FAIR OAKS, CA – After years of disappointing, and frankly, just pathetic football at Rio Americano, the Raiders have enlisted two coaching legends to turn their struggling program around.
Max Miller, the Sac-Joaquin Section’s all-time winningest coach and Hall-of-Famer, has returned to Rio Americano, where he coached from 1972-80. That was before he took over at Cordova High School, where the bulk of his more than 250 wins and numerous Section championships came from.
Rio Americano was Miller’s first head coaching gig of his career and since then, has always been a special place for him.
“I still have some green and gold blood running through my body and I’m having fun,” Miller told News10 following practice on Monday evening.
Miller took over as an interim head coach least season after head coach Christian Mahaffey, and two assistant coaches, were fired after the decision to cut starting wide receiver Guillermo Salazar.
Mahaffey took exception to Salazar missing a game for a baseball recruiting trip. That decision caused 11 varsity players to walk out on Mahaffey in protest.
Before taking over the Raiders program, Miller was the defensive coordinator for the Folsom Bulldogs, helping to lead them to a 2010 State Bowl championship.
The effort to turn the Raiders football program around certianly won’t happen overnight, nor will it be an easy one. Miller is used to coaching big-time talent, but at Rio Americano, he’s having to take a step back and actually teach football first.
Despite the lack of top-tier talent, Miller believes his players are already improving, and that he wouldn’t be there if he didn’t feel he could be successful.
“If I was riding in the Kentucky Derby, I wouldn’t want to be on a mule, I’d want to be on a horse that had a chance to win,” said Miller. “We’re definitely going to be better. I’m really proud of these kids and we will be a lot more competitive.”
Joining Miller at Rio Americano is former Elk Grove head coach Ed Lombardi – a legend in his own right, with over 200 wins in 38 years as a head coach. He most famously led the Elk Grove Thundering Herd to glory in the 90’s.
Lombardi was heavily recruited by Miller last season to join his staff and help bring back the sense of pride to the Raiders football team.
The Raiders haven’t enjoyed a winning season since the 2008-09 season under head coach Mike Smith. Since then, they have been flooded with mediocrity and dwindling spirit throughout the community.
All that seems to have changed. During a recent “Meet the Raiders” fundraiser dinner, more than 375 people turned out and over $12,000 was raised for the program.
“Max is a great salesman, and more than anything, a great promoter,” Lombardi said. “He’s an amazing mans and it’s a real honor to have the opportunity to coach with him.”
By Sean Cunningham, SCunningham@News10.net