Miller's Making the Impossible Just Part of the Job

Fred Miller's job description is too narrow, his chores too restricted.

Why does San Diego State University have a monopoly on this fellow? Just because he is the director of athletics?

If Miller were president of the Padres, Tim Raines would be playing left field . . . probably for $250,000 a year.

If Miller were chairman of the America's Cup Task Force, an announcement already would have been made that the 1990-91 defense would be held off Point Loma.

If Miller were general manager of the Chargers, he might even manage to bring back Vince Lombardi or Knute Rockne as the coach.

This man gets things done, things that range from the unlikely to the darn near impossible. Indeed, I don't think Miller has any perception of the parameters of impossible, if such a concept can have parameters.

Take, for example, Tuesday's news. Miller had persuaded Jim Brandenburg to move from the University of Wyoming to coach basketball at SDSU.

This might not seem like the most amazing of accomplishments. The University of Wyoming is located in Laramie, a community that looks a lot like a way station in the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. Getting an intelligent individual to move from Laramie to San Diego would not seem to parallel stepping off a curb in terms of degree of difficulty.

As might be expected, there is more to it than this. Brandenburg was an immensely successful coach in Laramie, taking his team to postseason tournaments four times in nine years. This made him a very big man in a big, though sparsely populated, state.

What's more, Wyoming has just enjoyed its two greatest years in terms of national prominence. The 1985-86 Cowboys made it to the National Invitation Tournament final before losing to Ohio State. It was even sweeter this year, for the Cowboys upset Virginia and UCLA in the NCAA West Regional before getting KO'd by Nevada Las Vegas in the round of 16.

Now, you say, this must be the perfect time for Brandenburg to get out of Wyoming. All those players who had done so well must be about to graduate to either the National Basketball Assn? or the OK Corral, wherever Wyoming players go.

This is where the hiring of Jim Brandenburg becomes remarkable.

Wyoming has its top eight players coming back. That's right, eight . . . as in pieces of eight. He left a pile of gold behind him on the tundra.

And for what?

SDSU has all 12 players coming back, but on the Wyoming range land, that might encourage a discouraging word. After all, SDSU had a record of 5-25.

Smokey Gaines, Brandenburg's predecessor at SDSU, often lamented that he took over a program that was under a barrel rather than at the bottom of one. This new coach will have to tunnel under the barrel with a pick and shovel and coal miner's lamp.

And yet Jim Brandenburg left one of the most solid programs in the Western United States to pick up the pieces at SDSU. He had constructed a mansion and left to take up residence in a . . . what?

And why?

"Can you give us one reason?" an inquisitor asked at Tuesday's news conference.

"I think the guy right here has a lot to do with it," Brandenburg said, gesturing toward the man on his right.

Fred Miller?

Can he shoot the three-pointer? Rebound? Dribble to his left? Can a 54-year-old man with a doctorate possibly have any eligibility remaining?

The answer to all of the above is no, although Miller had to be an athlete of some skill during his days as a varsity letterman in football, track, tennis and rugby at College--now University--of the Pacific.

Miller's skills these days are administrative. Remember that he was the fellow whose first hire at SDSU was Denny Stolz. All Stolz did, of course, was take the Aztecs to the Western Athletic Conference championship and the Holiday Bowl in his first year as coach.

While Miller was athletic director at Arizona State University, the football stadium was expanded from 30,000 to 70,000, facilities were constructed for baseball (8,000 seats), track (5,000) and tennis (2,000), and the booster club grew from 3,000 members donating $50,000 annually to 14,000 donating $1.5 million annually.

It is easy to see where Fred Miller is headed at SDSU.

Jim Brandenburg is here because he believes Miller will get where he is heading, which means he thinks SDSU will get where Miller is aiming it.

"He's very well-respected," Brandenburg said, "and he has a dynamic personality. He's a good salesman. Our athletic department has a tremendous energy level with Dr. Fred Miller, and I have a lot of faith in what he's going to do with the program."

The hiring of Jim Brandenburg is a significant steppingstone for Miller. The plans he has for basketball are hardly modest. He is determined to build an on-campus arena to house the basketball team, and such plans can be accomplished only if someone comes along to create interest and excitement in a sport ignored for so long hereabouts. Enter Jim Brandenburg.

"We expect to be a major player in basketball," Miller said. "We're going to play a major schedule and we're going to recruit major players. We're going to give Jim every bit of support so he has the tools to win."

Give Miller just a second to get rolling, and he is into his sales pitch. He rolled through "instant chemistry" and "magnificent city" and "creative financing" and "proper sequence" and "understanding graduation rates" and "special occasion." The piper plays an enchanting tune.

What this is, of course, is another coup for SDSU and its athletic director.

The next thing you know, Tim Raines will be playing left field in San Diego . . . for the Aztecs.

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