Iconic coach and educator George “Kila” Miller passes away at 69

Beloved mentor, coach impacted countless lives.
Coach George “Kila” Miller at the ribbon cutting ceremony of the New Colonel Stadium, September 2010. – Photos by S. Hale

by Shawn Nowlin

Roanoke Valley has lost one of its brightest stars George “Kila” Miller who passed away November 17 at Salem Health and Rehabilitation Center following recent complications from COVID-19 and other lingering health conditions, including prostate cancer and diabetes.

Coach Miller, certainly got the most out of his 69 years on earth. Known for his tough love coaching style, “Kila” as he was known by many, was a force.The story of Virginia high school athletics cannot be told without mentioning his name. For five seasons, Miller served as William Fleming High School’s head football coach, leading the Colonels to the 1997 Division 5 Championship Game.

As the school’s head wrestling coach, he compiled a 209-34 record over 19 years in route to winning six Big Orange Classic Titles and nine Roanoke Valley District Championships. Miller called it a career in 1999, officially retiring from coaching. Nine years later, he earned induction into both the Roanoke Valley Wrestling and William Fleming High Hall of Fame, no easy feat to accomplish.

As impressive as his coaching accolades are, Miller was so much more than that. Investing in young people was something that he took tremendous pride in. As a teacher he placed great value on real-world learning. As an advisor, he earned the trust of students of all backgrounds by telling them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. As a surrogate father to countless teenagers, he always made time for anyone who came to him with a question.

Longtime coaching colleague and friend Millard Bolden says he first met Miller when they were both in the fourth grade. When people think of his “dear brother,” he hopes the first thing that comes to mind is just how selfless he was. “Even as a kid, he was never afraid to speak his mind and stand up for what he believed. His moral compass was second to none. People often say, ‘that person would give you the shirt off their back if you asked.’ Well in Kila’s case, that was quite literal. The impact that he had all over the Roanoke Valley will be felt for generations to come.”

An alumnus of both William Fleming High and Elizabeth City State University, Miller spent more than three decades as a Roanoke City Administrator. For two years, he served as the principal at Noel C. Taylor Academy. Before retiring as the school’s Director of Athletics, Miller served as a hall principal at Fleming for 14 years.

Several of Coach Miller’s former players went on to play in the National Football League: Jermaine Hardy, Lee Suggs, Judge Thomas and Calvin Banister. Hundreds of others, including countless non-athletes, earned college scholarships with Miller’s help.

How Miller earned the nickname “Kila” is debatable. One account sounds like a scene right out of a Hollywood movie. Explained longtime confidant Richard Chubb, “One day at Victory Stadium, they had a boxing gorilla in a cage. The man who ran things would jokingly charge people to playfully box the gorilla. No one was willing to accept the challenge except George. The gorilla hit him and when he returned a blow, the gorilla went to the top of the cage and wouldn’t come down. The next day, there was a headline in the paper that read, ‘Kila Miller beats Gorilla.’”

Nevertheless, Miller himself, setting the record straight, explained the nickname “Kila” was given to him as “Lil Kila” passed down from his big brother James Westley Miller who was 10 years older than him and originally called “Kila” by friends and associates.

The story was part of his acceptance speech when he received the 2020 Whitney M. Young Award presented by the Boy Scouts of America. It was just one of many awards he received in his illustrious career.

Among the innumerable people who mourned Miller’s death on social media was Mandy Creech who wrote on Facebook, “Such a great man and father figure to so many kids who were either missing a parent in their lives or just needed guidance. His legacy will live on in those he touched. RIP Coach.”

July 10, 2022, would have been Miller’s 70th birthday. At noon on November 22, a funeral service was held at Garden of Prayer 7 Church in Roanoke. Family received friends 30-minutes prior to service, and the public viewing began at 10:30 a.m.

Those left to cherish fond memories include his wife, Eva B. Miller; children, Angela Fleming, Karen Hodnett, Tiffany McCasskill; a niece who was like a daughter, Stephanie Boyd and a nephew who was like a son, Jerome Miller. Also a host of grandchildren, godchildren, nieces, nephews and other relatives.

There are many great mentors–each with their own style–guiding and encouraging youth through stages of their development. Despite his physical passing Kila Miller will forever be revered as one among the best.