“A lot more phone calls.”
That, with a laugh, was how James Miller summarized as to how his first week as head coach of the Reinhardt Eagles was different than the others.
Coach Miller gave me time for an interview (by phone, ironically enough) to talk about the challenges of becoming the third head man in Reinhardt’s five seasons. Probably the biggest task is expectations. In only four years of existence, the Eagles have compiled a record of 34-11 and played for a berth in the NAIA National Championship.
The team has grown in leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Dr. Danny Cronic and his son Drew. Danny, a long time high school coach in Cherokee County put his offense in place, got the name out, and had two 6-4 marks. He retired due to health reasons and handed the reins over to his son. Drew was promoted from offensive coordinator, and all he did was go 22-3 in two years and have a 2-2 playoff mark. His .88 winning percentage will probably be an enduring Reinhardt coaching record. Drew resigned to return to Furman, where he will serve as OC and quarterbacks coach.
Reinhardt AD Bill Popp conducted a month-long search before promoting Miller. Many current players attended the announcement, and they were enthusiastic when Miller was brought to the podium.
Miller will continue as the offensive line coach. Last season, his group suffered losses to graduation and was looked to be a weakness. But it became a strength, only allowing 10 sacks and was a primary reason why Ryan Thompson threw for almost 2,500 yards and 23 touchdowns. He takes pride in how the unit performed. “It had its’ ups and downs and camp was a struggle. But they group really got together and became close knit.”
He will not be calling the plays next season. There has been no formal announcement as to who will take over, but it will be someone within the staff. Also, with Drew Cronic gone, the remaining coaches are picking up his slack.
Miller attended Virginia Tech from 2001 to 2004, and in his freshman year his assignment was to keep Mike Vick upright. Those teams were coached by legendary Frank Beamer. “He taught me how to do the little things right. If that happens, the big things take care of themselves.”
Frank Beamer is famous for his aggressive special teams play, commonly called ‘Beamer Ball.’ Those elements have made an impression. “If you win in special teams, you can change the dynamic,” Miller said. “You have to look to make things happen.”
National Signing Day is less than two weeks away, and there shouldn’t be any interruption in the Eagles putting together a quality class. Brand recognition is not a problem. The semifinal march took care of that, as well as an offense that was the best in the NAIA at rushing the football. “We still have to run,” Miller said. “We all need to be on the same page to be successful.”
Spring practice starts on March 13. Going into spring last season, the lines (both offensive and defensive) were in flux, and the skill positions were set. This time, the reverse is true. There are some good rushers that will be thrust into the limelight. Sonny Harris is coming back from an ACL tear, and Montralius Mosely played well too. Qua Stocks will more than likely be the go-to receiver.
The big question is who will be under center. Dylan Wiggins appears to have a slight entering spring practice. He was 6 of 13 for 49 yards in spot duty last season. There are some interesting names in the mix, including two transfers. Caleb Brooks comes in from Southeastern, while Andrew Pereira played at Tusculum. Pereira was 0 for 3 with two interceptions last season.
Then there are the newcomers. BJ Knight hails from Shaw “And can do a lot of things well,” according to Miller. He is also high on Lakeside (Augusta)’s Nick Patterson. “It will be an open competition,” said Miller. “There are a lot of kids who can help.”
Miller said he had been in touch with Drew Cronic since he was elevated. “He’s excited about this,” he said. “He’s sharing his thoughts, telling me who I need to talk to.”
Reinhardt might still bring in a new assistant to replace Cronic, but, Miller said, “We always look within first.” That may be, but if he decides to look outside the program, I think Mike Vick isn’t doing anything.