Mounts Turn to Miller

By on January 27, 2016
Ephrata Area School District superintendent Brian Troop (right) greets Kris Miller, who was approved as the school’s head football coach Tuesda
Ephrata Area School District superintendent Brian Troop (right)  greets Kris Miller, who was approved as the school’s head football  coach Tuesda

EASD superintendent Brian Troop (right) greets Kris Miller, the school’s new head football coach.

Former Viking assistant, CV grad named EHS football coach

Ephrata High School has found its man.

After a search that drew interest from 22 quality candidates, Kris Miller, an associate head coach at Northern Lebanon High School, stood out. And Tuesday night at the monthly Ephrata school board meeting, the Mounts made his hiring official when Miller was unanimously approved to succeed Scott Shelley as new head football coach at Ephrata.

A graduate of Conestoga Valley (‘04) and Lebanon Valley College (‘09), Miller has guided the Vikings’ defense since 2013. The past two seasons, they finished as a top five defense.

Miller, 30, who was also approved Tuesday as a high school math teacher at EHS for next school year, said he was excited about the opportunity.

“I was fortunate enough to be here two years ago as an opponent when they opened up the turf field, and right when I left the field, I knew that this was something that I wanted to be part of if it would open up in the near future,” Miller said. “Just the community support…I think the support that I felt from the community at that time, I felt like this was a place that was on the verge of something that’s going to be really successful. When this opportunity opened up this year, it was a no-brainer for me to apply for it and go through the process.”

“I’m from Lancaster County. I graduated from Conestoga Valley High School and I had a lot of family live in the Ephrata area so I’m familiar with the community. It’s a chance to come home for me, and I’m just really looking forward to this opportunity.”

He replaces Shelley, whose contract was not renewed after spending four seasons at Ephrata, going 2-38 during that span. Ephrata currently has lost 31-straight games.

“Kris will bring a lot of passion and energy to both coaching and teaching,” Steve Sweigart, Ephrata’s Director of Athletics, said. “The district is fortunate to be able to hire Kris Miller as both a teacher and a football coach. Additionally, Kris has experience in helping to transform a struggling football program into a consistent-winning successful team. I look forward to his strong leadership with our football program and his effective skills as a teacher. It is a win-win for the students of our district.”

Miller, who played defensive end at Lebanon Valley, began his teaching and coaching career at Northern Lebanon in 2010. During his first four years, he was the offensive and defensive line coach. In 2013, he took on the role of defensive coordinator in addition to his other duties, and he held that position through this past season in which the Vikings went 8-3 and won their second-straight Section Three title and advanced to Districts.

The Vikings’ defense had a lot to do with the team’s success. They were fourth in the L-L League in total team defense in 2015, and forced 27 turnovers, the third most in the entire league.

In the classroom, Miller has enjoyed just as much success. In 2012, he was recognized as an “Outstanding Teacher” by the Association of Retired Teachers. And in 2013, Miller was a semifinalist for State Teacher of the Year in math.

“The life lessons of commitment, loyalty, teamwork, and a strong work ethic are qualities that have carried me through my education, teaching, and coaching careers,” Miller said. “I intend to pass on these values to the players to help them be successful on and off the football field. It is my goal to combine my dedication and abilities to be a compassionate, enthusiastic, and intelligent coach to make a positive contribution in the lives of Ephrata High School student athletes and the community.”

Miller obviously takes over a struggling program that has gone 0-10 the last three seasons and is challenging the L-L League’s all-time mark of 33 consecutive losses. In addition, with re-alignment, Ephrata moves back to Section Two after spending the last few seasons playing down at the Section Three level.

While that may seem a bit daunting, Miller is excited about the challenge and explained how he plans to tackle it.

“I think the first thing is we got to forget about the streak,” he said. “The most important thing for this team to realize is this is a new team. They are starting out 0-0. What happened in the past is what happened in the past, and that’s going to be my focus the first time I sit down with the team. Let’s focus on the things we can handle. Let’s focus on the things that are in front of us, and whatever happens from there is going to happen. If we focused on all of the negatives that happened in the past, we are not going to get very far. We got to learn from whatever happened before, but that’s not going to be our primary focus. We just got to get better every single day and really focus on the things that we can control, and let everything else take care of itself.”

One of the first steps to overall improvement of the program will be to get more players out for the team. Ephrata’s roster sizes have dwindled the past few years, and this past season the Mounts regularly dressed just 25-35 players on any given Friday night, depending on injuries.

The fact that Miller is a teacher and will be in the school every day should be a benefit to help increase those numbers.

“I think one of the benefits with a teaching position is I’ll be able to see those athletes every day,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’ve done at Northern Lebanon since I’ve been there, just being able to recruit those kids in the hallways. I’ll talk to other coaches. I’m a big proponent on kids being multiple-sport athletes, so I’ll be able to work with the other coaches from the other sports and see what athletes they have and see if any of them could be a quality football player for us. I want to go seek those kids out. I want the kids to recruit their friends too. I’m sure there are a lot of kids here who aren’t playing football for whatever reason…but it’s their program. Whatever this season is going to be is going to be the kids on the team and what they want to make out of it. If they want to be successful, if they want to recruit some of their friends out, let me know of guys that I can talk to and get them out and just try to get as many of those athletes to be on the football team as possible.”

More than anything, Miller said he wants to get the Ephrata players, students and community excited about football again.

“I think my enthusiasm is my biggest thing,” he said. “I’m the type of coach that gets excited when the kids do something great. This past year for example, we had one of our defensive linemen intercept a pass and take it 70 yards back for a touchdown. I was running with him all the way down the sideline. That excitement is what the kids really buy into. They want to see someone that gets excited when they do something great.”

As far as Xs and Os are concerned, Miller indicated he isn’t locked into one particular offensive system but will look to get the ball in the hands of his best athletes. Defensively, he’ll look to attack and apply pressure on the opposing offense.

“I have general ideas of what we want to do (offensively),” Miller said. “I really want to sit down and see what talent we have coming back and where our skill players are and where our play-makers are and just find ways to get them the football. Defensively, I’m a defensive lineman and I like being aggressive. I like blitzing and playing press man-to-man coverage. Schematically, I don’t know what we’re going to look like on Friday nights yet but I know we are going to find a way to get our play-makers the ball on offense and I know we are going to force the issue on defense.”

While he hopes to turn the program around sooner rather than later, Miller realizes it will require a bit of time. His ultimate goal is that one day in the not too distant future Ephrata will be mentioned along with some of the elite programs in Section Two.

“This year moving back up to Section Two there are a lot of quality programs in that section,” he said. “Solanco, Cocalico, Lampeter-Strasburg…all of those teams are established programs that took a lot of time to get to where they are at. And long-term, that’s where we want to be. We want to be with those programs, but it’s going to take time to get there. I’m not saying this first year we are going to go out and be Manheim, L-S or Cocalico, but three to four years down the road that’s what I want to be like. Those teams are great measuring sticks. We want our kids to step on the field and expect that we are going to beat those teams. That’s where we need to get.”

Miller will begin to assemble his new staff in the coming days and hopes to also meet with his players.

After that, he’ll begin the long preparation for next season, which ironically begins Sept. 2 with a match-up at Conestoga Valley, his Alma Mater.

“I’m just super excited,” Miller said. “There are going to be opportunities here and we just got to get the kids to buy in. The community support is here. If we can just match everyone up together and get kind of the one vision for where we want the football program to go, I think the sky is the limit. It is going to take time to get there but if we start making steady progress and just get a positive feeling built up each week through the first year and just keep that rolling…who knows what is going to happen. But I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

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