Infamous WSU bad boy Keith Millard is Mr. Mom

KEITH MILLARD insists he’s mellowed over the years. And it certainly sounds like it during an hour phone interview from his home in Northern California, where the former Washington State great and NFL All-Pro defensive lineman says he’s the “manny” (male nanny, get it?) of the family as his wife, Paula, pursues her business career.

Millard, who is one of 25 being inducted into the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend, also maintains much of his bad boy reputation while at WSU in the early 1980s has been exaggerated.

“It depends on what you’re talking about,” the 53-year-old father of six said. “A lot of it never happened.”

And it’s what happened between the lines that made Millard one of the best to wear the Crimson and Gray, one who had no equal when it came to getting off the football, according to then-WSU coach Jim Walden.

“You never had to worry about Keith on the field,” Walden said by phone this week. “He didn’t take a play off. He had the best get-off. When that ball snapped, Keith Millard was off. So much so that a lot of teams used to swear that he was off-sides. He was so quick off the ball …

“I’d never before and never since coached another guy that I thought had his innate anticipation ... And he carried that with him to the National Football League. He was truly an undersized D-lineman, but his quickness was so far ahead of most offensive linemen, that’s why he was so successful.”

Millard, a first-round draft choice by the Minnesota Vikings in 1984, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 after recording 18 sacks, a record that still stands for a defensive lineman.

“I wasn’t going to bull-rush or over-power anybody, not at 265 or 270 (pounds),” Millard said. “So I used my quickness. To me, if I could get a jump on you, I had you.”

Walden is also quick to say Millard didn’t deserve much of his off-the-field rep, although he had his moments.

“Keith was a pretty out-there guy when he got to Washington State University,” Walden said. “He was kind of a faux bad boy and got a lot of bad publicity…. I would say 70 percent of all the stories that got spread around about Keith Millard were not true. It was like it was an image that grew.

“I didn’t have a lot of problems with him. I used to say I’d like to have more guys like Keith Millard if that’s the kind of guy that was given me. He may have given me a little problem here and there. He was rambunctious. I had a bunch of them in his class ... But I’ll tell you something, I might have had a little trouble during the week with those guys, for the most part nothing serious, but I didn’t have any trouble on Saturdays with them, because they went out and played, boy ...”

Even the most infamous Millard incident, both Walden and Millard recount, is a bit overblown, or misrepresented.

You know the one: the Pizza Delivery Boy, forever a part of Millard’s crimson lore and something Walden wrote about in his book, “Tales from the Washington State Cougars Sideline,” and ends the section saying Millard took two slices after knocking out the delivery guy for not sharing.

Millard cops to the fraternity fight that led to his brief incarceration in the Whitman County jail at the end of his junior season, but said it had nothing to do with pizza (other than a delivery guy was there). Instead, according to Millard, the fight broke out because he and his teammates weren’t welcome at a post-game party.

“It led to a bit of a scrap and I had to be disciplined for it,” Millard said. “I got some community service and a little time behind bars in the Colfax (Whitman) County jail. Coach Walden said it would be good for me to go through the process. It was a good lesson to be learned. Most of the rest that happened wasn’t serious, just some guys letting their hair down…

Millard went from winning the Pac-10's Morris Trophy during his time at WSU to becoming a first-round draft pick of the Vikings and the 1989 NFL defensive player of the year.

“You’re talking about 18- and 19-year old kids. And coming from the background I had, it could have been a lot worse, believe me… We were wild boys coming up from California and we needed to be tamed.”

MUCH HAS BEEN SAID AND WRITTEN about Millard’s anger issues, especially when he was young, but he prefers not to talk much about his upbringing.

“I had kind of a rough childhood,” he said briefly, noting he was one of 11 children.

A lengthy, 1991 Sports Illustrated feature on him details some of the tribulations with the family while focusing on his recovery from the devastating knee injury the year before that ultimately ended his career. Millard said the piece was a bit “embellished” and “dramatic” but that most facts were accurate.

Yes there were fights -- some on the football field and one of those led to the premature end of an already brief prep football career, just four games into his senior season. He still feels the coach who took over the program that year never liked him and had it in for him, souring college scouts who came swarming after a stellar junior campaign -- his first in a helmet and pads after focusing on soccer as a kid.

But when WSU assistant coach Pat “Golden” Ruel came to Pleasanton to scout another player, a teacher begged him to watch film on Millard. Ruel and Walden did just that and after visiting with other teachers and school counselors, decided to gamble on him.

“At the end of the day ... we felt we could at least give him a chance,” Walden said.

Many don’t remember that Millard had not played any defense in high school and was recruited as a tight end, the position he played for the Cougs as a freshman.

But sitting behind future All-American TE Pat Beach (who is joining Millard in this WSU Hall of Fame class) helped prompt Millard to pursue a switch to defense.

“They weren’t really throwing the ball and I thought if I was going to be that physical (as a blocking tight end), I’d rather be making plays on defense,” he said.

It was a talented freshman class that also included Ricky Turner, Eric Williams, Dan Lynch, Lee Blakeney, Milford Hodge and other notables who helped get the Cougars to the 1981 Holiday Bowl and back-to-back Apple Cup wins in 1982 and '83.

“We had a lot in common and we were hungry to play and be successful,”said Millard, who won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10’s top defensive lineman as a senior.

There were mentors among older teammates like Mike Walker, Ken Collins, Brian Flones -- Millard mentions their names by the dozen. And they are the memories he cherishes when you ask him about his Palouse days.

“I had great teammates,” he said.

And great coaches. While Walden proved to be a calming force, the intensity and lessons of line coach Del Wight stuck with Millard, so much so that he says everything he learned to be successful in football he learned at WSU.

“He was the best defensive line coach I ever had,” he said.

AFTER THE DEVASTATING KNEE INJURY, which Millard calls “the toughest time in my life” and the event that ultimately led him to retire after one last try with the Philadelphia EagLes in 1993, he fell into coaching at a high school in Arizona and found he had a penchant and passion for it.

He went on to coach college ball and for a number of years in the NFL with the Raiders, Buccaneers and, most recently, the Titans in 2013. He also finished his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education along the way.

Millard said his current coaching project is Keith Millard Jr., his 16-year-old son, a prep junior who checks in at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds and wears size 15 1/2 shoes.

His two oldest sons are out of college. Dustin, the oldest, didn’t play football -- Keith never pushed it on any of his kids, he notes -- but Johnny was a linebacker at Cal Poly and in training camp with the St. Louis Rams last month. Another son, Jack, is a redshirt freshman playing linebacker at Western State Colorado University. Mandy, the only girl, was a competitive cheerleader and is now in the Navy.

The youngest Millard, Kade, 10, also plays football. Keith says he keeps busy getting Kade and Keith Jr. to and from school and practices, and working magic in the kitchen with pot roast soup and homemade macaroni. He also cleans the house with a vengeance.

“Whatever I’m doing, I do it 110 percent, just like when I played and coached,” Millard said.

He said he was surprised when he received the phone call from Jason Gesser a few months ago about his Hall of Fame induction.

“It caught me off-guard, for sure,” he said. “It’s an honor.”

And one Millard can’t wait to share with former friends and teammates this weekend.

“It’s going to be like a reunion,” he said.

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