Photos from the coaching career of Ring of Fame head coach Red Miller. (Photos from AP Images unless noted)
Red Miller, 1927-2017.
Red Miller, man who launched the Broncos, forever.
The standard of excellence that has carried the Broncos for the past 40 years, the one that Owner Pat Bowlen nurtured and sustained, that players, coaches and executives like John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Gary Zimmerman, Gary Kubiak, Dan Reeves, Randy Gradishar, Steve Atwater, Von Miller and so many others have carried — all that began when Red Miller returned to Broncos headquarters on Feb. 1, 1977.
As a former Broncos assistant who became the club's head coach after stints on the staffs of the Cardinals, Colts and Patriots, Miller's task was simple: Take the mountain of talent assembled in the previous years by John Ralston and Lou Saban, add another key piece or two and meld it into a cohesive unit that could finally get the Broncos to the postseason after 17 fruitless years.
He did more than that. The last piece of the puzzle he found, Craig Morton, became the AFC's Offensive Player of the Year. The Broncos didn't just make the playoffs; they vanquished the twin titans of the AFC in the mid-1970s, the Steelers and the Raiders, to go all the way to Super Bowl XII.
The Broncos, and Denver, have never been the same.
"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."
Belief was the first step. Then Miller helped them turn belief into reality. One by one, Miller guided them through a minefield of a schedule, picking off one contender after another. St. Louis, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Houston — all were perennial playoff teams in the mid-to-late 1970s, and all fell to Miller's upstart-turned-powerhouse.
It wasn't a fluke, either. The Broncos went back to the playoffs in 1978 and 1979. They never had a losing season under Miller, and after his departure, the franchise continued to build on the foundation of success he established.
The Broncos' standards changed the day Miller walked into the complex at 5700 Logan Street 40 years ago. They've never been the same.
"We lit the fuse," Ring of Fame wide receiver Rick Upchurch said two years ago, at a reunion of the team.
The man who held the igniter was Miller.
His flame, as bright as the mane of hair that gave him his nickname, will burn as long as the Broncos play football.