As Republic enters Week 3 of the football season under new head coach Ryan Cornelsen, we look back to another coaching newcomer who went on to lead the Tigers to most of their greatest football successes. In 1983, Eddie Miller took over the new head coaching job from Jim Chambers, who had led the program for eight seasons, compiling a 63-16 record.
Republic was coming off a state semifinal appearance (a heartbreaking 15-14 loss to Maryville). But that 1982 team had graduated 19 starters, and the JV squad from the previous year had gone 4-4. So it was no surprise when Central Ozark Conference coaches picked Bolivar to win the league. Maybe that’s why Miller wasn’t especially nervous when his first season at the helm started.
“I had been the defensive coach for three years. We won 34 straight regular-season games during my time as the head coach of the defense,” Miller said. “My adrenalin may have been sky high, but that was consistent with me.”
Miller’s defenses had always been among the best in Missouri, including one season in which the team allowed just 21 points during the entire regular season. But after a season-opening win against Buffalo, things turned sour in Week 2 against Rogersville.
The Wildcats scored on their first play from scrimmage, then again on a fake reverse. And a final Republic drive was snuffed out on the three-yard line with a minute remaining, when Republic got stopped on a 4th-down-and-a-foot attempt.
Miller recalls the game “was a disaster. We had a couple of fumbles and didn’t play well. Rogersville beat us 14-12.”
The loss was Republic’s first in COC play since 1979, and it served as a wake-up call for the team. Miller installed more passing into the game plan. He recalls that seniors also stepped up to become more vocal leaders.
“I don’t know what all the seniors said to our young pups. I just remember them barking words of pride all week,” Miller said. “We went on and won ten games in a row, which included beating Bolivar during the regular season and in the playoffs.”
One of those “young pups” was Scott Eby, a running back and defensive back who rushed for 89 yards to help Republic win a key late-season game against Ash Grove, 14-0. He remembers Miller’s quiet demeanor as a factor in getting the most out of him.
“He ran the offense and I was a running back, so I was around him a lot and had a lot of respect for him. I’m really glad I was able to play for him,” Eby said. “He had a way of knowing how to push me to get me fired up.”
The turnaround helped Republic reach the Class 3A quarterfinals, where the Tigers lost a 22-15 decision to Carl Junction. Republic finished its inaugural season under Miller 10-2, winning yet another COC crown, and setting up a still-unequaled run of success for the program throughout the 1980s and early ’90s.