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ONCE A COACH, RED MILLER IS. . . : WHEELING AND DEALING : The Man Who Led the Broncos Into Their First Super Bowl Runs Different Kinds of Options Now and Is Taking Stock of Himself

January 31, 1988|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Though it says it right there on his business card-- Robert "Red" Miller, Account Executive, Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. --you don't quite believe it. Not even the fancy office, the tastefully tailored suit, the monogrammed button-down shirt, nor the obligatory power tie can hide what Red Miller was . . . or still is, at least in his own mind: A football coach, and not a bad one, at that.

Oh, you'll get the spiel, all right, about his 700 accounts in just two years, about the exciting new world of preferred stocks and Euro-bonds and bullion and easy-growth treasury receipts, about how a 59-year-old former National Football League and United States Football League head coach whipped the suspenders off some of Dean Witter's young investment turks.

But then, just as he seems on the verge of convincing you and perhaps himself, the truth leaks out. It doesn't come easily; Miller has spent nearly the last five years tightening his emotions, doing his best to purge football from his system. But occasionally, and against his better judgment, Miller can't stop himself.

Sure he enjoys his new career, he says, but if the right job came along--say, even an assistant coaching position with the Raiders--Miller's pinstripes would find themselves home on a hanger before Dean could spell Witter.

And, yeah, the business has its moments, like when Miller closes a lucrative deal or scores nicely on an over-achieving convertible bond. But pressure? Competition? C'mon. When was the last time 74,000 fans, network television and assorted media types crowded into Miller's office wanting to know why he chose a Fannie Mae over a Ginnie Mae? Or got fired--twice--even though he had plenty more winners than losers?

"I miss a few parts of (football), you know, the camaraderie of the guys, the relationships, but that's about it," Miller says. "I spent 33 years coaching that . . . game, all the way from high school, college, the AFL, the NFL, the USFL."

His voice is rising now. Gone is that sad, melancholy tone of a few moments ago. Miller is thinking about that blasted game again, the one that gently and persistently tugs at his heart, the one that couldn't give a hoot about that national sales directors award he won as a first-year broker.

Miller brings it on himself. There, on one of his office walls, is a framed front page of the Jan. 12, 1978 issue of the Denver Post. Miller, wearing a baby-blue sweater, a white turtleneck, is reaching out from the Denver Broncos locker-room door, shaking hands with fans. Reads the headline:

Jan. 15: Dallas and, Yes, Denver

And, in smaller type:

On to Nawlins: A Time to Savor Sweet Success

This would be Super Bowl XII at New Orleans, when Miller, in his first season as the Bronco head coach, led the little-regarded team to the brink of a world championship. It was one of his proudest moments.

Over there, against another wall, is a football from the 1977 American Football Conference Championship game, when the Broncos beat the Oakland Raiders, 20-17. Coach of the Year awards from the NFL, the Associated Press, United Press International, The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly and the Washington Touchdown Club are easily seen. A plaque from the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame also owns a spot on the wall. Even Miller's AFC Championship ring, the one the size of a walnut, is hard to miss. Inscribed on the side of it: "Togetherness."

The mementos are here mostly to impress clients, which they do. But caught sometimes in the middle is Miller, who spent most of those 33 years in football waiting for a chance to be a head coach. When it came, Miller made the most of it. Forty-two wins in four seasons, one Super Bowl game, an AFC Championship, three playoff appearances. Not bad for a franchise that had never advanced to a postseason game.

And then he was fired, just like that, and replaced by Dan Reeves. Seems the first meeting between Miller and then-new owner Edgar F. Kaiser didn't go too well. Not long afterward, on March 9, 1981, Miller was presented with his pink slip.

After that, came the USFL and the Denver Gold. Miller barely made it through training camp before he was dismissed on May 19, 1983, sort of a Black Thursday.

So here he is, sitting in an office with plants and brass lamps and a desk that cost some mahogany tree its life, and he's overseeing those 700 accounts like some junior financial whiz kid. But is he happy?

Well, yes and no. The new career is going great. The old career is still gnawing at him a bit.

"He's like all other coaches," says Fred Gehrke, who was fired as Bronco general manager shortly after Miller left. "He wants to coach. I'm sure if something came up, he would jump at it again. The problem is, that if you're out of the league for two years, you're forgotten."

Then Miller is forgotten. Or is he? How do you simply not remember the guy who placed Broncomania on your NFL Rand McNally?

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