Alex Miller building strong foundation with UMass football offensive line

  • University of Massachusetts offensive line coach Alex Miller leads a drill during a Minutemen practice on Aug. 12 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts offensive line coach Alex Miller leads a drill with Jonny Hassard, left, and Qualeem Charles (57) during a Minutemen practice on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2021 10:07:18 PM

AMHERST — Alex Miller didn’t really return to UMass because in some ways he never left.

The former All-American offensive lineman joined Walt Bell’s staff as the Minutemen’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator in January after a decade in similar roles at New Hampshire. Even from Durham, N.H., Miller stayed connected to the program and people on campus.

“It’s a family thing coming back here. That’s a huge deal,” Miller said. “There’s still people on campus I’m connected to. All the people at my wedding went to school here. It’s a big deal to come back here, but the big deal is having success.”

He knows what success means in Amherst after starting every game for the Minutemen from 2003-06 and helped UMass reach the then-1AA National Championship game his senior season. Miller was an all-American and the College Sporting News Offensive Lineman of the Year his senior season and also earned two all-Atlantic 10 first team nods.

After graduating in 2007, Miller spent three years as an intern and graduate assistant with Oregon. The Ducks played in a Rose Bowl and BCS National Championship game during his tenure. Then New Hampshire hired him as a guard/centers coach for the 2011 season. He took over the full offensive line from 2012-15 and added coordinating the running game to his duties in 2016.

Micah James had been the offensive line coach for the first two years of Bell’s tenure but left for Utah State in January. Bell jumped at the chance to bring in such a well-renowned replacement.

“The cherry on top is that he’s an alum, but most importantly he’s a fantastic o-line coach and he’s done a great job everywhere he’s been, whatever role he’s been in,” Bell said. “But to also bring back an alumni with those credentials was huge.”

Miller has emphasized consistency with UMass’ offensive line since he arrived. The Minutemen allowed 10 sacks in four games last year and only averaged 2.3 yards per carry on the ground after a diminished preseason camp and less practice time due to COVID-19 protocols.

“If you’re not good up front, you’re probably not going to win a lot of games,” Miller said. “If we’re not doing our job inside, we’re basically half the offense. If we’re not doing our job it drastically affects everybody else’s job.”

He’s made his impact quickly in the offensive line room. 

“On the o-line you have to be tough, have to be physical. I believe he’s brought that toughness to our room,” UMass junior lineman Dalton Tomlinson said. “Our o-line room is close, it’s a tight-knit group. He’s someone you can go to for anything. He has the trust of a lot of us.”

Miller built that in part through his knowledge of the game. He calls out blitzes they don’t see coming.

“He’s an unbelievable technical offensive line coach. He’s a great physical teacher, and he is a great teacher in the meeting room,” Bell said. “He does a great job on the football field making the guys understand the how’s, the why’s and then has a great rapport and relationship with those guys.”

If the offensive line is the foundation of a strong team, Miller hopes he can help be part of the foundation of a strong program.

“Being a part of turning it around. You sit back in the chairs as an alumni and wonder what’s going on, getting better, this and that. To be a part of it, to hopefully get it right, that’s exciting, too,” he said. “Any time you get a chance to come work at your alma mater in coaching is very special. Not everybody gets that opportunity. We all coach hard, but there’s that extra gear when you’re coaching at your alma mater.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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