By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — It’s truly an “End of an Era” at Covington as Dave Miller moves on to coach football at Kettering Fairmont High School after nine unbelievable years as the Buccaneers’ head football coach in which he compiled 86 wins to just 20 defeats. The 86 wins is just three short of Larrie Tisdale’s school record 89 wins he compiled in his two stints accounting for 12 seasons.
What Miller has accomplished at Covington was anything short of remarkable. He led the Buccaneers to the state playoffs in each of his nine seasons and won six league championships (2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015). Five of Coach Miller’s teams finished with perfect 10-0 regular seasons – including a stretch of 43 straight games from 2009 through 2014. Also, the 2012 team established school records for the most points in a season (656), total yards in a season (5858) and most rushing yards in a season (5560).
But Dave Miller’s impact on Covington football was more than wins and losses, records, league titles and playoff appearances. His greatest impact at Covington was how he established an identity of hard work, toughness and relentless effort – not only at the high school level, but at all levels of Buccaneer football.
Many times throughout his tenure Covington was able to beat or compete with teams who had much more talent on the field.
It all goes back to Miller’s first year at Covington in 2007. At the time the Buccaneers had come off of a 10-0 season in which it suffered a defeat to the eventual state champions (Marion Local) in the playoffs. The Buccaneers had suffered significant graduation losses from that team and wasn’t expected by outsiders to do much in 2007.
But Coach Miller used that season to establish an attitude and an identity that would carry on through the program throughout his tenure.
“We have the potential to be a very good football team,” said Miller at the time. “But, we also have the potential to be a very bad team. By that I mean, we have the talent. But it’s about attitude, effort and execution. If we play as a team first, give maximum effort and execute on every play, we’ll be a darn good football team.”
And to the surprise of many, Covington ran the table through the regular season and ultimately finished with an 11-1 record.
With the foundation established, Miller instilled the same message at the youth and junior high levels with open communication with those coaches. He even invited the youth and junior high coaches to join the Buccaneers at practice and on the sidelines on Friday nights so they could witness first hand how things were done.
“When I came here I wanted to make a concerted effort to make the younger kids feel a part of Covington football and the tradition here,” Miller said. “I think we’ve accomplished that in a short period of time.”
And the results speak for themselves as the participation and intensity picked up drastically in the weight room and throughout the off-season conditioning. Miller demanded a lot from his kids and the kids reaped the benefits from their hard work.
But in the beginning, there were some who questioned his methods – particularly some players in his first senior class in 2007.
“At first, we all thought he was crazy,” said Jake Wise, a senior on the 2007 team. “He had us running forty four-forties and sixteen one-hundred-yard dashes. We thought he was going to kill us. Some kids couldn’t take it and quit.”
But over time the kids realized there was a method to what they thought was “madness”. The kids realized after tough, close ballgames that they were in much better condition and much stronger than the other team in the fourth quarter.
“After we beat Miami East halfway through the season, we realized what all of that hard work was about,” Wise said. “Miami East was always tough in pee-wee and junior high and our class beat them when we were seniors. If I remember right, it was a close game going into the fourth quarter and we just dominated them in the fourth quarter. That’s when the entire team bought into what Coach Miller was teaching us. I know I did.”
Wise’s memory is pretty accurate as the score was 14-10 in Covington’s favor heading into the final quarter. The Buccaneers pulled away with two fourth quarter touchdowns to win 28-10 and never looked back on their way to an unbeaten regular season and state playoff birth.
It set the wheels in motion for a legendary nine seasons for the Buccaneers under Miller – all because he was able to establish a belief in hard work, toughness and relentless effort.
“It’s all about maxing out in whatever potential that is there,” Miller said. “The goals are always there, but what I look at is if the kids max out in their potential. You look at the summer and see if the kids bought in from the beginning and then if they matured throughout the year. Overall, I think most of our teams maxed out at Covington.”
Some kids more than maxed out – kids who went above and beyond to make themselves into something special.
One of those players is 2014 graduate A.J. Ouellette, who broke nearly every offensive record imaginable at Covington before walking on at Ohio University and earning a full-ride scholarship in a matter of weeks.
And Ouellette credits Coach Miller for helping him accomplish lofty goals.
“He is the reason I’m still playing this game (football),” said Ouellette. “He makes players better in life. He doesn’t care who you are, or how great you think you are, everyone is the same – you have to earn it. I’m so happy he found our small town between the cornfields to coach football for all those years.”
The impact Coach Miller had on 2009 graduate Jordy Meyer was felt well after he graduated high school.
“I didn’t really understand or get it until probably my senior year,” Meyer said. “That’s when I started to take to heart his message about taking advantage of every single day. After I graduated and went to college, I don’t know how many times I would be reminded of the lessons he taught me about life through football. The message about mental toughness, fighting through adversity, giving maximum effort – it all stuck with me and when times get tough I always hear his voice in my head about pushing forward.”
It has changed Meyer’s life as he is now working on his Master’s Degree in Sports Rehab and earning a Doctorate Degree in Chiropractic in St. Louis, Missouri.
“I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for Coach Miller,” Meyer continued. “I probably wouldn’t be in St. Louis right now, that’s for sure. I think back on the kids who quit (playing football) because they thought he was too tough and I wonder how their lives are now. I’m thankful I got to play for him because he changed the way I approach things. He really changed my life.”
Coach Miller’s tenure at Covington has come to and end, but his legacy will last forever.
“He’s really irreplaceable,” Meyer said. “With the tradition at Covington, we’ll get another good football coach – but Coach Miller did things at Covington you can’t replace. He changed the culture, the way we did things. Whoever the new guy is that comes in, he’s going to walk into a great situation.”
For Coach Miller, making the decision to leave Covington for the head coaching job at Fairmont was a difficult one.
“I’ll always be a Buccaneer at heart,” he said emotionally. “I’ve been very blessed to have coached at Covington for nine years because I have generated some life-long friendships along the way. I always said Covington is a special place and I’ll always feel that way.”
But the decision came down to an opportunity to have a positive affect on another community.
“When I interviewed with Fairmont, I knew right away that if I was going to take the leap that this was the right time and the right place to go,” he explained. “Really, Fairmont is a bigger Covington.”
He’ll also have the opportunity to coach his own sons at Fairmont.
“And I’ll be able to coach Braden and Connor,” he continued. “What father wouldn’t want to coach his own sons?”
It’s ironic that when A.J. Ouellette walked on at Ohio University, Coach Miller said the Bobcats “Hit the lottery”. Now, as Dave Miller moves on to the next phase of his coaching career, the same can be said about Kettering Fairmont – “They hit the lottery”.
Because there is no doubt Dave Miller will have the same impact on the kids at Kettering Fairmont that he had on his players at Covington.