GAINESVILLE — The only man to lead Gainesville football to a Georgia High School Association state championship is stepping down.
Bruce Miller -- who coached the Red Elephants to the 2012 Class AAAAA crown, as well as eight region titles, a state runner-up finish, and three other state semifinal appearances in 16 seasons at the school -- announced on Tuesday that he is retiring.
"It's just time to step back; I think the kids need a change, they need a different voice," said Miller, who owns a 225-126 record with three different programs, having also led North Forsyth (1997-2001) and Cass (1988-96) in 44 years of coaching and teaching. "I've been thinking about this since the end of the season, and last week something just hit me that it's time; this is what I need to do. And I've got a great administration that allowed me the time to think on this.
"I've been a roller-coaster ride for two months. I have a peace about this now though, and I'm just sitting back and looking at the next chapter of my life."
A fixture on the City Park sidelines for almost two decades, Miller will certainly be missed by the Gainesville program and school.
"Coach Miller is a Red Elephant, and the impact he has made on the lives of young men is unmatched," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams said via press release. "His heart for others and his passion for football set a high bar for the next head football coach at GHS. We congratulate coach Miller for his 15 years at the helm and the 2012 AAAAA State Championship. As we move to the next chapter of Red Elephant Football, we will build on the foundation of the great athletic programs and traditions of GHS. We plan on recognizing and honoring coach Bruce Miller during the 2018 football season, and will be inviting current and former players, parents, coaches, colleagues, and community to join us."
Gainesville athletic director Adam Lindsey knows he has big shoes to fill in searching for Miller's replacement.
"He's an incredible person, and he will be missed," Lindsey said. "Everybody says they care about the kids but Bruce lived it, and that's a big part of why he was so successful.
"We've got to start (looking for a new coach) immediately tomorrow -- tonight even. We owe it to this community, this program and these kids to be thorough and find the best fit for the athletic department and someone who will be looking out for the best interest of the kids. There's an expectation for Gainesville football in the community, and I know there will be a ton of interest in this job. It's one of those jobs that so many coaches say that, 'If that job comes open, I'd be interested in it.' "
Miller coached and touched the lives of countless members of the Gainesville community, including future collegiate and NFL players like Deshaun Watson, Blake Sims and Tai-ler Jones, among others. His success, including a 157-46 record at the school while never missing out on the state playoffs, was also unprecedented at a program that achieved plenty before his arrival, finishing as a state runner-up seven times since its first season in 1905, and is third all-time in GHSA wins across the state.
Yet Miller said his time at Gainesville was more about the relationships he built, rather than the success on the field.
"You get into this job to help people," Miller said. "I love all my players, and I love Gainesville. I wanted to be a coach ever since I was 6 years old. I went to Mars Hill College, which is now Mars Hill University, and I had a choice whether to become a minister or a football coach, and God told me this was the path I should choose -- which is good because I probably wouldn't have been a very good minister.
"I've had some ups and downs in this career -- but it's been incredible, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
The ups were staggering for Miller at Gainesville, where he led the Red Elephants to a state semifinal appearance in his first campaign with the program in 2002 -- after leading North Forsyth to a semifinal berth in '01. His '09 Gainesville squad finished as Class AAA runner-up before reaching the semifinals again in '11. The Red Elephants moved up to Class AAAAA in '12 and caught fire in the postseason behind then-junior quarterback Watson, claiming the program's first GHSA title despite finishing the regular season as a No. 2 seed.
"That was a special group of kids led by a special quarterback -- but people forget we lost two regular season games that year; we just got on a roll in the playoffs," Miller said. "That state championship was not about me. A lot of people did a lot of incredible things that season, including our players and coaching staff.
"Gainesville has been good to me. When I first got here I thought they'd run me off in a year or two. But it was more than I ever thought it could be; it's been an incredible pleasure."
That said, Miller added that, after years in the profession, he may not be completely finished with football.
"I still love the game; I still love the kids," Miller said. "But I'm going to just sit back and see what God has planned for me. I'm just an old country boy that happened to fall in love with football. But sometimes you have to say it's time for a change."
It is a change that few in Gainesville will forget.