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SOU coaching great Mills, 92, dies

ASHLAND — Former Southern Oregon University football coach and athletic director Chuck Mills, a member of the schools Hall of Fame, died Monday in Hawaii. He was 92.

Mills coached the Raiders from 1980-88 and was inducted into the Hall in 2019.

Upon taking over a floundering Southern Oregon program that had turned in four consecutive losing seasons, Mills’ influence in Ashland turned into tangible results almost immediately.

His 1983 team won the NAIA District II championship — going 9-2 for the program’s first nine-win season and top-10 national ranking — and Mills was named district coach of the year as a result.

Under his watch in 1987, the 15th-ranked Raiders captured their first NAIA Championship Series victory with an upset of eighth-ranked Central Washington.

Mills left with a 48-40-1 record and six winning seasons, but his legacy at SOU outside of coaching is perhaps even more profound.

Within a year of his arrival, Mills dropped both the school’s offensive Native American mascot and “Red” from the Red Raiders moniker that was introduced in 1946.

A Mills-led fundraising drive later produced a new grandstand in 1983 and still stands today. Additionally, he helped the Raiders become charter members of the Columbia Football Association.

In Tuesday’s edition of The Japan Times, Mills was remembered as “one of the fathers of American football in Japan.”

His 1971 Utah State University team was the first college team to play in Japan, competing against a collegiate all-star team in Tokyo.

He returned three years later as head coach of Wake Forest University, and in 1985, he took Southern Oregon to Kobe, Japan, to play against Kwansei Gakuin University. A year later, KGU became the first Japanese team to compete on American soil when it traveled to Ashland.

Since 1974, the Chuck Mills Trophy has been awarded annually to the top college player in Japan.

Mills was a Chicago native and an alumnus of Illinois State University. His well-traveled career included a stint as administrative assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I and ended with a 9-2 mark in his lone season at Coast Guard in 1997.

In addition to SOU, Utah State and Wake Forest, he coached Pomona College, Indiana State and Merchant Marine. He had a 133-133-5 career record.

Chuck Mills. Photo from Southern Oregon University.