Advancement & Public Services

Red Miller

Red Miller: I Tackled the Thing

Red Miller is a familiar and legendary name on the campus of Western Illinois University and in the surrounding Macomb community.  His name and reputation inspire confidence; he is a hometown boy who made the big time, yet never forgot his humble beginnings.

Robert “Red” was born in Macomb, Illinois, in 1927, into a family of ten children. From the beginning, he had a sense of determination and strove to be anything but ordinary.

“My sixth grade teacher made me learn a poem, and recite it. It was the first time to stand up and speak in front of a group. I was scared to death. It became my motto and came to me all the time, especially during hard times,” said Red. The poem is “It Couldn’t Be Done,” by Edgar Guest:

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn’t," but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "couldn’t be done," and you’ll do it

Growing up in such a large household, work was the overriding theme. Red’s father was taken out of school at age seven to go to work in the coal mines of Colchester, Illinois; he never learned to read or write. Only the three youngest children, which included Red, graduated from high school. All the others dropped out of school quite early to get jobs to help support the family. Red, however, “started to sing as he tackled the thing that couldn’t be done, and he did it.” He always wanted to do better, and he did. Football was his ticket to achievement.

He was the only one of the ten siblings to earn a college degree. Football brought him to Western Illinois University, where he was the Leathernecks MVP in 1947, 1948, and 1949, when he was the team captain. He went on to coach 33 years, 24 in the NFL. He served as head coach of the Denver Broncos from 1977-80, taking them to the Super Bowl in 1977 and earning the NFL Coach of the Year award. Miller was inducted into the Western Illinois Athletics Hall of fame in 1974, its first year in existence. He also received the Alumni Achievement Award (1973) and the Distinguished Alumni Award (1974).

Miller was one of a quintet of coaches who led the 57-58-59 WIU football Leathernecks to three winning seasons, including 20 straight wins. The 1959 undefeated team, the only one in WIU history, won the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) Championship.  The teams from these three years held a reunion at this year’s Homecoming, and the coaches were named grand marshals of the 2008 Homecoming Parade. “I wanted the team to come back together and relive the camaraderie,” said Red. “There is no better feeling than being in a huddle, and wanting to go out and do your best for the team. I also wanted them to get this well deserved recognition from WIU.”

Red Miller went on to do the best for himself and his team, everywhere he coached: Astoria High School, Canton High School, Carthage College, WIU, Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Colts, and then back to the New England Patriots (offensive coordinator) and the Denver Broncos (head coach). Through it all, he has always returned to Macomb where his determination began, and where he has long supported Western Athletics.  To this day, he praises the cohesiveness of his Leatherneck teams and what it has meant to his life. “I’m proud I was able to do what I loved and be successful at it and make the most of my life,” claims Red.  “And I always tried hard to do it the right way.”