End of a golden era as Kearny’s Millar retires

When John Millar was a student and soccer player at Kearny High School nearly 50 years ago, he could have never even slightly imagined what his life would become in his hometown.

Some 44 years after he began his career in Kearny as a coach, teacher and administrator, Millar will step down in a few weeks leaving a legacy of greatness that very few have achieved in the annals of New Jersey scholastic sports.

Millar announced his retirement to the Kearny Board of Education last week, 44 and ½ years after his career began. His retirement begins effective at the Christmas break, with no successor yet in place or been named.

Millar was the head soccer coach at Kearny for 32 glorious years, winning 554 games and losing just 84. He was the leader of one of the most storied programs in New Jersey soccer history, capturing countless Watchung Conference and NJSIAA state sectional titles as well as winning an astounding eight NJSIAA overall Group IV championships (1975, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1999, 2002 and 2004) and four more as overall Group IV runner-up.

In an incredible six-year span from 1981 through 1987, the Kardinals won four state titles and was second once. In that time span, players like National Soccer Hall of Famers John Harkes and Tony Meola were guided under Millar’s tutelage.

After being declared co-champions with Rancocas Valley in 2004, Millar moved up to the rank of athletic director, where he oversaw all of the school’s athletic teams.

With his omnipresent baseball cap, collared shirt and tie, Millar was a fixture at all Kearny athletic events and was a solid representative of the athletic program, helping to formulate the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League several years ago.

“Forty-four and a half years,” Millar reflected. “I think that’s a long time. I didn’t have a magical number in mind. I wasn’t trying to get to 50. I just think it’s time. Sometimes in life, you make decisions and you know they’re right. Well, this one is right. I don’t need to convince myself that it’s right.”

Millar said that he just decided to retire at the end of December. His decision is not for health reasons, although he did have a brief scare earlier this year.

“I’m not leaving because of a medical issue,” Millar said. “It’s not true what people are saying. I feel really good. I think it’s always a tough question when someone retires. People always ask, ‘Why?’ Once you feel it might be the right time, then it might be. I had the medical thing this year. I was lucky and received great medical attention. But it’s not the reason.

Added Millar, “I had a great run and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve enjoyed the job and enjoyed the people I worked with. We have a great coaching staff here. We’ve had some good times over the years and those times have been enjoyable.”

Millar said that he particularly liked watching the girls’ tennis team win their division of the HCIAL, the girls’ soccer team win their eighth straight Hudson County Tournament championship and the boys’ soccer team capture the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championship in thrilling fashion via penalty kicks this year.

“We had enjoyable fall,” Millar said.

Millar credited the football coaching staff for preparing the Kards well, but the team ended up on the short end of the stick most of the time this season.

“The kids came out and practiced every day,” Millar said. “I give them credit for that. The coaching staff worked very hard. Every day has been a good day. I look forward to the start of the winter season. We’ll have our holiday wrestling tournament and the Charlie Dolan basketball tournament. We’re in a good place.”

It’s hard for Millar to look past the incredible coaching career, one that will gain him induction into the prestigious NJSIAA Hall of Fame next Monday at the Pines Manor in Edison. Millar is one of only six inductees this year into the state association’s Hall of Fame.

When Millar retired from coaching to become the athletic director, he ranked third all-time in New Jersey in coaching victories.

“I think it was a truly remarkable run we had with our teams,” Millar said of his coaching career. “We had something like 45 First Team All-State players and 12 All-Americans. That’s why we won a lot of games. You have to have those kind of players, but you need the everyday players as well.”

Among those honorees included his own two sons, Scott and Michael. Scott is currently a teacher and coach in Kearny.

“We were fortunate to have produced a bunch of good knowledgeable and skilled players,” Millar said. “We had the Kearny Thistle program where the kids played all-year round. That produced a good product and always made us competitive. We were always challenging for titles. It was always in the coaching staff’s mind to be competitive, to repeat what the team did the year before. It led to greater expectations and we always seemed to come up to that level of expectations. Our kids always came to play and we were pretty good at playing.”

Millar was asked to reflect on four decades of Kearny athletics.

“I think I did a good job,” Millar said. “I was successful as a coach because of all the great assistant coaches I worked with. As an administrator, I was fortunate to work with great people who helped to make it all work. You need all of those things to be successful.”

Millar says that he doesn’t have plans to leave the area. His wife, Barbara, is still working. Their sons live nearby and both sons just recently added children of their own. Scott has a daughter, Avery and Michael has a son, Jack. John and Barbara also have a daughter, Meghan, who now lives in Philadephia.

It marks the end of an historic era in Kearny athletics. No Kearny coach will ever enjoy the success that John Millar did with his array of talented players, some of whom enabled Kearny to gain the nickname of “Soccertown, USA,” for their exploits with the United States National team and abroad.

Well, before the names of Harkes and Meola became legendary figures, they started right here, under the watchful eyes of John Millar. And everyone in the town is a better place because of his dedication to his hometown.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”