Former top player Keith Millard fits in with highly credentialed Titans staff

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 12:27am
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Keith Millard (Getty Images)

Keith Millard’s first month on the job has been a crash course in the basics. For him, not his players.

With his wife and six children in California, where they intend to stay for the foreseeable future, the 49-year-old defensive assistant/pass rush specialist has found himself an apartment near the team’s training facility and has worked to stock it with everything he needs.

“My wife’s … job is when people relocate for companies, she finds places for them to live, so she’s used to getting people set up,” Millard said. “Well, she did that for me last year [at Tampa Bay].

“She wanted me to do it and experience it this year. I never had to do it before. You take things for granted like getting a spatula or a shower curtain or soap or whatever it is, things like that that you’re not used to doing. You have to learn to do it.”

In terms of his coaching career, Millard learned long ago how to find a spatula and a shower curtain, so to speak.

A two-time All-Pro, two-time Pro Bowler and the NFL’s 1989 defensive player of the year, Millard is just one of several members of the Titans staff whose credentials include highly successful playing careers.

Unlike head coach Mike Munchak or offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Millard did not start his coaching career in the NFL, though. On the advice of Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, he began at Menlo College, an NAIA program in Northern California.

“[Walsh] goes, ‘There’s a lot of guys that get into coaching in the NFL from being a player without ever getting the proper learning and education in how to do it … and they can’t handle the hours, they can’t handle the pressure, they’re not prepared as far as teaching, communication and working with other coaches.

“And you have to be passionate about it. You have to be as passionate about coaching as you were a player.”

Passion never was an issue for Millard during his eight-year NFL career (he actually began his professional career in the USFL). He had more than 10 sacks three times, including 1989, when he set an NFL record for defensive tackles with 18.

“In coaching, I’ve embraced the term ‘juice,’ ” Matthews said. “Basically, it’s a guy who plays with passion and just brings it with every down. That’s what he had as a player. … He just brought it. You characterize him as a guy you weren’t going to be able to beat up — you were going to have to kill him.”

Millard’s passion for coaching is obvious in his progression.

He spent four years at Menlo, where, he said, “There’s nothing glamorous about it, except for the fact you get to coach.” From there he went to Fort Lewis (Colo.) State, spent one year as a high school coach in Arizona and did time in the XFL and something called the Spring Football League. He finally got to the NFL in 2001 as defensive line coach/pass rush specialist with the Denver Broncos.

The Titans are his fourth NFL team and third in the past five years. He was out of coaching in 2009 and 2010, but during those two years he operated a pass rush school, where he worked with high school players all the way up to those in the NFL.

“Learning how to coach and communicate, being able to articulate what you’re trying to get across, and then being able to study film of guys you’re working with … I think that’s what helped me the most,” Millard said. “For me just to have an opportunity to coach in the NFL and have the opportunity to work with other coaches — good coaches — and to be able to work with the players, that’s a privilege.”