Former SUNY New Paltz coach survives alligator attack
KINGSTON, N.Y. — It only took a few minutes to turn Al Miller’s life upside down.
The former SUNY New Paltz, Hartwick College and U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame coach was attacked by an alligator while playing the 15th hole of a golf tournament last month at Lake Ashton Golf and Country Club, a 55-and-older community where he and his wife Dotty live in Lake Wales, Fla.
The attack came as longtime soccer coach Miller, 75, had turned to walk away after briefly searching for his lost ball in a greenside pond.
“It was a 225-yard carry of the water to the green,” Miller said during a phone interview from Florida. “I overcooked it and it went left.”
His playing partner, Ted Price, told him it probably went in the water, so Miller went to check if the ball was retrievable. He didn’t immediately find his ball and didn’t want to take too long and disrupt the pace of play.
“I got my ball retriever and didn’t see my ball,” Miller said. “My partner was playing out of his mind and I was playing well and I didn’t want to delay play, so I started walking away.”
“I was one step from the green when this thing just flew out of the water. I thought I stepped on a hot wire, it hurt so much. He lifted me up three feet and threw me down.”
Miller yelled, which drew the attention of Price and his two opponents, Les Towns and Carroll Setzer, who saw that a 9-foot, 190-pound alligator had Miller by the left leg and was pulling him toward the water. The three men immediately came to Miller’s aid as a tug-of-war ensued.
“I thought, ‘There goes my leg,’ but we were fighting like hell,” Miller said. “I could feel the water coming up over my shorts.”
Miller was in the water up to his belt buckle trying desperately not to be pulled under when the alligator inexplicably released him. Continued...
“They slid me up on the green,” Miller said of his playing partners. “It was bleeding like hell. I could see the gator watching.”
Price ran and got his golf cart and a player in another group gave them a clean towel to wrap his knee, which was bleeding profusely. The alligator had nicked his saphenous vein and clawed his other leg, but left his cartilage and tendons intact. Trappers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission quickly located and caught the alligator, which was being fed — in violation of state law — and had lost its natural inclination to avoid humans.
“He missed my femoral artery by two centimeters or I would have bled to death,” Miller said. “I never lost consciousness or went into shock. Angels were looking over and took care of me.”
The foursome saved time by having the ambulance meet them at the main entrance, which is a mile and a half from the clubhouse, and even farther from where the attack took place.
One of the players went and got Miller’s wife.
Miller needed about 40 stitches to close the wound before being sent home. But after a few days, things weren’t getting better and Miller had to return to the hospital. “Over the weekend, it kept swelling up and was turning blue,” Miller said.
He had gotten a strain of bacteria from the alligator, which resulted in what Miller called “a giant-sized hematoma” that was bursting with blood. Cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon C. Jake Lambert of the Bond Clinic opened, cleaned and packed the wound, likely saving Miller’s leg.
“He was a genius,” Miller said. “I got great care.”
Miller coached and taught at SUNY New Paltz from 1961-68, compiling a 42-10-2 record on the soccer field and winning both the State University of New York Athletic Conference and NCAA College Division Atlantic championships in 1965. He went on to compile a 61-12-3 mark at Hartwick College, where he made six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
He was the first American-born coach to lead his team to a North American Soccer League (NASL) championship, with the Philadelphia Atoms in 1973, and also coached the Dallas Tornadoes, Calgary Boomers and Tampa Bay Rowdies. He coached the U.S. Men’s National team for two games in 1975. Continued...
Miller was the general manager of two Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) teams in Cleveland, the Force and the Crunch, winning three championships and losing in the finals five times during a 10 year-run.
He was inducted into the SUNY New Paltz Athletics Hall of Fame in 1982 and joined both the U.S. Soccer and Hartwick Halls in 1995. He is also the author of a popular soccer techniques book, “Winning Soccer.”
Miller said he still occasionally gets asked to speak or consult on the sport, but he usually turns those opportunities down.
“I had 40 years in it,” Miller said cheerfully. “That’s enough.”
After two weeks in the hospital, Miller is home recovering and getting better every day, but having trouble dealing with being inactive.
“So far, so good,” Miller said. “The infection has been gone for 20 days. I’m sleeping, I walked a half a mile this morning and I lost about 18 pounds, which I probably could afford.”
“The biggest thing I’m fighting is boredom. I’m used to playing golf 5-6 days a week. I miss my buddies.”
His doctors have cleared him to do whatever he feels he can.
“They’re letting me putt and chip,” Miller said. “I don’t think I’m going to play tennis and racquetball again, but I’m optimistic. I think I’m going to get back to normal.”
He won’t be completely “normal” until he gets back to taking a full swing with a golf club, which could be a total of eight weeks. He’s trying to be patient while the wound heals. Continued...
See inaccurate information in a story? Other feedback and/or ideas for us to consider? Tell us here.
Central New York Region Sports By Bleacher Report
Location, ST | website.com
Athletes of the Week
National Sports Videos
Top Sports Stories
Recent Activity on Facebook
Sports editor Ron Rosner talks about the local and national sports scene.
New Paltz coaches blog their team's progress throughout the year.
Keep up to date with the resort's latest news, photos, events and other details.