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Commentary with Piedmont’s Coach Miller

Jonathan Miller, entering his first season as Piedmont’s head football coach, talks during Friday’s preseason interview. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jonathan Miller, entering his first season as Piedmont’s head football coach, talks during Friday’s preseason interview. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Piedmont, AL – Miller came to Piedmont to win championships, but Bulldogs’ roster reset gives him one more chance to show his resourcefulness.

By Joe Medley

Jonathan Miller is a low-key, no-nonsense guy. He won’t mess around before going candid in his let’s-be-honest way.

The guy who won 100 games in 11 seasons at Saks doesn’t lay a trail of smoke ahead of crux when discussing why he made the move north, to Piedmont.

He wants the thing that Piedmont has done five times since 2009. He wants the opportunities that Piedmont has given itself year after year to achieve the one thing that eluded him at Saks.

“I’m at the point in my career where I’m trying to win a championship, just to be honest,” he said at Calhoun County Quarterback Club Media Day in July (see more in Friday’s preseason interview).

If Miller does that in year one at Piedmont, however, it’s not fair to call it a chasing-championships story. It wouldn’t be fair to spin it as a coach plugging himself into a program and riding it like Secretariat.

If Miller wins a championship in year one at Piedmont, he’ll deserve coach-of-the-year consideration. It just takes one look at roster turnover and the schedule to understand why.

Miller takes over the program that Steve Smith turned into a perennial contender, but he didn’t take over the last team that Smith last took to the Super 7.

It’s too simplistic to cite nine starters graduated on offense and six on defense.

Quarterback Jack Hayes was one of those nine starters lost on offense. Consider the resume of broken state career records he left behind, he should count at least three lost starters.

Four career passing and total-offense records show Hayes was their quarterback and arguably their best running back, and Alabama might not again see a career resume like his.

The two-time Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 3A back of the year and two-time Super 7 most valuable player was one of seven All-State players who graduated.

The two-time Class 1A-3A Calhoun County player of the year was one of 17 All-Calhoun County players to graduate.

If Smith and long-time defensive coordinator James Blanchard hadn’t started anew at Westbrook Christian, they’d have quite a roster reset on their hands at Piedmont.

With that in mind, Piedmont’s region includes four teams either ranked or receiving votes in the preseason ASWA poll.

Smith going to Westbrook alone was enough for the Warriors to garner votes despite missing the 2022 playoffs. Miller will stare across the Field of Champions at Smith when Piedmont plays Westbrook in an Oct. 6 region game.

The non-region slate features the reigning Class 4A runner up, a 4A quarterfinalist and a 5A team that made its own intriguing coaching hire. Winless in 2022, Sylacauga turned to Chris Smelley.

Nothing that was hard for Piedmont last season got easier, and what was easiest for Piedmont last season got harder.

“It’s probably the toughest schedule I’ve played, or been a part of, and we’ve been part of a lot of good ones,” Miller said.

Miller walked into expectations that Smith built and that would’ve deeply challenged Smith in 2023.

Not to say Piedmont fell off of a cliff. Far from it. The Bulldogs return two all-state players, and they’re among eight returning all-county players.

Smith built a program from the ground up, and Miller has proven he knows how to get the most out of what he has. Miller will add H-back/tight end duties to all-state defensive lineman Chance Murphy’s this season.

Sound familiar, Piedmont fans? Smith did it with son Sean in 2019, and it keyed Piedmont’s comeback against Mobile Christian in the Super 7.

Like Miller, though, let’s be real. If Piedmont extends its string of eight consecutive 3A semifinal appearances with this roster reset, against this schedule, then Smith and Miller deserve a lot of credit.

Bulldog facts

Things to know about Piedmont football heading into the 2023 season:

—  Jonathan Miller enters his first season as Piedmont’s head coach and 12th season overall as a head coach. He was 100-32 in 11 seasons at Saks, with 10 playoff appearances, including three semifinal runs. His Saks teams also won three region titles.

—  The Bulldogs went 12-3 overall and 7-0 in Class 3A, Region 6 in 2022, winning their seventh region title in eight years. They reached the 3A semifinals for the eighth year in a row and the state final for the sixth time in eight years.

—Key graduation losses from 2022 include the following All-State players: QB Jack Hayes (3A back of the year), WR/DB Max Hanson, OL ChrisJon Gurley, DB Cody Holloway, LB Rhett Alford, LB Brody Epps, K Sloan Smith. Additional All-Calhoun County players graduated include FB/TE Parker Thornton, WR Thomas Propst, OL Conner Williams, DL Trent Young, DB Jake Austin, OL Braden McDaniels, DE Cam Lockeridge, OL Caedon Ooten, OL Landen McDaniels, WR Gatling Gardner.

—The following All-State picks return: junior WR Ishmael Bethel and senior DL Chance Murphy. The following All-Calhoun County players return: senior DB Trevor Pike, sophomore WR Riley Pinto, senior DL Fisher Adams, senior LB Luke Rhinehart, senior DB McClane Mohon, junior LS/LB Kale Austin.

— Players to watch: Junior QB Cole Wilson succeeds the record-setting Hayes. The big, left-handed Wilson brings a strong arm and has receivers Pinto and Bethel.

—  MIller taking over after Steve Smith went to Westbrook Christian wasn’t the only notable coaching change. James Blanchard, Smith’s defensive coordinator for 17 years, followed Smith. Miller promoted Landon Pruitt to defensive coordinator and hired Monty Young to coach linemen. Young played defensive end for Miller at Saks then played for Jacksonville State University before coaching stays at Saks and Munford. Most of Smith’s Piedmont staff returns.

Jonathan Miller, entering his first season as Piedmont’s head football coach, talks during Friday’s preseason interview. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jonathan Miller, entering his first season as Piedmont’s head football coach, talks during Friday’s preseason interview. (Photo by Joe Medley)

 

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