Gene Miiller remains the same whether it is in Green and Orange or Black and Gold.
There are few places with as rich a tradition of high school basketball as Vincennes Lincoln. With 70 sectional titles and a pair of state championships, Lincoln basketball can be traced back to Indiana High School basketballs earliest days.
In fact Vincennes and Washington hold the distinction of maintaining the state’s oldest continual rivalry. In fact, there are plenty of things that have contributed to that rivalry staying hot, and currently, one of them might just be the one man who has posted an incredible legacy coaching at both schools – Gene Miiller.
Long before Miiller won his third state championship with the Hatchets, he was building his Hall of Fame resume as the long-time head coach of the Alices.
Miiller spent 17 years in Vincennes, becoming the second winningest coach in Lincoln history. Miiller amassed a 302-106 record that included 15 sectional titles in 17 year and an appearance in the 1984 State Final, all while on his way to 630-plus wins and a spot in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
When Miiller came to Vincennes in fall of 1981 he had the tough task of of not only following Hall of fame coach Orlando “Gunner” Wyman, but following him the year after bringing Lincoln its first title since 1923.
In an odd twist of fate, Miiller would repeat that situation again in the fall of 2005, when he replaced Dave Omer in Washington, again, immediately after a championship season.
“I’m not sure, but I think I am the only coach to ever do that,” laughed Miiller.
Miiller said he knew right away that Lincoln was a special job.
“Adams Coliseum is a great place, very special. The first time I saw it was the day I interviewed there. I had never been to Vincennes and they asked me if I wanted to see the gym,” said Miiller. “We walked in and it was dark, so the principal flipped on the lights and I just feel in love with the it. I guess I’m a traditionalist, but I love the old gyms.”
Miiller said he spend eight years in Adams and nine in the new gym, but his most special memories was the last game played at Adams.
“I think the game I remember the most was the last game in Alice Arena. We had at least one player from every team going back to 1926 be introduced that night. It was very special,” he said.
“I knew when I got here that Vincennes fans were very knowledgeable and passionate. We had some great fans,” said Miiller. “One of the first things I heard was that (possession of) the chairback seats at Adams where one of the items that people used to fight over in divorce settlements.”
Miiller, a former South Newton and Wabash College player was just 28 when he left Kankakee Valley and accepted the Lincoln job. He still has very fond memories of that first team at Lincoln.
“Tim Vieke (who later coached at Rivet) was my only returning starter from the championship team. He and Robin Talbott, who was my main guy coming off the bench that year. We had a lot of young guys around them and we had a very good year.”
Miiller said that going to the state final in 1984 is the first thing he thinks about when he thinks back about his Vincennes days.
“I think the semistate final was the best feeling though, just watching the clock rundown with a 13-point lead on Floyd Central,” said Miiller. “I think that was the first time semistate was played at Hulman Center (in Terre Haute), so it was a little different,” said Miiller.
“We had four guys that scored in double figures and one guy that got about 9 (per game) that year. We had Dean Tolbert and Randy Hobson, our two starting guards score 31 and 30 in that game between them. Tim Swan was our leading scorer, but he picked up some early fouls and didn’t play that much. We had Charlie Waggoner who started as a sophomore and Paul Hendrixson. They were one of the most competitive teams I ever coached.”
Miiller said he never dreamed he would be coaching with Big 8 rival Washington.
“I never once thought I would end up in Washington. If fact, I never thought I would leave Vincennes,” said Miiller. “All of my daughters (Hanna, Heidi and Heather) all started school and finished school there. It was great place for them,” said Miiller.
“After Heather graduated, the opportunity came up to go Lafayette Jefferson. The girls were grown, it was close to home and Jeff was the school that everyone kind of looked to in that area. It was in the North Central Conference which was the state’s best conference at the time, we said if it is ever going to happen then now is the time to do it.”
Miiller had another interest twist of fate when he left Jeff. He left Jeff to take the Washington job exactly 63 years after Hall of Fame coach Marion Crawley left Washington to take the Jefferson job.
“I grew up watching Marion Crawley coach at Jeff, he was one of the guys I really respected as coach,” added Miiller.
Miller said going to Jeff first actually made the transition to Washington a little easier.
“It was a little odd for my daughters at first to root for Washington. It is different now than during the first couple of years, but I think everyone is used to it now,” said Miiller. “It is nice because I get a chance to reconnect with people.”
“We had some great games with the other county teams back then. I think the first game I coached against South Knox was just crazy. There were some really intense games with Rivet as well early on.”
One of those players who has spent a significant part of his life with Miiller is current Hatchet assistant Brandt Schuckman. Shuckman has not only been an assistant for Miiller in Washington and Jeff, he was a 4-year player for Miiller at Lincoln (1988-92), and a towel boy for the Alices when he was in junior high. He later went on to play at Cornell, after a successful prep career with the Alices.
“I went through Gene’s summer basketball camps as a kid and his style of coaching hasn’t changed,” said Schuckman. “Practices are as similar today as they were back then. He doesn’t have many weaknesses as a coach.
“I think I learned the most that eighth grade year, just sitting on the bench and being in the huddles. It helped me tremendously as a player. I wanted to win four conference championship and four sectional championship in my four years and we accomplished that.”
Current Lincoln coach and athletic director Jeff Hein says Gene is one of the people he respects the most in the coaching profession.
“I go way back to my playing days at Heritage Hills. I just remember how much respect my coach had for him,” said Hein. “I have been lucky enough to coach against him at Boonville, Bosse and Lincoln.He is still the exact same gentleman, fully deserving of all respect he is given.”
Gene married his wife of 39 years, Debra, in 1972 and they were together until her passing in 2011. Gene remarried recently to Linda Donovan.
Gene is also proud father and grandfather. Hanna (Stowers) lives in Washington, Heidi (Tiesing) lives in New Albany and Heather (Garrison) lives in Noblesville.