Gutted to gratified in three years - The Province

Lost out on head coach job, but happy to assist now
 
By Marc Weber

These are early days for Colin Miller as the Whitecaps assistant coach, but his players should already know to take their grudges elsewhere.

After all, this is a man who's working for the man who took his dream job; working for a club that passed him over just two years ago.

"I was gutted at the time, absolutely gutted," Miller, 45, said of losing out to Teitur Thordarson for the Caps' head coaching job in December 2007.

"Definitely it hit me hard that I didn't get the job, but I said to Bobby [Lenarduzzi, Caps' president] at the time that they had to do what they felt was best and I've been around the professional game since the age of 17 so I know how things work."

One day you're on top of the mountain; the next you can barely see it in the distance.

Miller knows all about that. When Derby County earned promotion to the English Premier League in 2007 -- and the massive budget boost that goes with it -- the Abbotsford resident was on a flight to join former Glasgow Rangers teammate Billy Davies at the club. He lived with longtime Scotland manager Craig Brown, a Derby consultant, and gleaned as much from him as possible.

That was July. By November, everyone from coaches to physiotherapists were out of a job.

"The nature of the beast," said Miller, who moved here from Scotland at age 10. "But what a great experience."

So, far from burning bridges, Miller was one of the first to send a congratulatory e-mail to Lenarduzzi after the Whitecaps won the 2008 USL-1 championship. There is plenty of history there, too. When Lenarduzzi coached the Canadian national team, Miller wore the captain's armband.

Now, following a start-up managerial role with the Premier Development League's Victoria Highlanders, the women's coaching job at the University of the Fraser Valley and a return to his longtime role as head coach of the Abbotsford Soccer Association, Miller has landed with the Whitecaps as the club moves toward Major League Soccer expansion in 2011.

"I'm really delighted to be here," said Miller, who at 17 was the youngest player in the old North American Soccer League and went on to an 18-year professional career, mostly in Scotland.

"I thought this sort of opportunity would have been gone. I thought I'll just be quite happy doing my thing out in Abbotsford and at Fraser Valley."

The Whitecaps announced in October that assistant coach Todd Wawrousek would not be back for the 2010 season -- the club's final year in the second division. And while it was Lenarduzzi who made the call to Miller, the arrangement had to meet with Thordarson's approval.

About a month ago, Miller and Thordarson went for a half-hour coffee that turned into a two-hour session. Both said they share similar beliefs on training and tactics. The biggest disagreement they had, Miller joked, was over the coffee itself.

"He's a bit of a yuppie -- he likes his Starbucks whereas I'm a Tim Hortons kind of guy."

In Miller, a former national team assistant under Holger Osieck and Frank Yallop, the Caps have someone whose work ethic matches his wit. At 5:30 a.m. Thursday, he was jogging the track at Robert Bateman Secondary in Abbotsford -- in the dark, he said, so no one could see how slow he was going.

As a player, Miller described himself as someone coaches could rely on to do a certain job. He earned 61 caps as a defender; 38 as captain.

"He was the captain for good reason," Lenarduzzi said. "He always wore his heart on his sleeve."

Like Thordarson's contract, Miller is signed for one season as the club keeps its options open for MLS.

He's also overseeing the residency program this month in the wake of Thomas Niendorf's firing on Feb. 25. Miller will take the under-19 squad to the Dallas Cup at month's end and Lenarduzzi hopes to have a replacement for Niendorf soon after that tournament.

Miller said the MLS head coaching position isn't even on his mind.

"It's an easy question to answer," he said, "because I'm Teitur's assistant and I don't even think about that. I come in and do my work to the best of my ability every day and if we're successful then Teitur's still here and I'm still in a job and I'm happy."

mweber@theprovince.com
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