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Pat Miller: Legendary Ski Coach, Legendary Friend

Fort Lewis College roomates, Pat Miller (r) and Peter Graves celebrate Miller's 21st birthday circa 1970. Miller died at age 64 after a brief illness on June 22. (Photo: Peter Graves)

Fort Lewis College roommates, Pat Miller (r) and Peter Graves celebrate Graves’ 21st birthday on May 16, 1973, in Durango, Colo. Miller died at age 64 after a brief illness on June 22, 2013. (Photo: Peter Graves)

Peter Graves’ words have taken him to national championships, World Championships and the Olympics. During a phone interview on Saturday, the famed public-address announcer, television sportscaster and current public relations director for U.S. Ski Jumping was at a loss for them.

Graves was asked how he would remember his college roommate, Pat Miller, who passed away June 22 at the age of 64 after a brief illness.

Pat Miller being inducted into the the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame in 2008, one of four halls he is a member of. (Photo: Kevin Sweeney)

Former Utah coach and skiing director Pat Miller being inducted into the the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame in 2008, one of four halls he is a member of. (Photo: Kevin Sweeney)

Over 23 years (1976-2000), Miller directed the University of Utah men’s and women’s nordic ski teams to eight combined national titles, plus an additional title for each gender before scoring was combined. He developed 251 All-Americans, 46 individual national champions and 10 Olympians.

“I will remember him as one of the closest friends I ever had,” Graves said. “I will try, even though it’s hard right now, to remember him always with a smile. He represented to me the essence of a friend and the essence of a time filled with wonder and optimism.”

Originally from Maine and living in Holladay, Utah, Miller was visiting his older brother, Jim, in Casper, Wyo., before he died. After his tenure as skiing director ended with a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules violation, Miller stayed in Utah. For the last decade, he worked in a variety of capacities at Deer Valley Ski Resort in Park City.

Miller was one in a group of skiers from western Maine who ventured to Durango, Colo., to attend Fort Lewis College, a small school with a thriving ski program at the time. Miller progressed from junior-national champion to college All-American in nordic combined, to national-team member and U.S. Olympic alternate.

Graves, 61, from Vermont, also competed at Junior Nationals, but said his odds of making a career out of ski racing were slim. He and Miller shared an off-campus house during Graves’ senior year at Fort Lewis, while the Miller brothers trained in the area as members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Team.

That spring, Graves turned 21. He didn’t mention it to Miller and expected the occasion to pass quietly. Miller left the house without telling Graves his destination. He returned at 5 p.m. with two steaks, a bouquet of flowers and a small cake.

“To me that speaks volumes about the way Pat was,” Graves said. “A really strong, tough athlete with a heart of gold.”

Pat Miller (r) and Kevin Sweeney, the former and current directors of skiing at the University of Utah, rest during mountain-bike trip in Utah. (Photo: Kevin Sweeney)

Pat Miller (r) and Kevin Sweeney, the former and current directors of skiing at the University of Utah, rest during mountain-bike trip in Utah. (Photo: Kevin Sweeney)

In 1999, the Miller-led Utes sat in second place heading into the final day of the NCAA Championships in Rumford, Maine, which neighbors Miller’s hometown of Mexico. The Utes were within striking distance of a national championship in Miller’s homecoming.

Head coach Kevin Sweeney said he blew the wax and instead of a title, his team didn’t make the podium, falling to fourth place. Now Utah’s director of skiing, Sweeney said in a recent phone interview that he was “literally devastated.”

“Pat was still totally understanding and trying to always see the positive of it,” Sweeney said. “I can’t think of a single second when I felt Pat was disappointed in me.”

Sweeney and Miller shared an office for nearly 10 years. They won three national championships together. Miller hired Sweeney as an assistant coach in 1991 and promoted him after a year when former head coach Alan Watson left the program.

“The performance expectations were extremely high,” Sweeney said. “But at the same time I think Pat just had such a calmness and a level-headedness that pervaded through his staff.”

Sweeney’s response to the same question that choked up Graves came in three parts. He will remember Miller first as a legend in collegiate skiing. Second, as a “fun, heartwarming, accepting and caring individual.” And finally, he will recall the difficulty of losing him too soon.

Comments

  1. Awesome accounts by Peter and Kevin. Researching US universities and skiing in the late 70′s, a friend of a friend gave me the name and address of Pat Miller. Among a collection of random info, Pat understood my questions and needs and took the time to explain it all in a great personal letter. I didn’t end up going to Utah, but Pat’s encouragement was quite instrumental for me making the big leap resulting in a wonderful, adventurous life in America. Thanks Pat – I’ll always remember you.

  2. I have no intention of being anonymous, I apologize for the template running away from me.

    Thanks Pat, Jon Engen, Sun Valley, Idaho

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