REGINA — The man who helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders get to the Grey Cup in 2007, 2009 and 2010 – and is affectionately nicknamed “Grandpa” – is leaving the CFL team.
Ken Miller, 70, announced Monday he will step down as the Riders’ head coach and vice-president of football operations at season’s end.
“I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to work with the men who wear the Roughrider uniform and who occupy our locker room,” Miller said at a news conference at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
“These men, the Roughrider players, have done their best to keep me young. They’ve made me laugh, they’ve made me cry and they have given me tremendous latitude in the work I have done with them. I believe in them and I appreciate and care for them individually and collectively.”
Miller joined the Roughriders in 2007 as their offensive co-ordinator and helped the club win the Grey Cup that year, the club’s first in 18 years. He replaced the departed Kent Austin in 2008 and over the next three years led Saskatchewan to three straight home playoff games and two Grey Cup appearances.
Three times Miller was named a finalist for the CFL’s coach of the year award. Miller currently has 36 regular-season wins as a head coach, fifth on Saskatchewan’s all-time list.
He stepped down as Riders head coach following last season to concentrate full-time on his front-office duties. But Miller returned to the sidelines in August after Greg Marshall was fired as Saskatchewan’s head coach following losses in seven of the team’s first eight games.
“When I retired as the football coach last year, I had absolutely no motivation and no wish to return as a head coach again this year,” said Miller.
“I had really thought that I would invest a year as being the vice-president and watching this organization, watching this team do exceptionally well and then just kind of ride off into the sunset in a much different style then how it has turned out this season.”
Quarterback Darian Durant admitted he’s known about Miller’s decision for a couple of weeks. That knowledge didn’t make the news any easier to take.
“He definitely holds a special place in my heart and means so much to me. He gave me my first shot and he stuck with me throughout,” said Durant. “He’s definitely going to be missed around here. For it to happen two years in a row is pretty sad, but you know that’s part of the business. We realize that.
“Hopefully the next guy who comes in can pick up basically where he left off.”
Durant said Miller wasn’t too strict and he let the players learn from their mistakes. The starting QB wanted to make another run at the Grey Cup with Miller at the helm.
Offensive lineman Gene Makowsky, who has been with the Riders for 17 seasons, said Miller stands out among coaches.
“I guess it’s a little bittersweet for all of us. We all love coach Miller around here,” said Makowsky. “We had unparalleled success when he was a part of our team. We were in Grey Cups in a regular fashion and we won one, so he’s certainly right up there with the best coaches in Rider history in my opinion.
“His record speaks for itself: he’s a great coach, a great man and a great leader and I’m certainly sorry to see him go again.”
Makowsky acknowledged it could be the beginning of a lot of changes for the team.
“Pro football is a change business and that happens whether you win the Grey Cup or you’re in the situation we’re in, but certainly there will be changes,” he said. “And when you have a record like we have and Ken Miller is moving on, I imagine there will be substantial changes, you bet.”
Roughriders president and CEO Jim Hopson said it’s difficult to put into words how much Miller has meant to the organization.
“Kenny brings so many good traits, the traits you look for in a winning coach and a good leader,” said Hopson. “His wisdom will be hard to replace though, you know sometimes it takes a while to gain that.
“But I think the years that Kenny’s been here have been special for him and special for us. And we just hope we can get another Ken Miller that can get us back to where we belong and that’s in the playoff hunt and in the Grey Cup.”
The Saskatchewan Roughriders (5-12) will close out their 2011 season Friday in Edmonton against the Eskimos.
Then the work begins to replace Miller.
“We’ll wait until next week when we get through the season and then do the post-mortem on the season and where we go from here. But one thing this does is it helps clear the deck in terms of where we’re going. Clearly we’ll be looking for a new head coach,” said Hopson.