In the middle of their summer afternoon practice, a hundred University of Akron football players gathered in a semi-circle and took a knee on the turf to hear from their school's new leader how important football is to him and his wife.

"She and I would not be married if I hadn’t agreed to go to the University of Mississippi spring game one day," Gary L. Miller said, gesturing to Georgia Nix Miller as she stood on the sideline behind him. "That was where she wanted to go on our first date."

The members of a football team are leaders on their campus in their community, and much is expected of them as a result, he said.

Then, like any new leader might, he provided some advice along with an offer of assistance.

"Hit 'em hard, and if you need me to come in and do a little coaching, I'll be glad to do that for you," he said.

The introduction Wednesday afternoon came just hours after the board of trustees named Miller president. Because the search process was closed and confidential, most of the campus got a first glimpse of Miller after his appointment. The closed process also meant the Millers had little time to get to know the campus before agreeing to uproot their lives from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Akron.

Miller, who is a biologist, said he attended an arachnology conference at UA, but that was in 2005. He was whisked in and out for the presidential interview process. His Akron tenure begins Oct. 1.

A few university administrators and the two student members of the board took the couple on a two-hour tour, by foot and golf cart, to see the campus and meet whoever was around during summer break.

They met office staff members, heads of departments and students, mostly fall-sport athletes who have already returned to campus for summer practices.

They discovered the lazy river in the recreation center, the popcorn machine in the president's suite at InfoCision Stadium and an art installation made of hanging tubular lights that change color when you walk underneath them.

They also discovered how excited people were to welcome them to campus after 15 months without a permanent leader.

The staff in the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education told him they cheered when the board of trustees voted to appoint him.

"The whole office was watching," said Kelly Chaff, a college program specialist in the department.

Chaff said the office appreciated that Miller's brief speech to the board was centered on students, and the future of the university.

"It's nice to hear about moving forward," she said.

In the lobby of the College of Engineering, Esther Wain-Weiss, director of graduate programs and administration, invited them back when students are in class.

"Come by any time," she said. "We'll give you a tour; there's lots to see."

The couple visited the increasingly popular esports gaming lab, where Nix Miller told the staff that her son, William Miller, is a game designer.

"I had no idea about this world," she said. "I'm learning about it through William."

At the rec center, the Millers greeted students there to work out as well as those working at the front desk. They stumbled upon the staff from the admissions office holding a retreat, and the president-elect took the opportunity to say a few words regarding their work.

"We don't want to interrupt you, because enrollment is important," Miller said to several laughs.

He offered his help and support, up to and including any phone calls they needed him to make to persuade someone to come to Akron.

"I've been on the campus now for a couple of hours," Miller said. "I really don't know why anyone would not want to come to school here."

Contact reporter Jennifer Pignolet at jpignolet@thebeaconjournal.com, 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.