball)."

    Miles became the head basketball coach his second year at Oregon Tech. For 25 years, he taught physical education and health classes. That provided his salary. "I don't think I got a penny for coaching," he says.

    About 10 years ago, Miles retired as athletic director and was retained on a part-time basis as basketball coach. He lives on his Public Employees Retirement System payout, preferring not to reveal how much the university pays him additionally to coach.

    "It's kind of embarrassing to say," he says. "The most I ever made was $72,000, when I was athletic director and still coaching basketball and softball."

    "He makes a very modest salary," says Kingzett, who has spearheaded drives to help fund the OIT basketball program. "The best deal anybody could have for a coach is Danny Miles and what he has brought back to the school. He has given so many fold for what he has been given."

  • Don't get the idea Miles is complaining about his current lot in life.

    "I couldn't ask for a better place to coach, or a better place to live," he says. "I've been very fortunate."

    When Miles was about 35, he saw a quote from legendary Pacific Lutheran football coach Frosty Westering.

    "Something to the effect of, 'The big time is where you're at,' " Miles says. "That hit home with me."

    No longer was coaching at the Division I level a goal. Other schools came calling in ensuing years, but he stayed put at Oregon Tech. In 1995, on the night he won his 500th game, OIT's gym was christened "Danny Miles Court."

    "I thought you had to die for something like that to happen," he says, chuckling. "It was a very nice gesture."

    Since his first season as head coach, Miles has used what he calls a "Value Point System" to help determine playing time. It's a formula that computes points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, charges taken, missed shots, turnovers and fouls. Miles places a special premium on assist/turnover ratio, and believes the system helps his players take better care of the ball.

    "It's been very important to our success," Miles says. "I use it as a tool, to show a kid why he's not playing, too. It happens that right now, our top five value point players are starting, but not always. A kid might be the best athlete on the team, but he's wild with the ball and throws it all over the place. A lot of other schools are using the system now."

    Oregon Tech's level of esprit de corps is a chief weapon, too.

    "Danny does a great job of developing team chemistry and motivation amongst his players," Valentine says. "His teams are always so tough and so together. You can have them down 15-20 points, they're still unflappable. Nothing rattles them."

    Oregon Tech games are a happening, with Danny Miles Court normally filled to its 2,000-seat capacity. The Owls' fan base is diverse. A group of developmentally disabled persons occupies the first few rows behind the home bench. Two of them serve as honorary co-captains every game. "Our kids love them," Miles says. Every year the Owls play a charity game against them. "We've never beaten them," he says.

    Miles has developed a special friendship with Stevie Arnholt, an autistic man he met in 1968. "I've taken Stevie home a thousand times," Miles says. "He normally attends all of our games. This year, he's gone to a couple of high school games and missed a couple of ours. I told him (kiddingly) he's a fair-weather fan."

    A group of seniors from a local retirement home sit at the other end of the gym. "We have 15 or 20 come to every game," Miles says.

    Miles was enshrined in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. After the ceremony, he was approached by wives of two coaches — one in the Pac-10, one in the NBA.

    "They said after listening to me speak, they wished their husbands had my job," he says. "They said, 'We'd trade you straight across.' That drove things home for me. I'm in a great place to raise a family, with great community support. You want to surround yourself with good people. That's what we've done here."

  • Miles is appreciative of the support of his family, particularly his wife of 26 years, Judie. Between them, they have five children and 19 grandchildren. Early in his coaching career, Miles says, he was consumed by the job.

    "I went through a divorce because of it," he says. "My priorities weren't right. I used to say, 'You can't watch enough video.' I'd be at the office from 6 in the morning to 7:30 at night. I wasn't around my family enough. I learned my lesson. I haven't taken a video home in 26 years."

    Miles says he was still "searching" for more in life when he attended the funeral of a former high school teammate 12 years ago.

    "He had named 10 guys and wanted us all to go see a man of faith and talk about salvation," Miles says. "It really hit me. Within four months, I accepted Christ into my life with the help of (former Oregon football great) George Dames. Greatest day of my life."

    Miles has made several junkets abroad to help conduct coaching clinics. In two of the past three years, Danny and Judie have gone on Athletes in Action trips to Rwanda, where they became acquainted with a girl, now 23, who lost her parents through genocide when she was 5. They are in the process of helping her get a foreign-student visa to move to Klamath Falls and attend college at OIT. They intend to adopt her. "It's just something we feel very strongly about," he says.

    It's the caring part of Miles that those around him most appreciate.

    'He's the kind of guy who gives back," Kingzett says. "I have such great respect for the attention he gives to academics with his players. Fourteen of his last 16 teams have averaged 3.0 or better in the classroom -- and Oregon Tech is a difficult school academically. His kids are students first and athletes second. They've been able to meld it all and accomplish things on and off the court."

    One of Miles' chief rivals through the 2000s was Valentine at Warner Pacific.

    "There was a four-year period where we beat them four years in a row down there -- and nobody wins at Tech," Valentine says. "And during those four years, they came up and beat us at our place every year. That's the way it has gone. It's been an honor for me to match wits with him through the years."

    Valentine retired after the 2010-11 season. Through the season, Miles carried a ball wherever he went, getting athletic directors and coaches to sign at every stop. Warner Pacific's last game of the season was at Oregon Tech.

    "In front of a full house, he presented me with that ball," Valentine says. "Shows you what kind of a guy he is. And then they went out and kicked our fannies. I was victim No. 800. Glad I'm not going to be No. 1,000."

    Could Miles have been successful at the Division I level?

    "Absolutely, without question," Valentine says. "But he was smart to stay at K-Falls. He built this magical place down there. It meant so much to him, he didn't leave."

  • What has been Miles' secret?

    "My wife calls me a sloppy perfectionist," he says, laughing again. "I really believe in repetition. Keep it simple. Do everything you do well, rather than do too many things halfway. My main philosophy is, I want the kids to look back at playing at Oregon Tech as the experience of their lives."

    Miles has coached three sons of players he had previous coached. A fourth is on his way next season. So far, no grandsons of players from the early years. It still might happen.

    How much longer will Miles go? He thinks two to four more years. "We've won (national titles) in '04, '08 and '12," he says. "Maybe we can win another one in 2016."

  • Full disclosure: I've never seen the man coach. Before the Danny Miles era ends, I want to watch the "Little General" in action. There's a certain genius to a coach who does it so well for so long in one place.

    "It's been an awful lot of fun," Miles says, "to put the pieces of the puzzle together."

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    Twitter: @kerryeggers