BOZEMAN – Matt Miller seems to thrive wherever he goes.
The former Helena Capital star piled up two all-state selections in hoops, plus a state hurdles title his senior season, and then there’s football – Miller and Capital would reel off 33 consecutive wins, a Class AA record.
Miller parlayed that success into one of the best wide receiving careers in Boise State history, leaving as the program’s leader in career receptions, No. 2 in career receiving yards and No. 3 in career touchdown receptions.
A left leg injury ended his professional career before it could get started, so Miller joined the coaching ranks instead, first at Boise State as an offensive assistant before taking a job on the Montana State Bobcats staff in 2016 as the wide receivers coach. But midway through last season, Miller was promoted to offensive coordinator, at just 27 years old, leading the Cats to their first FCS playoff berth since 2014 and first win since 2012.
Miller sat down with MTN Sports this past spring to discuss his new role, his relationship with head coach Jeff Choate, and how married life is treating him almost one year in.
MTN Sports: We haven’t had much of a chance to catch up with you – it’s been kind of hectic out on the field, jumping through different positions. What’s it been like being back in Montana and transitioning from the player to the coach?
Matt Miller: I’m really fortunate to be back in my home state. A lot of times in this coaching profession, you don’t know where you’re going to land. You just want to have a job. I was very grateful for Coach Choate giving me that call a few Decembers ago to come back to Bozeman. I couldn’t be happier to be this close to my brother, he lives in town. My mom and dad still live in Helena. My sister lives in the town just over the hill. It’s good just to be close to my family once again, since being in Boise for 5-6-7 years, I didn’t get to see them as much.
MTN Sports: What were some of the mot eye-opening moments of being a coach now? Being on the other side of the meetings rooms, running them rather than learning from them?
Miller: It’s one of the coolest parts of our jobs – it still has a locker room feel. We’re not in there with those guys all the time, but they come up to our offices, and we get to converse with them, talk about their lives, how school’s going, how their social lives are going, as well as talk about football which is something I love dearly. It’s different than the daily grind of a player, but it’s also a different type of grind being a coach. It’s something you fall in love with, be passionate about, and really you don’t work a day in your life. It’s just football all daty.
MTN Sports: Are you surprised by how quickly it’s elevated for you? What was it like getting that call into the big guy’s office, saying ‘OC is a title going next to your name’? This has been quick.
Miller: It’s one of those things you don’t really think about. I know I’m a young guy, and I’m very fortunate to be presented with some of these opportunities. But when you’re a player, and you get those opportunities, you have to take full advantage of them. And I’m just very grateful I’ve had those opportunities to go and run with them. This last fall, getting the opportunity to call plays, there wasn’t much time to think about it. It was just thrown into the fire, go operate and do your thing. I’m just glad it worked out for us and we had a little run there at the end of the year.
MTN Sports: Two part question – where are you finding the inspiration for some of those plays, whether it be the high school or college days? And secondly, how challenging is it to really put that puzzle together with the different fits, especially with the different quarterback competitions you’ve had?
Miller: They’re mostly back to the college days, when you get ingrained about what you want your system to be like. Chris Peterson, Bryan Harsin, there’s a whole bunch of other guys – Brett Pease at the University of Montana who recruited me to Boise State. A lot of those guys have influences on me as a football coach, and I try to incorporate a little bit of everything of what I’ve learned over the years. That’s where the challenge comes in – you can get really complicated with this thing. I’m still learning – I know I don’t have it figured out yet, and I think that’s the fun part of being a football coach is you don’t have to have it figured out. Just make sure you have a great plan in place for your offensive staff that they can go give to their players every day, then they go execute and operate our base DNA scheme, and we can get more complicated once we’re comfortable with all that stuff.
MTN Sports: What’s it been like being a Montana guy, knowing the history where when you were growing up, it was the other side of the state with success and winning. Now the switch has flipped a little bit. Coach Choate is a big part of that. What’s it like working for him and then energy, and what’s it like seeing that success as you guys continue to rise?
Miller: It’s been fun to be a part of it. Coach Choate is an awesome guy to work for. He makes sure he takes care of you and your family. He wants to see you develop as a person and a coach. That’s the one thing I love about working for him – he truly cares about you on a personal level. Now winning the football games on top of it, that makes it a lot more fun. Our success the last couple years has been great, but we’re still hungry and humble to go get to higher places. We have higher aspirations for this university and this football program to go places we haven’t gone in a long time, and that’s what we’re working towards now.
MTN Sports: What’s the biggest thing you took away from the ending of last year, seeing where that top level of FCS football is?
Miller: We’ve got to make sure our guys are building our bodies for the long haul, not just being ready for an 11-game season, but for those games into late December and early January. That’s what we took away from it – make sure our guys are prepared 365 days a year to make that long run, as well as us as a staff, preparing ourselves to practice smart throughout the fall, prepping those guys for the big-time money games and the playoff games.
MTN Sports: Seeing all those types of things, SDSU last year and the facilities that (Montana State AD) Leon Costello helped put into place, knowing his plan, how exciting is it for recruiting and being a part of it? It doesn’t get much better than some of the renderings and drawings we’ve seen.
Miller: Those are awesome. It’s going to be awesome for us for recruiting, for our guys, for our staff to have all that stuff in a football facility. But ultimately, I don’t think it’s going to change us from who we are. We’re blue-collar guys, we’re a blue-collar staff, a blue-collar culture in our locker room. That’s something we’ve built into our DNA, and I don’t think it’s anything we’ll ever lose even if we do have all those bells and whistles.
MTN Sports: You’re a well-known guy in this state. People followed the college career. What’s it like being this “celebrity” as you guys make trips across the state, and getting to see so many familiar faces?
Miller: I wouldn’t say I’m a celebrity by any means. A lot of people don’t know me or recognize me, and that’s totally fine – they recognize my wife a heck of a lot more and I’m ok with that! It’s fun going around the state of Montana and knowing a lot of people. I’m very fortunate to be part of a very big family, so I can go pretty much anywhere in Montana and have a family member house me for the night! Those are some of the only times I get to see them throughout the year. That’s one of the best special places for me are the people that live here, to be able to catch up on the good old times.
MTN Sports: You mentioned your wife. Coming up on a year this summer for you, tell us about that aspect – moving back to Bozeman and showing her around your home state.
Miller: It’s funny because everybody back here, they really do think that I was kind of the bell cow down there in Boise, where I was the stud football player. It’s the other way around – my wife’s the stud volleyball player. I was the one chasing after her, making sure she wanted to go on dates with me. I was very fortunate – that was one of my first big recruiting pitches. I got her to commit to me and spend the rest of her life with me. It’s been fun having her up in Bozeman and getting her acclimated to a little different setting. She’s got a lot of great friends here – she loves Bozeman. She calls Montana home now, which is awesome for me to hear because I love this place. Hopefully we’ll make this a home for a long, long time.
MTN Sports: You mentioned she’s big into the volleyball scene, at least in Bozeman. It’s fun to have that sports aspect of her life too.
Miller: Talk about competing. Come over to our house – we’re both the biggest competitors ever. Whether it’s who’s doing the dishes, who’s cooking, we’re always competing in some sort of aspect. That’s why I love her. She makes sure she holds me to a high standard of how I handle myself, and how I handle my job. It’s the same thing for her – her volleyball club, Big Sky Volleyball Club in Bozeman – she does a great job developing those kids, and something she’s very passionate about, the skill-building of those kids. It’s exciting for me to step away from the football office and watch some volleyball, see her in her element, coaching those girls and bringing that energy and excitement to volleyball.
MTN Sports: Is that the younger girls?
Miller: I want to say it’s 12 years old up to 18 years old. It’s fun watching the young girls play and learn at a fundamental level, and then the 17, 18-year-olds are in the recruiting stages – it’s a different sport so it’s fun for me to pick her brain on how volleyball recruiting works versus football.
MTN Sports: When you guys don’t have sports, what are you doing on a random Sunday outside of football season?
Miller: There’s a lot of things. We go on a lot of hikes. We’re junkyard dogs – we go pick at a lot of places, the antique stores around town. And we love to entertain. I consider myself a grill guy – I have my Traeger out back, so we’ll go cook up some good food and she’ll be inside making sure she has all the side dishes ready to go, so we like to have people over and entertain.
MTN Sports: What’s the main dish then?
Miller: Sarah has a great recipe for a tri-tip marinade, so that’s kind of our go-to.