Former Bison coach Lincoln Phillips describes him as ‘the glue’ for the NCAA title team
Lincoln Phillips can chuckle at the thought today, but the task of wrangling the diverse personalities on his star-studded 1970s Howard University soccer teams was no laughing matter at the time. “You’re talking about trying to get Jamaicans and Trinidadians and Africans on the same page at the same time,” recalled Phillips, who coached at Howard from 1970-1980 and led the Bison to its first – and still only – NCAA Division I national championship in 1974.
Phillips’ Bison teams featured players from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Eritrea, Trinidad and Tobago, Ethiopia and Jamaica. While blessed with talent and a flair never before seen in America, it was Phillips, who was only a few years older than some of his players, who was tasked with bringing them together.
“That was no easy feat, and for a young coach at the time, you had to find creative and sometimes unconventional ways to get them to agree to come together,” said Phillips, who was 29 when he became head coach in ’70. “I couldn’t have been successful without the help and support from some wonderful people.”
Count Milton Miles Jr. among them; Miles, who was African-American, was Howard’s longtime athletic trainer and played a massive role in helping the Bison reach two NCAA Division I championships. He died this week at 87 after a long battle with bladder cancer, having served as Howard’s athletic trainer from 1970 until his in retirement in 2002.
“He was the athletic trainer for all of Howard’s teams,” said Marilyn Miles, his wife of 54 years. “But soccer was his favorite.”
Phillips, a former army sergeant in his native Trinidad and Tobago, was hardly short on discipline, but he soon learned that he needed more than that to create harmony – on and off the pitch.
“Milt helped me to understand and deal with potential chaos situations within our multitalented teams, because the players all loved and confided in ‘Uncle Milty,’ ” the coach recalled.
Ian Bain, who captained Phillips’ all-star 1974 team, agrees: “We spent so much time with him, in the tape room, in the world pool, on road trips – that in many ways he became was our gate-keeper. That made him really important to our existence. His consistence and constancy made him really important to us.”
Howard’s soccer exploits were told in the Spike Lee-executive produced documentary Redemption Song, which recalled the fast-paced and gripping tale of the 1971 and 1974 national championship-winning Bison teams that had to overcome issues – often racial – bigger than themselves to achieve greatness.
“Milt’s uncanny ability to analyze these tense and potentially explosive situations was a great asset to me as a coach,” continued Phillips, who compiled a 116-19 record as Howard’s coach and was enshrined in the Howard Athletic Hall of Fame, along with both teams, in September 2014. “He was the glue in all the Howard soccer teams – the comforter to all the players when they were down. He healed them physically and emotionally. He was a dear and close friend to me and the players and most of all, a consummate gentleman.”
Miles’ death is the third in recent years from that glorified era. Kenneth “Kendo” Ilodigwe, who scored the lone goal in the 1974 quadruple overtime thriller versus soccer power Saint Louis University, died last March. Keith “Bronco” Aqui, Howard’s goal-scoring forward and star on Phillips’ 1971 team, died in late 2016.
Miles is survived by his wife Marilyn; two children, Jenifer and Milton Miles III; and one grandson, Justin.
Originally published on theundefeated.com