SANFORD — As a member of the Lee County Yellow Jackets, David Miller could beat you with his arm and his bat.
Now he does it with fundamentally sound baseball.
A year after nine strong seasons in which his teams won three conference titles and averaged 13 victories a season, Miller is returning to one of the towns he starred in as a prep baseball and basketball player as Southern Lee’s new baseball coach.
“I am very excited about this opportunity,” Miller told The Herald on Wednesday, a day after Lee County Schools approved his recommendation to replace the departed Matt Burnett. “I played at Lee Senior and I know this is a baseball town. I view this as a fantastic opportunity.”
So does his high school coach.
“It’s a great fit for him, for personal reasons and for professional reasons,” said Lee County coach Charlie Spivey, who coached Miller in the early 1990s. “Obviously, it’s always exciting when one of your former players is coaching, and it’s always fun coaching against him.”
After helping the Jackets win a lot of games, Miller, a 1992 graduate of Lee County, spent three years at North Carolina. He played his final college season at N.C. Wilmington in 1995, after which he was drafted in the 14th round by the Florida Marlins. He spent three years in the Marlins’ minor league system.
It is that kind of pedigree that Miller brings to his prep players.
“I know what it takes to get where players want to go,” Miller said. “I know what it takes for players to be successful at the high school level, the college level and the professional level. That’s what I’m going to try to instill into the players.”
After a stint as an assistant coach at Appalachian State, Miller, who last season was an assistant basketball coach with Green Hope, took over the Chapel Hill program in 2000. His teams won the Piedmont Athletic Conference in 2002, 2004 and 2005 — the same years he was named as the league’s coach of the year. Under Miller, Chapel Hill reached the postseason seven times in nine years.
Sixteen of his players have played collegiately, seven of them at the Division 1 level. Two of Miller’s former players have reached the professional ranks with major league teams – Patrick Currin (drafted in the 22nd round for the Oakland A’s in 2006) and Mike Mabry (2006 signee of the Atlanta Braves).
Miller, whose father Ken coached basketball for 10 years at Lee County and was Spivey’s assistant for a number of years, including during the 1996 state championship run, said he takes the fundamentals he applies to players’ personal success and instills them into the team as well.
“We’re going to do the small things better than everybody else,” he said. “We’re going to be fundamentally better than anybody we play.”
Miller said he believes the foundation is strong at Southern Lee. Burnett, who resigned last week to pursue other opportunities, led the team to the state playoffs in all four of his seasons, winning the Cape Fear Valley Conference championship in 2008, the same year he was named as coach of the year. The Cavaliers never finished lower than fourth in the league standings under Burnett and won at least 15 games in each of the last three seasons.
Miller said he hopes to build on what’s already been established at Southern Lee.
“They’ve had success in the conference and success certainly in their overall record,” Miller said of the Cavaliers. “I feel like the program is on the rise and hopefully we can take it to the next step by winning in the playoffs and hosting a playoff game. We want to keep moving forward.”
Southern Lee has looked to the past to do just that.
“He has some strong community ties, and will be an outstanding addition who has coached teams that have won conference championships and (gone) to the state playoffs,” said Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss. “I think he’ll carry on the tradition at Southern and have a strong baseball program. And he’s home-grown.”
Miller has been a strong math teacher. Students in his advanced placement calculus classes have averaged a 95 percent passing rate while student in his algebra 1 classes have averaged a 90 percent proficiency rate on the state’s end-of-course tests.
Miller is married to the former Heather Moore, a former Lee County basketball and tennis player. The Millers have 3-year-old triplets.