Doug Miller: “When I leave this earth, I want people to say, ‘He really generally cared about people, wanted to be a better soccer player, but more importantly, a better person.’ ” Photo by Michael Lewis)
By Michael Lewis
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The decision wasn’t a difficult one for Doug Miller.
He wasn’t going to play in the A-League championship game for the Rochester Raging Rhinos Oct. 17, 1998.
He was going to get married that day.
The team’s most dangerous attacking player already had put off his wedding to his future wife Kari Palandro twice and he wasn’t about to make it a hat-trick, even for the other love in his life at the time, soccer.
It was a decision that he did not regret. The Rhinos won the championship and Miller got married.
“I said, listen, I’m done changing it,” he said. “This is the rest of my life. You are only part of my life. My wife is for the rest of my life. It worked out perfectly. I got two rings and my teammates only got one.”
Translated: The Rhinos won that day, and Miller did as well, twice.
Not surprisingly, Miller was criticized for his decision for putting his personal life over his soccer career.
“Yeah, in the paper, people couldn’t believe that the star player for the Rhinos wouldn’t play in a championship game. I really didn’t tell people the story of me changing my wedding date three different times. The team did not have to push the game back two weeks. It could have been the following week with a week’s rest. But again, I’m not here on earth to change people’s perspectives.”
On Sunday, Miller will be at Wegman’s Sports Complex at Aquinas Institute coaching the revived Rochester Lancers. Miller, who has won four soccer championships and scored countless goals for the Rhinos and several outdoor and indoor teams, will make history regardless transpires. He will become the first person to coach the Lancers — indoors and out.
And it should come as no surprise that the 48-year-old Miller has coached a soccer team before at Aquinas, directing the Rochester Ravens when the W-League was around. Heck, his children attend Aquinas.
“The athletic director was my neighbor,” he said during an interview Thursday. “So they’re good people. They treated us very well to make it happen in a short period of time and its set up perfectly for the venue so we can have 2,000-3,000 show up and have an exciting, close environment where people can get really excited.”
This incarnation of the Lancers is not a professional soccer team. They will compete in the National Premier Soccer League.
They got a rather late start on the season as they announced they would perform in the league April 8, only six weeks ago. There has been a lot to do since then.
Though the Lancers are a late-arriving expansion team — by 4 p.m. kickoff, the team will have had eight training sessions — Miller still has some great expectations for the team.
“I try to paint a picture throughout a season,” he said. “If I don’t set that expectation or vision, then there’s not a shared goal. In the first training session, I told them when we’re out of out of possession we’ll be energetic, high pressing, in your face, winning the ball back very quickly.
“When we’re in possession, we’re going to be creative, we’re going to be attacking. We’re going to score some goals and we’re going to be entertaining. And I said we’re concede less than three goals and we’re going to score more than 20 and then we’re going to win an NPSL championship. And if you can’t see that, then it won’t happen.”
Miller used that motivation as a player, which translated into a successful indoor and outdoor soccer career in which he earned four championship rings as a lethal striker.
“In every game I was going to play I played the game in my head before I even played it,” he said. “So, I knew the outcome. Whether it lived up to that outcome or not, that was another story. But at least I put myself in that situation, so I could feel the goose bumps. I can feel the chills. I can make that run. I can feel that I am out of breath. When you start doing that in detail, of being able to do that mentality is what makes players go to another level.”
At that very first meeting, Miller reminded his team about something else.
“It’s 113 days to the NPSL championship,” he said. “So that was in my first meeting with those guys when I met them. Here’s my expectations. So everybody knew right from the get-go, Hey when you have training, you’re here. Make sure that you come and prove yourself because it’s an interview.”
The Lancers are a mixture of players who performed for Miller with the indoor Lancers of the Major Arena Soccer League, local players and younger one in or just out of college who trying to make an impression. He has 34 players in camp, so he has been making tough decisions as to who will be in the 18 and who will be in the Starting XI Sunday.
“You’ve got different skill sets from a lot of different players,” he said. “We’ve got players who I am familiar with that I coached indoors that are playing. Then I’ve got some younger players who are excited and eager to prove themselves. The challenge for us as coaches is to make sure we put all the pieces in the right place. It all starts with the mentality of the players. Are they willing to work hard? Are willing to go and impress? If they are willing to do that, you can bring them into a shape that can be effective.”
Soccer is a family affair for the Millers. His wife Kari is the choreographer of the Lancer Dancers. His daughters Kayla and Kalista are Lancer Dancers. Miller gives his family a lot of props for putting up with his demanding schedule.
“My wife is a rock for me,” Miller said. “The tough part being in the public eye, people never get to see me in a bad mood. You can’t ever be in a bad mood. My family gets that sometimes. because I’m always on call and people have this expectation of X and sometimes you can’t let them see, ‘Hey, listen I’ve a bad day because all human beings do.’ You get a player who is disrespectful and you have deal with that. Or, you have to deal with a health issue with another player. So a lot of it weighs on your shoulders. I enjoy it because I believe God called me to do this. But when people think it’s all glory, it’s not fakebook because it’s real life. We all have our challenges.”
When he isn’t coaching soccer teams –youth, amateur, indoor, pro — Miller owns and operates the Doug Miller Family Sports Park in suburban Spencerport, N.Y. (A graduate of Loyola,Md., Miller hails from Succasunna, N.J.).
Given his history and influence as a player and a coach, Miller is an icon of Rochester soccer.
He doesn’t buy that at all.
“I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “I joke around with people sometimes and tell them, I used to be a pretty important guy around here. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about soccer, the community and giving back.
“I’ve been an MVP in three different decades. So that’s something that you can tell stories about. I don’t wear my championship rings. I’ve got four of them. They’re sitting in my house and my father wears one of them. Those are good story material. When I leave this earth, I want people to say, ‘He really generally cared about people, wanted to be a better soccer player, but more importantly, a better person.’ And that’s the tool that I each that is soccer.”