Red Miller, the fiery head coach who guided the Denver Broncos from obscurity to their first Super Bowl, died Wednesday after complications from a stroke. He was 89.
Miller coached the Broncos from 1977 to 1980 and compiled a 42-25 record. He’s best known as the coach who turned a defense filled with potential into the “Orange Crush,” and turned the Broncos into contenders after nearly two straight decades of losing.
They went 12-2 in 1977, made their first playoff appearance and got to the Super Bowl, where they fell 27-10 to the Cowboys.
Along the way, Miller helped create a rivalry with the Oakland Raiders, making no bones about his hatred of the franchise that had gone 24-2-2 against Denver over the previous 14 seasons.
“About the first thing he does, is he says to the Broncos . . . ‘I will teach you how to hate the Raiders and how to beat the Raiders,’ ” said Sandy Clough of Denver’s 104.3 The Fan radio, who has been presiding over sports talk in Denver for decades.
True to Miller’s word, the Broncos showed they were for real in 1977 by moving to 5-0 with a 30-7 win at Oakland — a game in which the Broncos intercepted Ken Stabler seven times — then beating the defending Super Bowl champions 20-17 in the AFC title game.
Denver hosts Oakland this Sunday, in what has long been known in Denver as “Raiders Week.”
Earlier this year, the Broncos decided to place Miller in their Ring of Fame. He is scheduled to be recognized Nov. 17 to cap off the franchise’s alumni week.
“You could tell how much the Broncos meant to Red, and he’s meant so much to everyone here,” Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said. “Red was overjoyed to get that phone call in May notifying him of his Ring of Fame selection, and we’re all very saddened that he won’t be able to join us when we honor him in November.”
Miller was a coaching lifer, spending time directing offensive lines in New England, Buffalo, St. Louis and Denver, and also serving two seasons as a defensive line coach for the Colts.
His hiring came after a number of Broncos players led a movement to oust coach John Ralston after the 1976 season. Miller wasn’t a front-runner for the job, but he got it, and lit a fire under a defense that included Lyle Alzado, Tom Jackson, Randy Gradishar and Louis Wright.
“We knew we had a very good team,” Broncos receiver Rick Upchurch told KUSA-TV in Denver. “But the way we came together that year when Red came in and gave us that attitude that we can win and we will win — it was probably the greatest moment in Broncos history.”
While Denver’s first championship remained another two decades off, Miller helped transform the Broncos from an NFL afterthought into one of its better franchises. When Miller arrived, the Nuggets — who had just moved to the NBA from the ABA — were arguably the city’s best-known team. Miller changed that by taking Denver to the first of its eight Super Bowl appearances.
The team’s theme song that year: “Make Those Miracles Happen,” recorded by running back Jon Keyworth.
“In many ways, Red Miller brought Broncomania in its purest form to Denver,” Clough said. “He could only do that by winning. And he could only win if he could figure out a way to beat the Raiders.”
Over the coach’s four seasons, the Orange Crush allowed a league-low 15 points a game. Denver made the playoffs three of those years, but Miller didn’t win another postseason game after the Super Bowl season, and was let go after going 8-8 in 1980.