What's next?: As he ventures into retirement, former CFL coach Ken Miller returns to Dickinson to accept DSU's highest alumni honor
Less than a year into retirement, Ken Miller can attest that life after football can be a strange for former coaches.
"I tell people that I'm suffering from a little bit of whiplash, from going 100 miles an hour to pretty slow," Miller said. "It's a pretty drastic change in lifestyle."
Life has slowed down considerably for the former head coach of the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Instead of patrolling the sidelines, Miller and wife Maureen have quietly retreated to a peaceful lifestyle in Tryon, N.C., a small town near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"It's a beautiful place," he said.
One aspect of retirement Miller said he enjoys is having the time to travel.
This weekend, Miller and his wife will be in Dickinson to accept the Golden Hawk Award from Dickinson State University, the highest honor the school bestows upon its alumni.
"It's a tremendous honor to receive the award that they're going to present to me this weekend," Miller said Tuesday during a phone interview from his home in North Carolina. "Really, I feel so honored and blessed and really humbled that I would be selected for that. It's almost in the realm of unbelievable."
Not when you consider the accomplishments of the 1967 Dickinson State College graduate, who played football under Bob Tracy and Roger Huffman and was a student assistant coach in 1966 for head coach Orlo Sundre.
"You could tell he wanted to learn," said Lavern Jessen, a former DSU coach and athletic director who was an assistant football coach alongside Miller. "He was going to do something with his life and he certainly has."
After leaving DSU, the quiet and unassuming former defensive linemen went on to coaching stints at Oregon and California high schools.
Miller later landed at the University of Redlands (Calif.). He served as an offensive line coach, offensive and defensive coordinator and head coach over various stints from 1977 to 2000.
In 2002, he joined the CFL's Toronto Argonauts as quarterbacks coach. He later coached Toronto's offensive and defensive lines before moving to Saskatchewan in 2007.
Miller took over as the Roughriders' head coach in 2008 after serving as the team's offensive coordinator in their 2007 Grey Cup season. The Grey Cup is the CFL's equivalent of the Super Bowl.
Over the next three seasons, Miller led the Roughriders to the playoffs three times. They lost in both the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cup to the Montreal Alouettes.
He stepped down as head coach following the 2010 season to become the team's vice president of football operations. But, he was forced back onto the sidelines in 2011 when the team fired his replacement, Greg Marshall, following a 1-7 start to the season.
Miller compiled a 36-27-1 record over three and a half seasons in the CFL, retiring after the 2011 season.
During Miller's time in Regina, Sask., Jessen led an annual trip to watch his old friend coach the Roughriders.
There, Huffman said he realized just how much Miller meant to Saskatchwan's team, as well as their fans.
"We talked to people in eating places and in bars," Huffman said. "They couldn't say a bad word about him. He had a quiet disposition. He could bark, but you never saw it very often."
Jessen said he often points to Miller -- who grew up in tiny Dufur, Ore., where he played 6-man football -- as an example of reaching the pinnacle of one's field regardless of where they came from.
"To me, it's something I've always believed in," Jessen said. "It doesn't make a difference where you come from. If you really want to make the trip and pay your dues along the way, you can achieve some wonderful things. He's a prime example of that."
This fall, Miller did some scouting of NFL preseason games for the Roughriders, looking at prospective players who would be cut before the regular season began and how they might fit into the CFL.
Miller would like to stay involved with football in some way, but said he is "still working on those decisions."
"I'll probably disengage myself from the active part of personal and coaching and watching it at a more leisurely way," he said. "I find that difficult to do right now. But maybe with practice, I'll get better."
As football fades to the background in his life, Miller said he and Maureen hope to become better community servants in Tryon.
They enjoy being involved in community outreach projects, he said, calling it one of the best parts of his time in Regina.
"I'm just trying to become engaged in our community here and just find just out what the next steps are, exactly how we -- I say we because it's both my wife Maureen and I -- how we're going to engage this next step in our lives," Miller said.