Dr. Dennis Miller, the first head coach of the Wisconsin Lutheran College football program who held the position for 13 seasons, will be returning to lead the team following one season away from the sidelines. Miller stepped down after a program-record 7-3 season in 2012, and will fill the post that recently was opened after first-year head coach Ben Murphy changed roles within the program due to family obligations.
The Warriors went 7-3 in Miller's last season in 2012, including 5-2 for third place in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference. The seven wins were the most in program history, while the five conference victories tied a school record. WLC's two conference defeats were by a combined 15 points. Wisconsin Lutheran boasted the top pass defense in NCAA Division III and finished in the top seven in three other statistical categories: total defense (fourth), pass efficiency defense (fifth), and scoring defense (seventh).
Twenty-eight of Miller's 48 victories at WLC have come since 2008, including four straight .500-plus seasons. During Miller's last five seasons as head coach, the Warriors finished 21-14 in conference games, including consecutive third-place finishes in the eight-team league. WLC won a program-record six straight games which spanned from 2011 into the 2012 season.
Through 11 seasons of conference competition, Miller mentored 99 players who received all-conference recognition, including 30 first team selections and the Warriors' first conference player of the year in defensive lineman Kaylan Gaines in 2010.
During the inaugural 2000 season, Miller and the Warriors (then an independent team) tasted victory in their first outing: a 14-0 decision at Rockford College on September 2. They completed the year with a 3-7 mark. The following season his team put together a string of four victories, tying its longest winning streak to date, and finished 4-5.
After only three seasons, Miller led the Warriors to their first .500 season in 2003 while playing the ninth most difficult schedule in NCAA Division III. Miller's squad, his first with fourth-year seniors, finished 5-5 overall by winning four of its final five games. In their second season in the MIAA, the Warriors posted a 3-3 record after going 0-6 the year before.
Miller, who is in his 26th season as a head coach, forged his successful reputation at Aberdeen, S.D., where he resurrected a struggling Northern State University program with nearly overnight success. His first season in 1986, Northern State finished with a 9-2 record (six more wins than the year before) and won the school's first conference championship ever in the newly formed league. For his efforts, Miller was named Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Coach of the Year. He would repeat the honor again in 1990 and 1992 as he guided his team to league titles.
During his 12-year stay at Northern State, Miller's football teams won 47 NSIC games – more than any other school. His program was nationally ranked six times as he compiled an overall mark of 77-55 and qualified for the national playoffs in 1988.
What helped propel Miller into the head-coaching ranks was his two-year stint at Brigham Young University (1984-1985). Miller coached receivers and linebackers while at Provo, Utah, and the Cougars claimed the national championship in 1984. It was an opportunity to work with the legendary LaVell Edwards, BYU's then-head coach, and to form a close friendship with Mike Holmgren, who coached the Cougars' quarterbacks at the time. Holmgren retired from the NFL coaching ranks in 2008 after serving as a head coach for 17 seasons in the league.
"My whole personality from a coaching standpoint has been altered as a result of BYU and winning a national championship," Miller recalls. "It was an opportunity to see football done at the best possible level."
Before BYU, Miller worked four years (1980-1983) at St. Cloud State University, his alma mater. There he served on Mike Simpson's coaching staff as the defensive coordinator, coaching the secondary and linebackers as well as backs on offense. He also played four seasons (1973-1976) for Simpson – "one of the smartest football coaches I've ever been around," said Miller of his mentor – as an inside linebacker and spent time in training camp (1977) in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts.
Miller got his coaching start in the high school ranks as an assistant at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, Minn. He coached three seasons (1977, 1978, 1983), working as either an offensive or defensive coordinator.
He received his bachelor's degree from St. Cloud State in 1977 (health and physical education) and his master's degree in 1981 (health education). In 1987, Miller earned his doctorate of education from BYU in educational administration with an emphasis in public relations and athletic administration.
Miller was born September 29, 1954, in Graceville, Minn. He and his wife, Kathy, have one son, B.J., and one daughter, Whitney. B.J. earned his master's degree in sports management from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., after graduating from WLC in May 2006. Whitney, who graduated from WLC in May 2010, earned a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling from Valparaiso University in August 2012. The family resides in Germantown.