Curt Miller has accomplished almost everything you could imagine as a basketball coach. He’s qualified for five NCAA tournaments and presided over one of the most successful professional women’s teams over the last half-decade. Last season, the Connecticut Sun came within three wins of capturing WNBA championship, and are gunning to return to the Finals.
And yet, Miller is trying to make up for lost time. As America presses pause to combat the coronavirus, Miller, like many of us, is reflecting on how tenuous life can be. He was 23 years old when he took his first coaching job with Cleveland State, and has spent countless nights sleeping in his office since. One of the most intense coaches in basketball, Miller suffered a small stroke in a game against Eastern Michigan in 2012, which sidelined him for three contests.
On this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki,” Miller reflects on coming out in Outsports, five years ago, and how this period of prolonged isolation has propelled him to reconsider his priorities in life.
Though Miller was out to friends and family for years — he introduced his then-partner and two sons at his first press conference as head women’s basketball coach at Indiana University — he resisted doing a formal story until the Sun hired him in 2015. He now says he regrets it.
“I wasted a lot of years not being a mentor and not being a role model for that next struggling young person who wanted to chase a career in sports — be it a coach, be it a general manager, be it on the sidelines, or covering sports,” he said. “Visibility is so important, and I realize that just by staying in that little old women’s basketball bubble, that there was not the visibility. One of the things that made it scary for me to be out was I didn’t see that gay male successful coach. So now, I hope I can be a trailblazer and people see me having success coaching on the sidelines for multiple decades.”
Miller and his squad will have to wait to continue their success on the court, with the WNBA becoming the latest league Friday to postpone its season. The campaign was initially scheduled to begin May 15. (The virtual WNBA Draft, however, is slated to proceed as scheduled April 17.)
Though Miller has dedicated nearly half of his life to coaching basketball, he says nothing could have prepared him for managing a professional team during a pandemic. In addition to serving as head coach of the Suns, he’s the team’s general manager, meaning large portions of his days are occupied phoning potential draftees.
But since the team is not together — and probably won’t be for some time — Miller says communicate is more vital than ever.
“First and foremost, over-communicating with your staff, and consistently being in communication with each other and checking in with each other (is important),” Miller said. “We’re doing FaceTime meetings. We’re doing Zoom meetings. Then it’s continuing to over-communicate with your players, and just keeping them motivated and asking them to be smart and safe and at the same time continue to take care of themselves, because when we get the go-ahead to get to training camp, that we’re not trying to get back in shape as a group.”
But during this down time, Miller, who’s at home in Indiana, is also remembering to put his phone away and spend time with his son, a senior at Indiana University who’s finishing up his school year online.
It’s something he’s vowing to do more of, even when basketball comes back.
“I’m someone that’s really been so professionally driven my whole life, and missed a lot of personal events with family and friends throughout the years,” he said. “I’ve actually walked away from my phone each and every day. It was a really poor 2019 for me health-wise. I did not take care of myself. I stopped working out. So it’s really jump-started on some of that. Again, taking some time for yourself and working out and getting some exercise in with what I have available, and a lot of time to reflect that I’ve really put work ahead of a lot of things in my lifetime. It’s allowed me to really hit the reset button, and I think I will have a different perspective when I do get back to the team.”
While Miller says he will always be hyper-competitive, he realizes he’s exceptionally lucky to be one of 12 coaches in the WNBA, which he refers to as the “best league in the world.”
It frustrates Miller when the WNBA gets overlooked in the national press, because of all the courageous and exceptional women who play. He says the lack of coverage is a disservice, and makes it more difficult for himself and the athletes to be visible — which is what LGBTQ kids need.
“I want to be a visible person for the next generation that it doesn’t matter what that team sport is — men’s sports, women’s sports — that you can do it, and you can do it at a very high level,” Miller said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating when articles are written out there about how’s there’s no (openly gay) coach in the NBA right now, there’s no major coach in Division 1 men’s basketball. I just want the young men out there who struggle with their sexuality and struggle with the thought they could face a career in sports to know that there are men in team sports, and there are men out there being successful, who have done it at all sorts of different levels.”
Click here to check out this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki Podcast”. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.