Excerpt from Chapter 8 — The Beginnings

The New Coach

In some ways, soccer was an afterthought in Pingry athletics from the start of interscholastic athletics through the 1950’s. As Troupe Noonan wrote in The Greatest Respect: Pingry at 150 Years, football under Reese Williams and Mr. Les was “the straw that stirred the sports drink.”

When Miller started coaching in 1959, everything changed. His goal was not a winning season – that was a given – it was excellence, as measured in championships. His vision was that Pingry would become not only the leading New Jersey prep school team, it would dominate Union County public schools.

But for Pingry as it entered the 1960’s, such aspirations were, well, unimaginable. Pingry was a small school whose students came largely from affluent suburban homes – and who were expected to meet the most demanding academic standards. As a country day school, Pingry required that students “play athletics” after classes ended at 3:00. Sports were something students “took,” much as they might “take” chemistry, American History or Latin. A ”good season” was one in which a team won more games than it lost, or even “tried hard” against tough opponents while winding up with a losing record.

Peter Wiley ’60 remembers Coach Frank West, who had guided Pingry soccer for almost a quarter-century, as a deeply caring man with an abiding love for the game of soccer. “But none of us had come even close to experiencing anything like Miller’s intensity, energy, and enthusiasm. He was like a big kid. Under Coach West we had practiced; but he didn’t really coach us. Miller coached us incessantly – in a different game. For the first time, Miller had us learning and playing tactical soccer – a short passing game completely unlike toe kicking the ball downfield and scrambling in front of the net.”

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The New Coach

The October 2, 1959 Pingry Record noted, “With the addition of Mr. Miller Bugliari to the coaching staff, a special emphasis has been put on conditioning.” Gordy Sulcer ’61, a junior on Miller’s first team, remembers what “special emphasis” really meant. “We were used to Mr. West conducting practice in the same grey pin-striped suit and wing-tip shoes he taught in. The first day of practice he introduced Miller as ‘a former player who was going to help with the coaching.’ We looked at him – he was dressed in what amounted to ratty gym clothes, to be kind about it − and we were saying to ourselves, ‘Who is this guy?’ We found out fast.”

“Mr. West just turned the practice over to Miller who began by saying,: ‘Gentlemen, we’re going to spend time getting in shape’ − this to a bunch of guys who had done almost nothing before the season in terms of running. He had us take a lap around the entire field, and when the last player struggled in, Miller said, ‘That wasn’t fast enough. Do it again.’ We ran that second lap a lot harder than the first. That established the tone for the season. Miller drove us incessantly, often taking the lead and setting the pace.”

In the Fall 1994 Issue of The Pingry Review, “Soccer at Pingry,” Miller recalled his first years as Pingry’s young coach. “I was excited to try my hand at coaching on my own, to try my personal theories about training and fitness as they related to soccer.” His first players remember those “personal theories” well: At almost every practice, Miller would have some often bizarre new drill for the team, like dribbling the ball through traffic cones at full speed. Early on Miller began starting practices with what he told the team was the “Hungarian National Team’s Warm-up Drill,” Miller’s invention for a series of leg-strengthening exercises that began with hopping, then cariocas at full speed, then lunges − until players’ thigh muscles were on fire. He’d have players cool down with jumping jacks, and then start all over again.

Les Buck played on Miller’s first teams in the 1960s before going on to star at Princeton. He recalls: “In my three years on the varsity soccer team, we worked harder than any other sports team at Pingry. The incessant running and relentless conditioning was the ‘Red Badge of Courage’ that you earned as a Pingry soccer player. “Two other things really set Miller apart. We realized immediately that he was a really skilled, experienced player who could defend more tenaciously, control the ball better, and kick more accurately and harder than any of us. He modeled for us the kind of player we needed to become. “And he was ‘Italian’ – he epitomized all the allure and deep traditions of the European game.”

That was the foundation on which Pingry soccer under Miller was built: the highest possible expectations, superb conditioning, relentless defense, a total enthusiasm for soccer, and the unswerving commitment to a team-based short passing game.

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