Grand Canyon’s aspirations to rise in Division I women’s basketball will be in the hands of new Lopes head coach Molly Miller, a two-time Division II Coach of the Year who leads all active college basketball coaches in winning percentage.
GCU named Miller, 34, as its new head coach Tuesday after she posted an astounding 180-17 record over the past six years at her alma mater, Drury Univeristy in Springfield, Missouri. The .914 winning percentage tops any active Division I, II or III men’s or women’s basketball head coach with at least five years of experience and includes a stunning 67-1 mark over the past two seasons.
“Given the unbelievable success Coach Miller has experienced on the basketball court, we are incredibly excited about the future of the women’s basketball program,” GCU President Brian Mueller said. “Her basketball record is nothing short of incredible but even more important is who she is as a person. Her leadership capabilities and strong faith background make her an ideal representative of the University.”
Miller’s competitive fire that made her a Division II third-team All-American in 2008 has translated to coaching. She guided Drury to the Division II Final Four last year and a 32-0 record this season, when she put the Panthers at No. 1 for every week of the Division II poll up until the NCAA tournament cancellation.
“I have had the privilege to get to know President Mueller and the athletic director, Jamie Boggs, in the recent days, and the enthusiasm of these incredible leaders certainly helped solidify my decision,” Miller said. “I look forward to a seamless transition for our basketball program and the fun journey that lies ahead for our university, our players, our fans and our community.”
If an undefeated mark does not state Drury’s dominance under Miller enough, the Panthers also led Division II in scoring margin for the past two seasons, winning by an average of 27.9 points per game in 2018-19 and an average of 28.5 points per game this season.
“Coach Miller is one of the winningest college head coaches in the country and a true leader who knows how to run a championship program,” GCU Interim Vice President of Athletics Jamie Boggs said. “She has tremendous character, is passionate about her faith and will be a wonderful leader for our student-athletes. We cannot wait for her and her family to arrive in Phoenix and join the GCU community.”
Last month, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Executive Director Danielle Donehew called Miller “a rising star” after her peers named her the Division II Coach of the Year for the second consecutive year.
Miller’s hustle-oriented teams defend with the intensity and trapping that was her trademark as a player. The Panthers have guarded opponents from baseline to baseline and led Division II with 30.8 turnovers forced per game this season. In turn, her teams have played uptempo, player-predicated motion offense that averaged 90.2 points per game this season.
The entertaining style and success have made Drury one of the top Division II draws, ranking third in attendance last season at 1,768 fans per game despite only having 1,500 undergraduate students on campus and competing for Ozarks basketball fans with Missouri State.
Drury has been a Division II power since Miller played there (2004-08) as a 5-foot-6 point guard who started for four seasons. She ranks fourth in program history for career points (1,570), third for assists (439) and second for steals (409). But since Miller took over as head coach at age 28 in 2014, she pushed the Panthers to the best all-time winning percentage (.827) in Division II history.
“I’m super-competitive,” Miller said. “With the resources and the excitement behind the athletic program and specifically the women’s basketball program, there’s real momentum there. I think we can make a big splash. We want to be one of the best teams in the nation. That’s going to be our goal and I think we can do it at GCU.”
Miller recruits players with a similar hunger to win and work to improve. She challenges them on the court, invests in their lives off the court and keeps an open-door policy to form long-term relationships.
Growing up in Springfield as Molly Carter, she found her love of basketball at age 8 as a ball girl for national power Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State). She already was mastering dribbling and finishing with either hand and progressed into a player who won two state championships at Kickapoo High School, where her teams went 109-9 (.924). Her Drury teams as a player went 112-18 (.862).
At every step, she has been a determined winner.
“To this day, she’s the most competitive person I’ve ever been around,” her Drury coach, now-George Mason head coach Nyla Milleson, once told the Springfield News-Leader.
In her first job, Miller spent four years as a marketing director for Springfield Neurological and Spine Institute, putting her master of business administration to use while giving basketball instruction to players on the side. She took a pay cut to return to Drury as an assistant coach for two seasons before being elevated to Panthers interim head coach, a title that lost the “interim” tag after a 7-2 start.
Drury has won the Great Lakes Valley Conference in four consecutive seasons (no team previously had won more than two in a row) as Miller went 105-5 in conference play (55-0 at home) over her six-year tenure. Drury has been ranked in the Division II top 25 for a nation-leading 111 consecutive weeks. All the while, she has put an emphasis on her players being students first, learning life skills and acting as community stewards.
“I love this game and everything that is has given to me so I want to give back to it and my players so they can find as much joy and love for the game,” Miller said. “I’m excited to hit the ground running and meet those kids and love them like family. We’re going to be very family-oriented at GCU. We’ll have an exciting brand of basketball to play.”
Miller and her husband, Derek, are raising a 3-year-old daughter, Crosby, and a 3-month-old son, Cy.
“We will have to give each other virtual hugs for now, but soon we’ll be high-fiving each other on the court after a Lopes win,” Miller said.
Story Courtesy GCU’s Paul Coro
Photo Courtesy GCU AthleticsGrand Canyon Molly Miller WAC