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Sunday, December 9, 2018

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Fred Miller in 1987 Fred Miller in 1987

A Tribute to Fred Miller

Fred Miller served as SDSU athletic director from 1985-95.
By Jim Herrick

Jim Herrick, SDSU assistant vice president of special projects, recounts his personal memories and impressions of a titan of Aztec athletics.

Fred Miller was the athletic director at San Diego State University from 1985 to 1995. It has been said that he had more great ideas in a day than most people have in a lifetime. Fred characterized SDSU as a “sleeping giant.” His vision encompassed facilities, premiere athletics, modern fundraising, engaged alumni and a fabulous campus.

Most everything he imagined now defines our campus and university.

For example, Fred immediately decried our athletic facilities and set out to build new ones. His first conquest was the Student Activities Center, now Viejas Arena. This involved wooing student and campus leaders, procuring the first half-million-dollar gift to SDSU (from Dennis and Joan Wise).

We all know what that facility has done for SDSU: home to perennial basketball programs, university functions and special programming. Fred also drew up new baseball and softball stadiums, an athletics center and a new pool.

Today we have Tony Gwynn Stadium, a softball stadium, an aquatics center and the Fowler Athletics Center.

Some of Fred’s visions took some time, but I can tell you he talked about an alumni center (now the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center), a basketball practice facility (now the Jeff Jacobs JAM Center), a new student union (now the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union), a capital fundraising campaign for SDSU in the hundreds of millions (the recently concluded Campaign for SDSU raised $815M), and even a campus expanded into Mission Valley with a trolley line to connect them.

Strong will, big heart

He had strong will (and a strong grip), a big heart and an assertive demeanor, but with a kind disposition. As his rookie lieutenant in 1986, I once failed to provide him with the materials he needed prior to a presentation with student leaders. He cut off my apology and advised me to redirect my skills in that department toward actual actions preventing a recurrence.

Fred’s command of the evolving winds of the NCAA, college football on television, the cartel that was college football and conference alignment was legendary. One time an ESPN executive phoned Fred with the mandate that for television purposes, our kickoff time would have to move to two o’clock. Fred’s dead-panned response: “a.m. or p.m.?”

Part of Fred’s appeal was his insistence on a fully balanced life. He valued his family including his wife, Jeannie, his son, Van, and his daughters, Trisha and Dana, above all else. He was known to wear mismatched shoes because “I got dressed in the dark so as not to awake Jeannie.” His daily routine included “getting a sweat in,” which was usually a cutthroat game of racquetball. On many occasions he and his friends would pull off the triple-header day. The triple header involved his buddy’s private plane, catching the first lift at Big Bear, golfing nine holes in Palm Springs, and body surfing at Mission Beach at dusk.

Fred was a fabulous leader and beloved by the athletic department staff, the students and our boosters. He was a pragmatic, no-nonsense, disciplined dreamer with unshakeable integrity and a huge compassionate streak. Fred once told me I’d make a good fit at the university. Thirty-two years later, I am still doing my best to live up to the reputation he gave me.

Once in a while, Reggie Blaylock, Steve Schnall and a few more scattered Aztecs will get together to talk about Fred and his “tree” that provided so many people with fulfilling careers. Fred's arrival gave SDSU and San Diego a legacy of poise and progress for which we remain forever grateful.