Not many people can do what Gene Miiller did when arriving to coach the Washington boys’ basketball program in 2005.
Earlier that year, Luke Zeller hit the half-court shot which gave Washington a state title victory over Plymouth in the IHSAA Class 3A championship game.
It was a near perfect send-off for the retiring Coach Dave Omer and the lift the Hatchet community needed since they hadn’t seen a state championship in over 60 years.
There was a high expectation for any coach who was going to follow up what Omer had started, but Miiller looked at the situation a little differently.
“I didn’t feel any pressures in order to win or anything, I just remember the first year that I came here some people didn’t think that we’d be very good,” Miiller said. “I think winning that championship in 2005 kind of made it easier for those teams coming afterwards by giving them a goal to reach.”
And reach that goal they did.
Over the next six years, Miiller took Southern Indiana high school basketball by storm, winning three more state titles.
Perhaps no one who witnessed those years were more impressed than Don Spillman, who has been the Washington Hatchet public address announcer for the past 45 years.
“For Gene to come in with the expectations that everybody had was really tough,” Spillman said. “Tyler and Cody Zeller were coming back and so that any coach that came in was going to have a tremendous amount of expectations put upon them and Gene was able to come in and exceed those expectations.”
Miiller has spent most of his life coaching in Southern Indiana, his basketball career began farther north.
As a player at South Newton High School, Miiller was a three-year letter winner and two-time all-conference player, setting the single game scoring record with 32 points and helping his team win the sectional title in 1970.
Following his three years as a player at Wabash College, Miiller began his coaching career as the assistant basketball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in 1975. A year later he became the head coach and by the time he left in 1981 he won four sectional championships along with the school’s first regional title.
For 17 years, Miiller coached down the road at Vincennes Lincoln, as well as Lafayette Jefferson high school for seven years after that. He finally moved to Washington in 2005 because he had to chance to do something he hadn’t yet accomplished – be an athletic director.
“I was always interested in the Washington program even when I was at Vincennes,” Miiller said. “I like fact that it gave me a chance to serve as the athletic director as well as the basketball coach.”
Even with his impressive track-record, Miiller had doubters when returning to Southern Indiana.
Along with Omer leaving following the 2005 season, so did several seniors, and some community member’s didn’t think the team was going to be very good, but not Miiller who remembered his thought process after seeing his first Hatchet team in the summer.
“If we weren’t going to be very good that first year, then Southern Indiana got a lot better in those seven years I was gone,” Miiller said. “We had a pretty good team and we just kept on getting better over those next few years.”
While in Washington, Miiller’s success was recognized at a larger scale, as he accomplished things few other Indiana coaches have.
His list of accomplishments includes: three state titles, one state runner-up, more than 20 conference and sectional championships, eight regionals and four semi-state appearances to name a few.
Miiller is one of only 13 Indiana basketball coaches who have won more than 600 games during his time and he coached five Indiana All-Stars and two Mr. Basketballs.
That impressive list of accomplishments earned him his spot in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012 and later the Wabash College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014.
One of his more unique statistics is that until very recently, he had a former player on a Major League baseball, NFL and NBA roster at the same time.
During his more than 40 years as a basketball coach, some of Miiller’s best seasons have been in Washington.
“The community is very strong towards basketball, they love basketball and it’s great,” Miiller said. “I knew about it and thought it would be a nice community to be in.”