Of all the new assistant coaches joining the Bolts’ ranks, Secondary Coach Ron Milus finds himself in perhaps the most unique situation.
Milus is the defense’s lone new addition to San Diego, but he isn’t fazed by joining a unit that mostly remains intact under the guidance of defensive coordinator John Pagano. In fact, he is looking forward to being the group’s newest member and is excited about what he brings to the table.
“It’s been great so far,” he said in his office here at Chargers Park. “They want my input on some of the things I see with what we did in my previous stops and what I think we can do better here in San Diego. So that part has been exciting. But in a nutshell, I’m learning more than anything else, because I’ve got to get up to par with the communication and vocabulary here. Once we get that, I think we will be able to flourish.”
Based on his journey from high school running back to successful NFL assistant coach, there is no reason to believe Milus won’t succeed here in San Diego.
The Chargers new secondary coach was introduced to the game of football at a young age, but he started out on the offensive side of the ball.
“I started playing when I was in fourth grade back in Tacoma, Washington,” he reflected. “My dad was one of the assistant coaches on the team and I kind of fell in love with the game at that time. I was a running back and it wasn’t until college that I became more of a defensive minded person.”
Milus was heavily recruited out of high school, but the decision to attend the University of Washington was a no-brainer for him.
“At the end of the day I was always going to go to the University of Washington,” he said. “I had been going to games as a little kid with my family back when Warren Moon was playing. We didn’t have great seats and I’d sit in the end zone, but my whole life I was a Huskies fan. It really started in the 70’s when Coach (Don) James took over the program and what he was able to do with them in the 80’s and 90’s. He really got that thing going and he played a big role in my career.”
Although he always thought of himself as a running back, Milus knew beforehand that he was being recruited as a defensive back and quickly got behind that decision.
“Even though I considered myself a running back and played that, because of my size, they saw that I was better suited at the college level to play defensive back,” he said. “So that’s what I ended up doing and it was a good move. It was my best way to have success.”
Still, Milus found a way to contribute in ways other than on defense as he also starred as a return specialist for the Huskies.
“That was my way of touching the ball again,” he said. “It let me relive my high school days as a running back and by having the ball occasionally and running with it.”
While he had countless memories at Washington, Milus was quick to recount one that sticks out amongst the rest.
“It’s tough, but the memory that sticks out the most I would have to say is when we beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl my junior year,” he said. “This is when they were really good. They had (Brian) Bosworth and other guys who would go on to be household names. But we went out and beat them in the Orange Bowl, so that has to be the highest on the list!”
Milus never had any plans to go into coaching once he graduated from Washington. He spent the next few years working odd jobs, including selling athletic supplies to high school for Champion Athletic as well as being a sales rep for Nally’s Fine Foods.
Then came the fortuitous turn of events that changed his life forever.
“Long story short, my dad was the head high school coach at Lincoln High School, and he lost his secondary coach a couple weeks prior to two-a-days,” he recalled. “So he had no one to coach the secondary, and at the time I was working and didn’t want to get into coaching, but he talked me into it. And I quickly realized that was the route I wanted to take. We had pretty good players like Lawyer Milloy and John Kitna. So I fell in love with the game as a coach and tried to make it a career. “
After three years of coaching at Lincoln, Milus attempted to break into the collegiate ranks, and another fortunate series of events led him to become the defensive backs coach at his alma mater, the University of Washington.
“I ended up calling Coach James after my third year and I asked him if he would consider me as a graduate assistant a year from now,” he said. “And he told me he would. But then a week later he called back and said that he suddenly had an opening for a volunteer coach and asked if I wanted to volunteer. Now you didn’t get paid any money, and at the time there were five graduate assistants and one volunteer so I was the guy that ended up becoming that guy. So I quit my job and we ended up winning a national championship, which was a great experience. Now the secondary coach at the time was Larry Slade, and Larry was fortunate enough to get the defensive coordinator job at Maryland. So after being at Washington for less than a year as a volunteer, they ended up hiring me full-time to replace Larry. So I had to have a lot of things fall into place and luckily they did or else I don’t think I’d be here today.”
Milus remained at Washington for eight years through the 1998 season before joining Texas A&M in the same position. Ironically enough, he ended up replacing Slade once again to become the Aggies’ defensive backs coach. After a single season, Milus broke into the NFL ranks with the Denver Broncos.
“Long story short, they called and wanted to know if I was interested in coming up and interviewing for the job and at first, I didn’t believe they were actually calling,” he laughed. “But it was true. So I went up and interviewed for the job and was able to get it. Now 13 whirlwind years later I’ve been lucky to stay in this league and I’m excited to be here in San Diego.”
The Chargers’ new secondary coach has a wealth of experience at the pro level, having served stints with the Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers and a second tour of duty with Denver. It was during his last two seasons with the Broncos that he got to know head coach Mike McCoy, who he is ecstatic to get to work with here in San Diego .
“It’s been good to get to work with him still,” Milus said. “He was on the offensive side of the ball so we went against each other every day in practice. He’s a very, very smart football coach and I think we will accomplish some nice things in San Diego. He’s going to be a level headed coach. He won’t be a guy that gets too high or too low, and that’s an important thing to know about Mike. He can also be demanding but he’s fair. He’s a guy that’s been able to work with different types of players also. And he’s a good man which is very important too.”
McCoy wasn’t the only attractive aspect of the gig when Milus was examining his job prospects.
“I’m just excited to be here in San Diego,” he said. “This is a team that is built to win. A lot of times you don’t get that opportunity when you change teams, so I’m excited. The defense is a very solid defense with a good history and a good core. That was key. Plus the fact that there is an established quarterback; that was another key. So it wasn’t a hard sell.”
So what type of coach exactly is Ron Milus and what type of philosophies does he plan to bring to the Chargers?
“Well, I guess in a nutshell we’re trying to be technique sound,” he explained. “I’m fair but demanding, but not over the top. I think at the end of the day, the players will learn to like the techniques we’re trying to establish here in San Diego. I’m not a screamer or yeller, but I’m fair. I believe if you treat them like men, they will respond to that.”
As a result, Milus is excited about the players currently in the fold in the secondary and can’t wait to get to work with them.
“I’m very excited about this group of men because of the talent we have,” he said. “Some of it is untapped when you talk about the young corners like (Marcus) Gilchrist and (Shareece) Wright. And then you have the established player in Eric (Weddle) who has done a phenomenal job around here the last few years. I’m excited to work with a guy who has got those types of abilities. So the combination of that and the young guys here that we have a chance to develop, that’s exciting to me. And I think that’s going to be key for us in the backend, that we develop those young guys and they perform at a level that will bring championships to San Diego.”
While coaching is a very demanding job, Milus makes sure he has time for his family. He married his high school sweetheart, Sandra, who he met back in middle school at the age of 12 growing up on the same street. Together they have two sons, Ryan and Bobby. Ryan runs track at Arizona State while Bobby is a cornerback at Colorado State University-Pueblo. But while Milus is a secondary coach for a living, he prefers to take a backseat when it comes to his son and enjoys watching him play rather than trying to coach him up.
“I’m just letting him do his thing,” he said, clearly proud of both his sons. “With both of my kids, particularly in high school, I never was the type of father who was overstepping my bounds with what they were teaching there at the high school level. I’m a coach here at this level and there are certain ways I like to have it done, so I wouldn’t want to interfere with the way their coaches got things done.”
Overall, as he embarks on his 14th NFL season, Milus is overjoyed to join a San Diego Chargers team he thinks is capable of accomplishing big things.
“At the end of the day, we want to win a championship,” he stated. “Part of that is playing sound on the defensive side of the ball. And if your secondary is up to par, you’re probably going to win a lot of football games and have at the very least a decent defense. And if you do that, you’re going to win some games. So I’m hoping I bring that to the table.”