Leo Miller, one of just eight coaches in the history of Massachusetts high school basketball with more than 600 career victories, had a straightforward approach to the game.
“We have a term that I use frequently with the kids and it’s, ‘Next play,’ ” Mr. Miller, whose 622 wins were all put into the books at Nauset Regional High School over 41 seasons, told the Naples Daily News. “You travel moving up the floor, you miss a shot, the game goes on and you’re part of it, so it goes on for you.”
“Life goes on and you have to do the best you can,” he added in the interview in 2011, when he was named interim head men’s basketball coach at Division 1 Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla.
Mr. Miller, whose teams won more than 20 league championships and had only two losing seasons, died in Cape Coral Hospital Dec. 14 from complications of abdominal surgery. He was 79 and had moved to Florida’s Pine Island in 2004 after retiring as a Nauset coach.
An inductee to the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association and New England Basketball halls of fame, he had been an Orleans resident for 45 years and a special education teacher at Nauset Regional for 39 years. Mr. Miller also was a founder of the Cape Cod Bay Basketball Camp in Brewster, and had attended more than 30 NCAA Final Fours.
“Leo created a basketball program and a basketball culture at Nauset,” said Scott Nickerson, his assistant coach at the school. “It was an amazing atmosphere, especially in the early years when businesses in town would close down because there was a basketball game.”
“His style was clearly ‘team’ and he wasn’t out to make stars, but not to the detriment of the individual,” added Nickerson, who was a guard on Mr. Miller’s 1968 team that advanced to the state final at Boston Garden, only to lose to Westford Academy. “Leo was honest with his players about their roles and he always gave them a list of three things they had to work on over the summer.”
Mr. Miller, who named his boat “Fast Break,” was a past president of the state coaches association and a recipient of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Sherman A. Kinney Award for outstanding contributions to high school basketball. He also was inducted into the Nauset Regional Hall of Fame.
Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Hall of Famer Joe Day, a former Catholic Memorial School basketball coach, worked at Mr. Miller’s summer camp for players from fourth grade through junior year of high school.
“That camp was something right out of Americana. Coaches came from all over and it was like a family setting,” Day said. “After the games it was pizza and soda. He wanted his staff to work hard all day because it was for the kids, and he was into it heart and soul.”
Nauset basketball was a family affair for the Millers. Mr. Miller’s son Brian, who now lives in Longmeadow and is the boys’ basketball coach at Easthampton High School, was a team captain. Brian’s brother Lee of Orleans played and then was team manager. Mr. Miller’s daughter, Jackie of Eastham, also was team manager.
His son Terry died at 18 of cystic fibrosis in 1981 while a freshman basketball manager at Northeastern University.
Mr. Miller’s wife, the former Anne Danzell, whom he met while they were students at what was then Fitchburg State Teachers College, hosted team get-togethers at their home and was her husband’s most loyal fan.
“Leo had his share of technical fouls over the years,” she recalled, “but I definitely was more vocal from the stands than he was on the bench.”
Born in Worcester, the son of Albert Miller and the former Blanche Frechette, Leo P. Miller attended Assumption Prep and was on the basketball team at Fitchburg State, from which he graduated in 1959 with a degree in special education. That April, he married Anne.
“Leo was in the first graduating class at Fitchburg that received degrees in special ed.,” she recalled. “When Leo’s family had a summer cottage on a lake in Charlton, one of their neighbors was a youngster with special needs. That influenced his career path.”
The couple moved to Cape Cod and Mr. Miller, who was JV basketball coach his first few years at Nauset, also coached soccer, softball, and track. In addition, he developed a reading program that linked his basketball players with elementary school pupils. At the time of his death, he administered a similar program at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he was an unpaid observer for the women’s basketball team.
Mr. Miller, a past clinician at the Duke University basketball camp, formerly directed the Cape Cod Sports Ambassadors, taking students from the area to play basketball in Europe. He also coached Little League baseball and softball and served on the Orleans Recreation Commission.
His son Lee, a Wellfleet elementary school teacher, said in a eulogy that his parents “taught us to be humble, never take all the credit, and be gracious. Our father always set an example by being involved in community service, and growing up, our house was open to anybody who needed a place to stay.”
After relocating to Florida, Mr. Miller was an assistant coach for the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s team, helping them transition from Division 2 to Division 1. After serving briefly as interim head coach, he was assistant boys coach at Bishop Verot High School and the Canterbury School, both in Fort Myers.
“Leo was as much the teacher as he was the coach,” said Ken Kavanagh, the university’s athletic director. “He wanted young people to learn from the negatives and repeat the positives.”
A service has been held for Mr. Miller, who in addition to his wife, Anne, and his children Lee, Brian, and Jackie, leaves Clay Reynard of Orleans, who lived with the family, and six grandchildren.
In a Facebook tribute entitled “ ’Night, Coach,” former Nauset basketball player Scott Moore praised Mr. Miller.
“High school is so hard for so many and while, in retrospect, I can see how relatively fortunate I was, I am damn sure that I am not who I am, how I am right now, without Leo’s exceedingly high expectations, fierce determination, and fundamentally kind and loving heart,” Moore wrote.
“If you are lucky, you have a coach who means something to you. Someone who helped you grow beyond a game,” Moore added. “If you are truly fortunate . . . even blessed . . . you get Leo.”Marvin Pave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.