RunBlogRun opines: Steve Miller spoke to Jeff Benjamin about his friend, Joe Newton, who passed away last year at the age of 88. Jeff wrote several tributes about Joe Newton, the famous coach of York High school. Steve Miller coached at a competitor school, Elmhurst.
Coach Miller, as I call him, was very kind to me during my formative years. I was running my second 10,000 meters, at the Martin Luther King Games, in 1980, at Stanford. Coach Mike Tomesello was about to pull me off the track, with less than a lap to go in the race. Steve Miller grabbed him and, I found out later, told him a joke. As I am kicking for home, Tomesello is laughing with Miller. I was able to finish my race, and run a big PB. Steve did not know me, but many of his athletes at Cal Poly did and I was allowed to finish the race. It took me twenty years before I was able to thank Steve Miller, now the Board Chair for USA Track & Field. Steve Miller is one of the finest coaches I ever met, and one of the most inspirational. His athletes loved him. We are most appreciative that Steve Miller worked with Jeff on this piece honoring one of our most important coaches, Joe Newton. Joe Newton was a coach ahead of time, always learning, always observing.
Steve Miller has been involved in the upper echelon of Track & Field and other sports going on three decades now. These days, Miller currently holds the very powerful position as Chairman of the Board of USATF.
But Miller, who started out in America’s Midwest, certainly hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from, especially when it comes to old friends and mentors.
“You know, Joe Newton was a great friend and a competitor,” said Steve Miller recently. The legendary York HS Coach of “The Long Green Line” passed away this past December at the age of 88, yet Miller spoke as if he was still here. “I met him back in 1965 and I started by calling him “Sir”, then it was “Coach” and then finally it was “Joe.”
Miller, who has served in stints at NIKE, Kansas State (AD), the Professional Bowlers Association (CEO), and Cal Poly (Track & Field Director) just to name a few, was the XC/Track coach at Bloom Township HS in Chicago Heights 4 decades ago, and it was there that he began a lifelong relationship with Coach Newton.
“I met Joe in 1965 as a coach, but I was 15 years behind,” said Miller. “I was just learning the ropes and he was so kind and inclusive enough to invite me over to York a couple of days a week.”
“He was really interested in interaction.”
Newton’s dynamism left an indelible affect upon Miller. “He was an unbelievable humanitarian who treated his number one guy the same as his hundredth guy,” said Miller. “He took suburban kids and made them hungry and believe that they could be the best.”
Miller also talked about Newton’s other philosophies. “I admired Joe not just for the technical side,” said Miller. “He could figure out what was going on in a young person’s mind, especially during those years of development…he had an innate connection to people and he turned them into great people.”
That Newton-York greatness resulted in a record 28 state championships in boys cross country over a 57 year period as a Coach. But, according to Miller, it was not just the team titles that made Newton into the great renown coach he is remembered as.
“Joe always told his teams, “If all I taught you was to run, jump, and throw then I didn’t teach you anything,” said Miller. “Joe realized and taught that if you learned more about life than the Sport, then you really were a great Coach.”
“He believed in coaching people, not events.”
In 1991, as Miller went on to top jobs at NIKE, he held an event and invited coaches to attend. “We had 60 of the top college coaches attend,” said Miller. “Joe was the ONLY high school coach we invited…he was a superstar among superstars!”
This past March, Miller and his top high school/collegiate star runner John Capriotti were honored by Cal Poly, as the “Steve Miller and John Capriotti Athletics Complex” was christened, thereby keeping their legacies alive at the school where they brought both excellence and championships, just like Newton’s legacy at York.
And neither of them have forgotten Newton. At last January’s Joe Newton memorial celebration at York, Illinois legend Ken Popejoy announced that Nike had donated $10,000 to fund a Joe Newton scholarship that will allow a financially-strapped York runner to go to college.
The donation was courtesy of The Vice President and Global Director of NIKE Athletics/Track & Field,
And it didn’t surprise Miller, to smash the least.
“I had an incredible regard for Joe Newton.”