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Winnetka -Coach Fred Miller. Rockford Christian Life visits the Raiders of North Shore Country Day for football. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Sam Tullman had heard the rumors that North Shore Country Day was going to add a former NFL player to its football staff.
“I thought it was crazy,” Tullman said.
Then, Fred Miller walked into a film session before last season, and Tullman nearly lost his mind. It was true: Miller, a former Chicago Bears offensive lineman, was going to help coach the Raiders.
“It was surreal,” said Tullman, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker and offensive lineman. “All the players in that room were in shock.
“That was a good day.”
Since Miller’s arrival, the Raiders have enjoyed several good days. As an assistant to veteran coach Jim Deuble last year, the 39-year-old Miller helped the team finish 9-2 and win the program’s first playoff game since 1999.
Miller now is the co-head coach alongside Deuble, who has been in charge since 1990.
“I’ve been around some great coaches in my life, and I have learned a lot,” said Miller, who played for Lovie Smith, Jeff Fisher and Dick Vermeil during his 13-year career. “I want interject those things into this team.”
Joel Hylton knows he’s a better player now than he was before Miller arrived. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound right tackle and defensive lineman was ready to learn from the outset.
“My dad told me to soak up everything I could from him,” said Hylton. “I wanted to know everything that came out of his mouth.
“It’s so cool. I never thought someone like him would come to our little school.”
Miller came to North Shore at the urging of assistant coaches Cy Oelerich and Adam Mangana. At the time, Miller had been coaching youth football in Glencoe under Mark Rice, a friend of Oelerich’s.
“Adam told me he would love it if I came over to help out,” Miller said.
Miller’s NFL credentials gave him instant credibility with the players.
“Obviously, he knows what he’s talking about,” said Tullman, who’s hoping to play college football in the Ivy League or Patriot League. “He stressed all the little things, and he let us know they added up to bigger things.”
Miller said the novelty of being a former pro doesn’t last. He needed to prove he could coach.
“It’s about winning ballgames,” he said. “Your background after that doesn’t matter.”
Miller’s responsibilities this season include heading up the operational side of the program, such as putting together practice schedules, and managing the team during games.
With Miller on the sideline, the Raiders are in the middle of another good season. They entered this week 5-1 after Saturday’s 30-8 win over Christian Liberty. The victory made North Shore eligible for the playoffs for a third consecutive season. The program has never played in the postseason three years in a row.
“He’s just brought a different kind of thinking to the team,” said Hylton. “He’s brought a different mindset.”
Miller isn’t sure what’s next for him. Of course, he has thought about returning to the NFL sidelines.
“My aspirations growing up were to win a Super Bowl,” said Miller, who won a title with the Rams. “Now, maybe it’s to win one as a head coach. Will that ever happen? I don’t know. I like what I am doing right now, so I think I will stick with this for a while.”