Miller Time: Norwin Promotes Assistant to Head Coach

Brandon Miller has plenty of team goals in his first season as Norwin’s head wrestling coach, but he has one big one for the individual postseason as well: Get the Knights their first state champion.

Miller, who took over after Bill Closson stepped down as head coach to spend more time with his family, knows how painfully close Norwin has come. Miller was an assistant coach last season when Drew Phipps dropped a 1-0 decision to Stroudsburg’s Jake Jakobsen in the 195-pound AAA title match.

“I’d love to get that monkey off the Norwin back and have one of our kids bring home a championship for our school,” Miller said on Thursday evening after a preseason practice.

New look at Norwin

Phipps, who is now at Bucknell, and Hayden Rice, the Knights’ only other state qualifier, have since graduated, which could make it more difficult to bring home a title this year. Norwin does return six WPIAL qualifiers and has some solid seniors this season in Chad Coles, Kyle Turcovsky and Chris Zona.

The Knights also could have an impact freshman in 106-pounder Kurtis Phipps, who is Drew’s younger brother.

Miller likes what he’s seen from the team so far.

“I’m biased, but I think we have some of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever met,” said Miller, who was a 2006 state qualifier for Chestnut Ridge in Class AA and won a conference title wrestling for Waynesburg before a third knee surgery ended his career.

Miller left school and spent six years in the Army National Guard before he returned to college – this time at Penn State, where he earned a degree in electro-mechanical engineering.

Brandon MillerAfter landing an engineering job in Murrysville, Miller reconnected with Mike Ladick, a former Waynesburg assistant coach. Ladick asked Miller to join his staff at Penn Hills.

Miller did, but early on, he served as little more than a workout partner for TeShan Campbell and the rest of the Penn Hills squad.

“Throughout the years, I learned from Mike Ladick and Bill how to become a coach and not just a practice partner,” Miller said. “You’ve got to deal with kids’ personalities and them having trouble at home or at school. Not just wrestling, but strength and conditioning and other things, like making sure they keep their grades up.”

After Campbell won a state title in 2015, Ladick took the head coaching position at Thomas Jefferson. That was too long of a commute for Miller, who lives in North Huntingdon. Instead, he joined Closson at Norwin.

Strong staff

Miller is assisted by Heath Coles, a two-time state placewinner for the Knights, and Howard Bell, who was a four-time Division II All-American at Pitt-Johnstown.

In high school, Miller wrestled for Jim Clark, the former Chestnut Ridge coach who is a member of the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Miller said he’s looked to his mentor and Scott McGill, who was an assistant to Clark and retained that role under current Lions coach Greg Lazor, throughout his career.

“Even when I was at Waynesburg, I still reached out to those guys,” Miller said. “One of my favorite memories was a couple years ago – when we made the state tournament – was going to the AA session and going up and giving them a big hug.”

As great as that memory is, it could be replaced one day by another: Miller giving a big hug to Norwin’s first state champion.

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