A local coaching legend who racked up nearly 200 wins over the course of five decades is part of the Capital District Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame’s fourth annual Capital Region Football Hall of Fame induction class.
John Millett was among two dozen former players, coaches and officials who were named to this year’s class. An induction ceremony will be held on August 10 at Michael’s Banquet House in Latham.
“I think it’s well deserved; anytime you win 195 games and finish third all time in Section II for wins it’s certainly a big accomplishment,” said current head football coach Justin Culligan. “He built this program and made it well known throughout the area and the state.”
Nick Fitzgerald, a member of the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame committee and athletic director at South Glens Falls said when the group formed four years ago they compiled a lengthy list of potential inductees from which they choose members from each year.
“It’s an extensive list and John has been on it every year. The things that really stood out was the amount of time he coached, the amount of wins and the fact that he was always a classy guy and did the right things for the kids,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s (Millett’s induction) is well-deserved.”
Millett who began his coaching career in 1957 is a dying breed; a throw back to a bygone era. The sort of man who coached the same team for 36 years despite opportunities for more glamorous positions elsewhere and who is more comfortable talking about his players’ accomplishments than his own.
It’s not that he isn’t proud of all the wins and championships, because he is. But when he reflects back on his career, he’s just as fond of his 1992 team that fought tooth and nail to finish 1-7 as he is of the 1970 team that went undefeated and trounced Granville 32-7 for the Northern Conference Championship.
When asked about the honor of being inducted into the hall of fame, Millett said it “feels good” and then starts talking about his former players and the teams he coached.
He enjoys talking about his former players, many of whom have gone onto coach sports themselves.
“My entire coaching staff played for John. I think that really says something when you can foster that love of football and coaching in others. These guys all take time out of their daily lives to coach and I think that has a lot to do with John,” Culligan said.
Those values were no doubt instilled by some of Millett’s coaches growing up.
While he was in high school, Millett played for Clint Taft and his principal was Ambrose Gilligan, iconic names in the annals of Railroaders football. His father, H.B. Millett played for the Railroaders in 1912 and 1913.
After graduating from Whitehall High School in 1951, Millett starred as a running back for SUNY Cortland where he earned his degree in physical education and health.
After serving two years in the Marine Corps Reserves, Millett got his first stint as a head coach, taking over for Sam Eppolito (another iconic coach in the first half of the 20th century) at Granville.
In 1966, after four years at Granville, a year as SUNY Cortland’s head track and field coach and four years coaching soccer, basketball, baseball and track in Westport, Millett became physical education teacher and head football coach at Whitehall, embarking on a career that would span more than 40 years.
During his tenure as head coach, Millett’s teams compiled 12 league championships, one conference championship, three Section II championships, and finished second in Section II four times and as regional runner-up once. His teams won more than 60 percent of their games, including three undefeated seasons, and his 195 wins is third most in Section II history.
His coaching philosophy was one of simplicity (his mantra was K.I.S.S.: Keep it Simple Stupid): block, tackle and execute. His unbalanced line, with three linemen on one side of the center, and one lineman on the other side, caused fits for other teams even though most times the running back got the ball and ran up the middle or to the outside. His most successful plays were “goal line right, run right (as well as goal line left, run left) and “5 man wedge, here we come, stop us if you can.”
His teams were well known for their physical play.
Millett’s coaching prowess, however, wasn’t limited to the gridiron. His track and field teams won six Section II titles and he won a league championship with both the girls basketball and softball teams. He also won a pair of divisional championships with Glens Falls Green Jackets, a team for which he played for during the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1998 he was inducted into the Green Jackets Hall of Fame and last spring, was inducted into the Whitehall Athletic Hall of Fame, joining Gilligan and Taft.
In his nomination letter, town board member Farrell Prefountaine wrote “John’s extended service to Whitehall Central School and his records in coaching both boys and girls sports is just reason for his induction.”
Keith Redmond, Whitehall’s athletic director, said the fact that Millett has been inducted into two halls of fame (he was inducted in Whitehall’s last year) in two years illustrates what kind of coach he was.
“This is one of the highest high school accolades that has been bestowed on Coach Millett for his many years of success while coaching football at Whitehall,” Redmond said. “I would like to congratulate John and his family on his recent nomination and induction into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame.”
It’s unlikely any coach will match his longevity with one team.
“Just this year alone there were three coaches in the area who left their jobs because of family and other commitments. It’s tough to coach as long as he did. To coach for 50 years is impressive,” Culligan said.
At the age of 79, Millett remains in high demand. Jeff Higgins, who played for and coached with Millett on the Green Jackets, offered him an opportunity to coach on his staff at a high school in Orlando, Fl.
He hasn’t ruled out the chance although he concedes it’s probably better for his health if he stays away from the game. But every time he starts talking about coaching, he can’t help but get that twinkle in his eye.