Miller's tale of conflict

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Friday might be a tough night for Pete Miller.

But, man, it’s gonna be fun.

Talk about divided loyalties.

South Bend folks might remember Pete as a skinny, 6-foot-5, floppy-haired basketball player at Saint Joseph’s High who scored 1,056 career points and — along with Chris Quinn — led the Indians to the 1993 Final Four his senior year.

St. Joe, 25-3, lost to Jeffersonville, 87-74, in the semifinal.

He landed a scholarship at Notre Dame, scoring 315 career points for the Irish. He met his future wife, Lindsey Phillips, on campus, then embarked on an education career through Notre Dame’s ACE program.

Miller came back to South Bend in 1999 as the head basketball coach at St. Joe. After two seasons, with a combined 18-26 record, he changed his path toward higher education.

Today, people at the University of Wisconsin know him as 41-year-old

(not so floppy-haired … er … for the most part … bald) Dr. Peter Miller, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis for the past seven years.

For the last two-plus years, Dr. Peter has been the liaison between the academic faculty board and the Badgers men’s basketball team.

Which brings us back to Friday night.

When Notre Dame takes on Wisconsin in a Sweet 16 matchup in Philadelphia, the Miller family – Pete, Lindsey, and their four children (three boys and then a girl, ages 12, 11, 8 and 7) will be at a loss for their rooting interest.

Dr. Peter is a constant presence around the Badger program. Athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former Irish assistant football coach under Lou Holtz, and the academic side of campus are focused on having a cohesive partnership.

While Dr. Peter’s primary interaction is with head coach Greg Gard and the Badger assistants, the players know his background well enough to understand this is a special game.

“There’s a little bit of ribbing going on,” Miller said, “people questioning my loyalties. I do feel a little conflicted about it all.”

Last Sunday was a memorable experience for Miller and his family. They were in a St. Louis hotel room watching the sixth-seeded Irish punch their ticket to Philadelphia, then a few hours later the No. 7-seed Badgers upended No. 2 Xavier to set up the matchup.

While Dr. Peter’s work with the basketball team scratches an itch — “I’m a basketball addict, my wife thinks I’m a little unbalanced,” he said laughing — it’s far from his mission in life.

The research he’s done, the graduate-level classes he teaches, and the programs he’s initiated or helped proliferate, are focused on the homeless. Specifically, homeless children.

Time spent with Lou Nanni at South Bend’s Center for the Homeless, before he began coaching at St. Joe, spurred the passion. Working under another mentor, Joe Lagani, in Pittsburgh enhanced the motivation.

“The big-picture goal is to help kids, especially in school as they experience homelessness, to have stability and attachment to adults,” Miller said. “They need stable adults and stable opportunities in their lives.

“A lot of kids who are homeless, they get isolated; they get mobile, they’re bouncing around a lot. My work is to try to help their families become more stable.”

Miller said there are 1,500 homeless children in Madison’s 24,000-student school district. He also has worked with agencies in New York and North Dakota to combat the problem.

He wasn’t always the well-educated, issue-minded Dr. Pete. Floppy-haired Pete had his goofy moments at Notre Dame. He cringed when reminded of some of his answers to a “getting to know” Q&A during his senior year with the Irish.

• Pre-game ritual: Eat three live goldfish and swim across Saint Mary’s Lake.

• Word next to my picture in the dictionary: Cool.

• Advice I would give young people: Above everything else, make sure your hair always looks good.

Dr. Peter had no answer for that.

St Joseph’s head coach Pete Miller give his a team some pointers during their game against Gary Mann at 2001 New Prairie’s Sectional. Tribune file photo
Pete Miller, former Notre Dame player.