At the time, it was perhaps not considered a wise career choice. Jay Miller was working on his doctorate in counseling psychology at Purdue in the late 1970s when he volunteered to help coach the school's club softball team. He never got the doctorate, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
In today's Journal, I profile Miller, who over the weekend earned his 1,000th career victory, which comes in his 29th season as a head coach. He's now at 1,001 wins after Mississippi State beat Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday, to go with 657 losses. He's the 18th coach to ever reach the milestone, including the 13th among Division I coaches. Miller is quick to downplay his feat.
"I'm really more concerned about our ball club right now and what we're doing good and what we need to work on, and we're getting ready for that next game, than we are thinking about milestones right in the middle of the season," he said.
The Lady Bulldogs are 21-21 overall, 8-8 in SEC play heading into this weekend's series at No. 3 Alabama. In fact, the final four weekends of league play will see MSU taking on four teams currently in the top 20: After Bama, it's No. 6 Tennessee, No. 19 LSU and No. 5 Georgia.
"I think we've positioned ourselves pretty well in terms of hopefully to get in the SEC Tournament," Miller said. "Once you do that, anything can happen. I've been real proud of our ball club this year. This is probably the hardest-working group we've ever had."
Working hard is what got Miller to where he is now. He starts his days at 5 a.m. – with a cup of coffee, of course – and always has a plan. His attention to detail is a big reason for his accomplishments, according to friend and colleague Bill Edwards.
"Some of the things again in conversation that we talk about is his attention to detail, the little things about pitching, the little things about hitting, the little things about the game within game, where he will take care of every aspect of his program, from an administrative standpoint down to possibly calling pitches or how to manage a game," said Edwards, the head coach at Hofstra.
You can't overstate what Miller has meant on a national and international level, what with his longtime association with USA Softball. Edwards called Miller an "ambassador to the game," in that he's so willing to share his knowledge and teach the finer aspects of the game, along with its history.
And when you get right down to it, that's what Miller enjoys: Simply coaching. His assistant, Annie Smith, noted that while he cares about winning, it's "the process" that really sparks Miller's passion.
Miller undoubtedly could have made more money as a psychological counselor, but he's making a pretty big difference as a coach. His sport of choice being softball, his career tends to fly under the radar, but he's OK with that.
"It's the nature of the business," Miller said. "It's no different here than anywhere else around the country. It's the choices you make, and it seems to be a pretty good profession and a pretty good way to make a living."