Remembering a friend gone far too soon

In November 2011, just over a year removed from coaching in my last high school football game as an assistant at Basehor-Linwood, I wrote the following words for a column that appeared in PrepsKC about what I missed most about coaching.

They were about a man who I hardly knew, yet greatly admired – Blue Valley Coach Eric Driskell.

Here’s a guy (Driskell) I knew only from a chance meeting at a coaching clinic shortly after he had taken over the job from Steve Rampy. He was the guy who had edged out Paul Brown, my friend, for that job.

I can now see why the Blue Valley brass was so enamored with him. Driskell is integrity, aggressiveness, character, toughness and heart all rolled into one very impressive coach…and man.

My postgame interviews with him were like talks with a long-lost friend. He was quiet, yet always brutally honest. And he wears his emotions on his sleeve – and his love for his players and fellow coaches is always out front.

Over the three years I worked regularly for PrepsKC, I was privileged to cover Driskell’s Blue Valley teams on multiple occasions. In fact, I covered his second State title win as a head coach in 2013 in Emporia.

On the field after that heart-stopping win over Salina South, I watched Driskell watch everyone else associated with the Blue Valley program soak in the moment. Instead of being smack dab in the middle of that moment, he worked the outside of the mass of humanity at midfield, beaming as he saw the joy the triumph had given others.

It was moments like those that really defined Eric Driskell.

Though I did not get to know him as closely as have many others, I was proud to consider him a friend, and honored that he thought of me as one as well.

Thus, when I heard he had fallen victim to a brain aneurysm just days ago, eventually passing away late this afternoon, my heart sunk.

As was Eric, I’m a firm believer in God. As did Eric, I know that God has a plan for all of our lives.

We may scratch our heads at moments like this, struggling to find sense in them.

But it’s easy to make sense of one, unavoidable fact: Our world was blessed to have Eric Driskell as a part of it.

Make no mistake about it: His loss will resonate for days into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years.

But also make no mistake about this: Eric Driskell’s impact on all who he touched will resonate for those same weeks, months and years.

He had so, so many gifts. And he was always giving of those gifts to others he came into contact with – even to those he contacted infrequently, like me.

Rest in peace, my friend. And Lord, please allow those who remain here on Earth to honor Eric by living life as he lived it.

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Thank you, Del Miller

If the rumors are true, Del Miller is on the verge of retirement.

Del is currently the co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at K-State. He’s tutored several amazing QBs at K-State through the years, including the one who now appears poised to replace him as the position coach – Collin Klein.

I’ve been honored to work with Del in a variety of different ways through the years since his arrival in Manhattan in the late 1980s.

First, I was fortunate to cover Coach Bill Snyder, Del, and the rest of the talented K-State coaching staff as a graduate student and reporter for a variety of different print publications at the start of Snyder’s days in Manhattan.

Second, beginning in 1990, my relationship with Del and his wife Jan took a different turn – I was blessed to coach two of his three sons: Todd and Tad. I was an assistant JV coach at Manhattan High when I worked with Todd, and worked with Tad during a pair of awesome summers as the head coach of a Manhattan area traveling team.

On a few of those traveling team road trips, I got to see Del as a husband and father FIRST, and as a football coach second. It was awesome. He was, and is, great at both jobs.

And his skills in both roles would come to the ultimate test when the family lost Troy to a prolonged illness in 2004.

During the years between Troy’s death and Coach Snyder’s initial retirement, I worked with Del in a different role. By this time, I had become a high school football coach, working with quarterbacks and receivers. Thus, I got to spend some quality time with Del at several of K-State’s awesome coaching clinics – sitting in front of a chalkboard or dry erase board, talking ball while eating pizza and drinking beer.

Del left K-State for San Diego State for a period while Coach Snyder was retired, but returned in 2009 and we got to rekindle the relationship prior to the 2009 and 2010 seasons. I then left high school teaching and coaching, and unfortunately fell out of touch with Del.

So why the history lesson?

Mostly, to let you know how much respect I have for Coach Miller as a man. He’s extremely loyal, compassionate, hard-working, and just the kind of role model that made everyone in locker rooms in Iowa City, Manhattan, Springfield and San Diego better for having known and worked with him.

So, if Del is on his way out, here’s hoping he gets the respect he deserves. Coach Bill Snyder will be remembered forever at K-State. For 20 years, Coach Del Miller has been at Coach Snyder’s side. For 20 years, Coach Miller has been trusted by Coach Snyder as few men have ever been. That, in and of itself, says one hell of a lot.

Thanks, Del Miller, for impacting all of us in ways you may not have even recognized. And enjoy your retirement – you and Jan deserve nothing but the best!