When Gina Miller was hired as the Largo High girls' basketball coach prior to last season, she envisioned a successful career. After all, she had been an assistant coach at the school for nine seasons, learning from her father, Bob Blair, who led the Lions to winning records in 18 of 19 seasons.
Coaching basketball is in the family genes. Miller's younger sister, Vanessa Blair Treadwell, was an assistant to her father and is now the head women's basketball coach at Mount St. Mary's College. Another sister, Brigid Blair, also was a Largo assistant and coaches summer travel teams and is a basketball instructor in Richmond.
In her first season, Miller led Largo to a 19-4 record and the Prince George's 4A regular season title. Before a capacity crowd and then-schools chief Andre J. Hornsby, the Lions lost by two points in the county championship game to Gwynn Park.
Two months later, when Miller went to school to return the league championship trophy that had been sitting in her living room, she learned she was probably going to be out of a coaching job.
Largo Principal Richmond Myrick told her that he wanted to have a coach who is a teacher at the school, Miller said. Miller is a guidance counselor at Riverdale Baptist School, and state rules require public schools to give preference to certified teachers when it comes to hiring coaches. Moreover, non-teacher coaches must re-apply for their positions annually.
During his two-year tenure before resigning in late May, Hornsby had made this a point of emphasis for county schools. As schools began trying to fill coaching positions for next season, school athletic directors and principals were instructed by school system officials that they could not interview non-teacher applicants unless they did not have a "qualified and acceptable" teacher applicant for a position.
Defining "qualified and acceptable" is up to the administrators at each school, but the directive clearly has had an impact. Oxon Hill girls' basketball coach Dexter Fleet, a security guard at the school, was not retained because of the rule, Fleet said. With other qualified and acceptable teacher applicants, Eleanor Roosevelt hired history teacher and former assistant coach Brendan O'Connell to be its boys' basketball head coach.
Among the county's notable coaches who have been retained but are not certified teachers are Roosevelt football coach Rick Houchens and Potomac girls' basketball coach Mike Strother, whose team has won consecutive state titles and was The Post's All-Met Coach of the Year in 2005.
The policy has been hotly contested by several coaches who are not teachers and even some who hold teaching positions. "It's the worst idea they've ever come up with," said Bob Blair, who worked for the Office of Housing and Urban Development during his tenure coaching at Largo.
"I've had a couple calls from coaches who have been replaced by certified people and I sympathize with them," said Earl Hawkins, the county's supervisor of athletics. "I explain the process and let them know this is something beyond our control. We appreciate what those people have done for us. It's not a reflection on their ability to coach. The rules and regulations state that we must do something else."
How much the recent enforcement of this rule affected Miller is unclear. Although Miller said that Myrick told her about his desire for teacher-coaches and Largo athletic director Lewis Howard gave her a letter from Myrick restating this, Howard said it "wasn't the deciding factor in the situation. We just wanted to go in another direction."
Largo subsequently promoted Miller's former assistant coach, Ayana Ball, who played for Blair in the mid-1990s, went to Howard on a basketball scholarship and teaches physical education at the school.
Regardless of how it came about, however, a family that had been a mainstay in county coaching circles for two decades currently is on the outside.
"I'm looking for direction," Miller said. "I might take some more classes in counseling to get some help to help these students with all these problems. It will be a lot harder [to deal with not coaching] in the fall. I've kept up with them as far as what they're doing and I wish them the best. They'll probably still have a good year next year."