HAZEL GREEN, Ala. — Like many successful leaders, Tim Miller started an impeccable coaching career in the most humble way imaginable, losing a middle school girls basketball game 54-2.
Little did he imagine three decades later he would still be coaching girls basketball — he thought he'd be a football coach — or that he would lead three Alabama schools to nine state titles, sport a nifty career record of 686-98 or be selected the Alabama Sports Writers Association coach of the year at least five times.
After leading Hazel Green (Ala.) to its fifth straight 6A state title and first undefeated season (35-0), Miller can now add 2021-22 MaxPreps National Coach of the Year to his long list of honors and awards, and subtract that 54-2 score from his memory bank.
The 2020 inductee to the Huntsville Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame is 302-25 in his nine seasons at Hazel Green after successful runs at Bob Jones and Jeff Davis high schools.
But going unbeaten during the state's 100th state championship tournament and finishing a program-best No. 13 in the MaxPreps Top 25 national rankings made 2021-22 special.
"It shows the hard work we put in every day, every year paid off," senior Samiya Steele, the 6A tourney MVP and winner of four straight titles, told reporters after the title game.
That must have been music to the ears of Miller, known for his team's hard-nosed, grind-them-out, win-every-50-50-ball style. The Trojans allowed a scant 28.9 points per game while scoring 64.
In the championship game, Steele had 16 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore Leah Brooks contributed 20 points and 15 rebounds. Hazel Green led 27-12 at halftime and never looked back.
At no point in the season did Miller think about going undefeated.
"We're very practice-by-practice, game-by-game," he said.
And, according to all reports, he rarely talks about his own accomplishments. Especially after winning championships.
"What a phenomenal job these girls have done all season long," Miller told reporters on March 5. "We've battled injuries the past 4-5 weeks, we even had a girl playing with a stress fracture. It's been tough, but the girls battled through it.
"How many teams have two seniors coming off the bench who know their roles. It's really about the togetherness with this group. They're friends on and off the court and they don't care about points or the score, they just want to win the game."
Miller was a three-sport athlete in high school — all-state as a tight end in football, all-area in basketball and skilled enough in baseball to earn attention from college scouts.
He started coaching as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama and considered "the low man on the totem pole," at Hillcrest (Tuscaloosa). His first assignment was to coach the middle schoolers and after his most humbling opening loss, he figured he would never coach girls or basketball again.
"It just told me I had to go to work at this," Miller said.
His intrigue and work ethic for girls basketball grew steadily, eventually becoming one of the most respected in the state at his craft.
Following his team's 6A crown in 2019, a 55-31 win over Opelika, then-Hazel Green senior guard Marisa Snodgrass told the Montgomery Advertiser: "He's an amazing coach and an amazing person. Playing for him is an amazing experience."