Miller brings top-ranked Wartburg to Eby Fieldhouse
Miller is "business as usual" in final season leading Knights
Wartburg wrestling coach Jim Miller owns little interest in a swan song.
He has been singing the same tune that has made his Knights an NCAA Division III power.
Miller announced before the season this will be his final year leading the program with co-head coach Eric Keller taking over next season. Miller’s farewell tour visits Cedar Rapids when the top-ranked Knights face No. 12 Coe (9-4, 3-0) in an Iowa Conference dual at Eby Fieldhouse tonight, beginning at 7.
“I’ve tried not to think about it,” said Miller, who has a career dual record of 404-34-2. “I’ve tried to be business as usual. The good thing is (Keller and I) almost read each other’s minds. We’ve been together 13 years now and the great thing for me is knowing the program is in great hands.”
Miller has coached 34 NCAA champions and 138 All-Americans. He has led the Knights to nine NCAA titles and seven National Wrestling Coaches Association/Cliff Keen National Duals titles. He has coached a total of 37 years, including the last 22 as Wartburg head coach. He is comfortable with passing the baton to Keller.
"It's an easy transition for our kids, for our fans and for everything," Miller said. "That's a tough situation with the expectations and the things we have done in recent years.
"He's embraced it. He loves it. Our kids really have a lot of respect for him and some of the other coaches on staff."
Miller has overcome challenges from different programs but the Knights remained on top, winning the last 20 IIAC Championships and 158 straight conference duals and posting a 10-0 overall mark and 1-0 record in the conference before last night’s meet against No. 24 Luther. It motivated Miller throughout his tenure.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Miller said. “It’s been a situation where you know you have to be at your best.”
Coe and its head coach John Oostendorp has provided the latest challenge. Oostendorp said Miller set the bar and helped elevate the Iowa Conference to the top of NCAA Division III.
“Jim’s a great competitor and that’s what makes this job fun,” Oostendorp said. “You continue to strive to raise your level and develop your program, having those big type of duals that’s what is fun for kids, coaches and fans. He set the bar so high for the Iowa Conference.”
The Knights have nine ranked wrestlers and are coming off winning its third straight NWCA/Cliff Keen National Dual title last weekend. Coe was seventh at the tournament. Adding to another duals championship in his final season, Miller won it next to his former Knight wrestler, Nick Mitchell, the head coach that led Grand View to the NAIA title.
"I'm so proud of those guys," Miller said of former Wartburg wrestlers on the Grand View staff. "Right after our meet (Mitchell) came over and gave me a hug. We got a picture taken with both staffs together. It was special."
Top bouts include the 174-pound match between Wartburg’s fourth-ranked Dylan Azinger and No. 6 Ethan Ball, Coe’s No. 4 Alex Burkle vs. No. 6 Ryan Fank at heavyweight and fifth-ranked Sam Upah against 10th-ranked Ryan Sheldon, or possibly All-American Scott King, at 184. At 125, third-ranked Gilberto Camacho could wrestle Coe All-American Jimmy Gotto.
“I expect it to be a high-level meet,” Miller said. “That’s what helps you grow. That’s the good thing about being in the Iowa Conference. For all these years, you have to be on your toes. You cannot overlook anybody.”
Coe faces a mammoth task to come away with a win. It will take a complete effort from the Kohawks.
"It's important for us to compete hard," said Oostendorp, adding, "We need more consistency up and down the lineup."