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Reflections on Ring of Fame inductee and former head coach Red Miller's legacy

Posted Oct 5, 2017

Former Broncos General Manager and Ring of Famers Billy Thompson and Rick Upchurch shared their memories of Ring of Fame inductee Red Miller

More than 20 former players and many others associated with the Broncos celebrated the life of Ring of Fame head coach Red Miller on Thursday. Two of his former players, Ring of Famers Billy Thompson and Rick Upchurch, and former General Manager John Beake, reflected on the legacy of the first coach to take the Broncos to a Super Bowl. 

Thoughts on Red Miller and what he meant

Former GM John Beake: It was a great tribute to Red Miller today. For all of us in that room, we had different experiences, different job responsibilities — whether it was coaching or player personnel — he was a wonderful person to work with. He listened to you, he asked for help and he appreciated it. You could just see the outpouring of everybody in here what it means for his family, his grandkids and the coaches that were there, the players that were there. I think it’s a great tribute to Red and I’m honored that I was a part of it. 

Ring of Famer Billy Thompson: He was a very unusual coach. He was one of those kinds of coaches that didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. In other words, if he wanted to show or tell you something or coach you something, he would actually get down and show you how to do it. He was that kind of a guy. He was very motivating, had a lot of talent, played the piano and, like I said, it wouldn’t be strange to see him wrestling in the locker room with one of the guys. Just flat out in a brawl on the floor. And we were all like ‘The head coach? Yeah, that’s him.’ But the guys loved him. 

The Broncos started in 1960 and they had never [won] double-digit games before. Red’s first year, we went 12-2 for the first time in the history of the Broncos. There were a lot of firsts, and to top it off we went to the Super Bowl, Super Bowl XII. For every player, that’s your desire, that’s your goal, to go to the Super Bowl and win. But, we didn’t win. But we got there and we’ve been there a lot of times and we’ve won [since], which is a testament to the legacy that Red started about getting to the Super Bowl. Pat Bowlen now has that same legacy and everybody in the Broncos knows if we don’t go to the Super Bowl, we had a bad year. 

Ring of Famer Rick Upchurch: Coach Red Miller honestly and truthfully was the best thing that happened to the Denver Broncos when he came in 1977. He brought accountability. He brought toughness. He was a players’ coach, a guy you could sit down with and get true answers from. That’s what I loved about him. But not only that, after the game was over, he still remained your friend. I would go over to the house, sit down with him in his backyard. He came down to Pueblo when I was trying to get the head coaching job down at East [High School]. He vouched for me. He stood there for me. This gentleman gave me my opportunity to become a starting wide receiver in the National Football League. So for me, Red was the man. And I loved him, I still love him today and I love his whole family, great people.

What’s your favorite memory of or game with Red Miller?

Thompson: My favorite game was the Super Bowl in Dallas. We were down, but we weren’t [out] and we had a contingency of Colorado people there. We were leaving the field and the people didn’t stop cheering. So I looked at coach and said ‘Did we win or lose?’ and he said ‘Listen to that. That’s your telling.’ That’s the kind of guy he was. It was just fun for me to be with him. He was so energetic all the time. I didn’t really realize how talented he was. He could play the piano, and vaudeville was nothing for him. He was just a great coach like I said and a great motivator. He’ll be remembered in Broncos history that’s for sure as the first coach to come in his first year and go to the Super Bowl. 

Beake: I was very fortunate. I had coached for Kansas City and New Orleans. I was a high school coach, a college coach. I was at New Orleans when the Broncos played in ’77. I was in the stands watching it because we were all told to leave. All the kids wanted to come back to Colorado because I had been at CSU in ‘75. So I went up and watched practice at CSU with the Broncos, and a lot of the coaches knew me and they came over. So Red came over and said ‘Well, come on, bring those kids down to lunch. So I went to lunch, we talked, Fred Gehrke was there. We went over to Steamboat [Springs] for the weekend and came back. There weren’t cellphones there. There were all these pins at the door saying ‘Call Fred Gehrke. Call Red Miller.’ So I did and I went down there on Monday. Red was really wonderful — this is a great story of how he is. He says, ‘John, you have good coaching background but I don’t have a coaching job open.’ He said, ‘However, what I’d like to have you do is work with Carroll Hardy. He’s going to do the college scouting, and I want you to develop a pro personnel department.’ And that was my introduction to the Denver Broncos. … That was my treasured story because he changed my whole career.

What is Red Miller’s lasting legacy?

Beake: I think his legacy [is] he taught us all how to win and work and play and work together. When he came in, like Billy Thompson said, [to go] 12-2 in his first year and [go to] a Super Bowl, it’s unheard of. That was great. But all of a sudden, everything started to catch on: what was expected of everyone and what are your work habits and how you treat each other. That’s his legacy that he brought to the Denver Broncos. 

Upchurch: His legacy is that he came in and made men out of us where we could overcome and go to our first Super Bowl here in Denver, Colorado. He’ll be remembered for that, but he’ll be remembered, also, as a great guy who cared about people.  

What does he mean to the city of Denver?

Thompson: I won’t say it put Denver on the map, but that first Super Bowl did a lot to change people’s perception of Colorado. Since then … there’s too many people (laughs). I love Colorado and I’ve been here since ’69 and it’s my home. 

Upchurch: He means a lot. First and foremost, in 1977, to take this team to 12-2 and then go to a Super Bowl for the first time and win the AFC West for the first time and win the AFC Championship for the first time, it leaves an impression. You can never ever top that one. I don’t care what anyone says.

What would have been Red’s reaction be when he saw his name the day it’s inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame?

Beake: Thank God that he did know that he was put in the Ring of Fame. He was ecstatic. He was honored. When we went to tell him that he’s been inducted, it was our privilege to see his reaction. He’ll be there, just he’ll have a different view. 

Thompson: I think he’d be excited. I really do because they did a tape before he got sick and told him that he was going to be inducted and I could just hear it in his voice how happy he was to be recognized for the job. It was only four years that he [coached here]. We were double digits in wins for three years and his last year I think we were 8-8. But he was like 60-something winning percentage. He was a tremendous, tremendous coach for us. 

Upchurch: I think he would just be smiling and sitting there saying, ‘Thank you so very much. I’m thankful that you guys recognized me for what we accomplished during my tenure.’ And he would be smiling big-time. I know he’s going to be smiling that day along with the rest of us.