Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of stories featuring The Telegram’s top 10 sports stories for 2014.
The pending outcome hung in Matt Miller’s voice in late October.
Miller’s Garden City Community College football team just finished an embarrassing 56-6 home loss to Butler, and the Broncbusters fell to 3-5 with two games to play.
“Obviously, for me as a coach, what, we’re 3-5, so that’s not good,” Miller said softly in the moments after the worst home loss for the Busters in at least a decade. “All I can control is my football program, and my football team. We’ve got to keep getting better. I’m not happy with 3-5, and I’m sure a lot of people aren’t, as well.”
That unhappiness with 3-5 turned much worse as the Busters split the final two games, the latter ending in another 86-21 whitewashing at Coffeyville to finish 4-6, the second straight losing season under Miller, resulting in the firing of Miller just hours after returning from Coffeyville.
The removal of Miller as GCCC’s head coach on Nov. 9 is The Telegram’s No. 4 sports story of the year.
“In my heart of hearts, I was hoping I would get one more year, considering things that were out of my control in the first year, and the injury situation this year,” Miller said on Nov. 9, referencing a three-game forfeit levied against GCCC by the NJCAA in 2013 and a myriad of injuries the Busters suffered in 2014. “But I grew up in a football family, and you learn to respect these decisions. It’s part of football.”
In 2013, the Busters got off to 4-1 start, with the only blemish being a 10-point loss at Hutchinson, before losing the next two games, both by less than 10 points. The Busters were able to rebound with a blowout of No. 11 Dodge City on the road. But what could have been a season-changing win was immediately stymied by the announcement of NJCAA sanctions against GCCC, including the forfeit of three games in which two ineligible players were used.
The second-year transfer players, who were never named, were deemed ineligible during the first four games of the season because of the lack of either a Transfer Waiver or a Second Season Signing Agreement.
That designation forced the Busters to forfeit all three wins they had during those first four games — dropping the Busters from 5-3 to 2-6. The Busters also lost the regular season finale at Coffeyville, and then the Football Capital of Kansas Bowl to Tyler, Texas, to finish 2-8, officially, under Miller.
In 2014, the Busters again got off to another good start, going 3-1, before losing five of the final six games, including four by more than 30 points.
And while the losses piled up, so did the injuries. By mid-October, the Busters were no longer practicing with full pads, opting to go with non-contact practices in an attempt to dissuade more injuries.
In the Busters’ penultimate road trip of the season to Iowa Central, the travel squad consisted of just over 40 players, down from the 63-player active roster with which the Busters began the season. Miller tried to never let it become an excuse, though, admitting that the team was underperforming late in the season prior to the Butler game.
Injuries are “part of what we’re dealing with,” Miller said. “We’re beat up, but that’s part of it this time of year. It’s no excuse for us to be losing ball games.”
And when the Busters continued to lose, Miller was ousted.
“Obviously, there was a myriad of things that went into the decision,” GCCC Athletic Director Ryan Ruda said in an interview after the announcement of Miller’s firing. “Matt ’s done a great job. He’s coached to the best of his abilities as an assistant and as a head coach. There were a myriad of factors that went into the decision.”
Less than two weeks later, GCCC announced the hiring of Jeff Sims, marking the beginning of a new era under the fourth head coach since 2010.