Oct. 12, 2011
By Bruce Madej
Rarely will a top-notch recruit leave his hometown especially after living down the block from its renowned coach. Clay Miller (1981-85) did just that.
Not only did Miller receive his upbringing in Norman, Okla., he was born in Columbus, Ohio.
"I grew up in Norman and lived in the same neighborhood as (Sooner head coach) Barry Switzer," said Miller. "I was recruited by Oklahoma, Nebraska, Penn State, Notre Dame and UCLA."
So how did the Wolverines get this highly touted recruit?
"Two things drew me to Michigan," added Miller. "I would become the third generation of our family to attend Michigan. My grandfather, mother and father were all Michigan alums, so there was a lot of history there.
"We always watched the Michigan-Ohio State game and then there was Bo," added Miller. "Bo was Bo and how do you say no to Bo? And after all, it was and still is the best combination of top 10 schools in football and academics. If you put the two together and you are a great athlete and academically inclined how do you not look at Michigan?"
Miller was indeed highly gifted as both a student and an athlete. He was named Academic All-American in 1984 (second team) and 1985 (first team). As an athlete, he was named to the all-conference offensive line first team in 1985. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I like to tell everyone that I was 11 picks behind Bo Jackson," laughs Miller. "Tampa Bay had the worst record in the league that year and picked Jackson first and I was Tampa's first pick of the 12th round."
Knowing that did not really bode well for his future career in the NFL, Miller applied to law school almost immediately.
"Basically what they did in training camp was bring in the second-round pick who was a guard and place me next to him on the line," said Miller. "I would have to tell him who to go and block. Then when it got down to the end, they kept eight and I was the ninth."
Miller was accepted at Northwestern but didn't feel his playing days were necessarily over. The following year he received a phone call from the Houston Oilers and went down to training camp. This time he made the team and played three games.
"It turned out to be the same exercise," said Miller. "That's when I thought it would be wise to use my head without a helmet."
He graduated from Northwestern in 1989 with his law degree and spent the first two years of his career in New York with Sherman-Sterling-- "an intimate company with about 1000 employees," says Miller.
Then he moved to London with same company and started working with private equity firms and liked the challenge. He returned to the States and enrolled in the Harvard Business School to strengthen his understanding of private equity investment.
After leaving Harvard, he worked with a private equity firm for three years in Houston then moved to Minneapolis where he now resides.
Five years ago, he and a partner founded Stone Arch Capital and that is his business today.
One night at dinner, his wife Lisa gave him an idea that put Clay back onto the Ann Arbor campus and back into the U-M football program.
"We have been supporting Michigan through the years and I mentioned to her that I wanted to do something more than just write checks," said Miller. "I enrolled in law school because I did not have an idea of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go."
Lisa suggested a networking program of former U-M football players who could help current student-athletes understand those needs.
"We both thought it would have a lot of merit for the university if we could get some of these former players to discover from the guys where they want to go and then help them get there."
Originally the discussion started with Lloyd Carr, but it was just about the time he was transitioning out of coaching and Rich Rodriguez was taking over.
"Rich liked the idea and it was very important that Scott Draper and Joe Parker kept the continuity going and kept it together," added Miller.
This February, Miller will be working with Shari Acho and Mike Vollmar on his fourth Mentoring Networking Meeting and Dinner in Schembechler Hall.
Not only will Clay Miller be able to see the current Wolverine football team, he will also be able to visit his daughter who is now the fourth generation of Millers attending U-M. Their daughter Samantha is an 18-year old freshman who is also a walk-on the Wolverine track team.
Lisa, Clay's wife of 21 years, is also a Michigan graduate and they have a seventh-grade daughter, Sonya, who they both hope will be a Michigan student one day.
"Michigan means a lot to me and there is so much I remember," said Miller "The games are one thing, but there is so much more."
As a freshman, Miller had the fortune to be in the right place at the right time.
"I was lucky enough, or should I say others were unlucky because they were all nicked up, to get a chance to start on the defensive line against Northwestern," said Miller. "It was a third-down play, I rushed the quarterback and someone blocking flushed the quarterback right to me where I grabbed ahold of him and sacked him for a loss.
"I was so excited, I came running over to the sidelines and caught my toe on the turf and fell face first in front of 100,000 people and Bo Schembechler -- I was really embarrassed," laughs Miller. "Bo looked down at me and all he said was 'You can always tell a freshman, but you can't tell him a thing.'"
The opportunity to interact with coaches and players made Miller's time at Michigan so much more fun. His friendship with then volunteer coach Alex Agase was also special. Agase was a cigar aficionado. He always told Miller and his roommate Eric Kattus that when they were done playing football at Michigan they would all sit down and have a cigar together.
"It was after the Fiesta Bowl and we had just defeated Nebraska," said Miller. "Agase motions for us to go with him and he has a few cigars in his hand. We go back into the stadium, go up in the stands and the three of us sit there and smoke those cigars. It was great."
As Miller pointed out, the games are fun, but it is the camaraderie with the coaches and players, the time in the film room, going out after practice and being a part of a Michigan Wolverine team that is special. And now, Miller is giving back and in return he once again is part of the Michigan football team.