Curt Miller may not have set out to be a pioneer, but when he accepted the job as the Connecticut Sun’s new head coach, that’s just what he became. By virtue of the move, Miller is now the first publicly gay man to be the head coach of an American professional sports team.
It’s just the latest step in an impressive coaching journey that has spanned 20-plus years in both the collegiate and professional ranks. In 13 years as a head coach at the collegiate level, Miller compiled a 290-124 record, won five MAC regular season and conference tournament championships with Bowling Green, and also lead the Falcons to the Sweet Sixteen in 2007. Last year he joined Brian Agler’s staff as an assistant coach out in Los Angeles with the Sparks. Now, after being hired in December, he’s the head coach of the Connecticut Sun.
In an interview with WNBA.com, Miller said he hopes his journey can be inspiring to a younger generation.
“It’s not a ‘coming out’ story, but I hope the story is an inspiration to someone who’s sitting there in high school, or middle school, or college and has dreams of being in sports — that they can do it. That they shouldn’t stop chasing those dreams.”
The Connecticut Sun have dreams of their own of making it back to the playoffs. Since moving from Orlando in 2003, the franchise has been to the playoffs eight times, including back-to-back WNBA Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005. However, their last appearance was back in 2012, and the Sun have finished last in the Eastern Conference three years in a row.
Despite their lack of recent success, Miller isn’t deterred. When asked about his vision for the team moving forward, he said, “We’re excited. There are some pieces in place. Even though it’s the youngest roster in the league, there are some talented players on the roster.” Players like Kelsey Bone, Alex Bentley and Chiney Ogwumike, for example.
Bone and Bentley led the way last year, averaging 15.4 and 14.7 points a game, respectively; each made her first All-Star appearance, and Bone took home the Most Improved Player award. As for Ogwumike, she missed last season after undergoing microfracture surgery on her knee, but in her rookie season in 2013 put up 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a night on her way to being named Rookie of the Year. All three of them are 25 or younger.
In addition to the talent already in place, the Sun have the third overall pick in April’s WNBA Draft, which should add another highly skilled player to their roster. With all that young talent, there is real hope for Connecticut moving forward. Still, Miller doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“I’m not going to talk about championships, certainly not going to talk about how many games we need to win. I’m going to try establish a culture and the wins and losses take care of itself once you establish that culture.”
How does one go about establishing a culture? Well, to start, communication. Miller believes that is the bedrock to creating a successful environment.
“First and foremost, I don’t care what level you coach at, I believe communication is the key with your players. My first priority since taking over the job is to communicate with the players … making them understand that I want to know them more than just a basketball player, that I truly care for them and want to get to know them and create a family environment.”
That type of culture is the same one that Miller fostered in his days as a head coach at Bowling Green and Indiana, where he won 70 percent of his games. Now, expecting that kind of record this season would be asking quite a lot of Miller and company, but given Miller’s track record and the abundant talent on the roster, a return to glory for Connecticut might not be too far off.