Photos from the coaching career of Ring of Fame head coach Red Miller. (Photos from AP Images unless noted)
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —Forty years ago, Red Miller became the Broncos' head coach -- and forever changed the trajectory of the franchise.
One Broncos first after another happened on Miller's watch. The first playoff appearance. The first division title. The first postseason win. The first Super Bowl appearance. The first back-to-back division titles. The first run of three consecutive playoff seasons.
For those accomplishments, Miller now has an honor he richly deserves: enshrinement into the Denver Broncos' Ring of Fame. Miller will become the 32nd member of the prestigious group.
"The Broncos have a proud championship history, and the person who helped start that winning tradition was Red Miller," Broncos President & CEO Joe Ellis said. "So many of our franchise's 'firsts' happened with Red as our head coach, most notably our first Super Bowl appearance back in 1977. It's the 40th anniversary of that Super Bowl XII team coached by Red, and that makes his Ring of Fame selection this year even more special.
"On behalf of Owner Pat Bowlen and our entire organization, we congratulate Coach Miller and look forward to honoring him as the newest member of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame."
An assistant coach with the Broncos from 1963-65, Miller returned to Denver on Feb. 1, 1977, fresh off a stint on the New England Patriots' coaching staff. He inherited a talented team built through a series of strong drafts, but Miller knew there were still steps remaining to build a championship contender.
"I'm making no predictions," Miller said that day. "I have no timetable. I want to win, period."
He wasted no time doing precisely that. A month after being hired, Miller traded for quarterback Craig Morton, who won a spirited quarterback competition that summer.
When the regular season began, Miller, Morton and the Broncos took off. They stunned the league by roaring to a 6-0 start and never looked back, eventually winning the 1977 AFC Championship Game over the defending champion Raiders.
In Miller's four seasons as head coach, the Broncos went 40-22 and never had a losing season. Most importantly, Miller's tenure started a successful run that continues to this day.
"Hearing that great news from Joe and the rest of the committee brought back so many memories from those special seasons with the Broncos," Miller said. "Looking back, it was a ragtag operation with where we were at the time. We had to build it up and get it going. All of our players and coaches carried us to a lot of success and brought so much excitement to the fans during those years.
"I'm honored to join the Broncos' all-time greats in the Ring of Fame, and I look forward to celebrating with the many people who helped make this possible."
Miller's leadership was unquestioned. But he went the extra mile to earn his players' respect. As a rookie head coach, he joined the first-year players by performing in that year's rookie talent show, playing ragtime tunes on a piano brought out for the occasion.
"He was the glue that put it all together," nose tackle Rubin Carter said in 2015.
"He came in and he developed a toughness that we needed, a mental toughness that we needed as a football team, the physical toughness to believe that we could go out and be champions."
During one practice, Miller wanted to demonstrate the proper blocking technique. So he took on 280-pound tackle Claudie Minor, who had a 100-pound advantage on the coach. The collision gashed Miller's face. Blood flowed. He didn't stop practice to get the cut treated; he just kept coaching.
It was one of many examples in which the tough Miller led by example.
"When you talk to the players and coaches from that period, they'll tell you how Red pushed those teams, led by the historic 'Orange Crush' defense, to a championship level," Ellis said.
Two years ago, members of the 1977 Broncos gathered to be honored before a divisional-round playoff game. They piled into a hotel ballroom one night before the game. Drinks and stories and laughter were passed around in equal proportions.
But when it was time for Miller to speak, you could hear a pin drop. The old players straightened up in their seats and stood at attention. Nearly four decades later, Miller was still the boss, still the commanding presence, still the one who turned dozens of big personalities into a single cohesive unit.
Now he has Broncos immortality as a member of the Ring of Fame.