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It’s been two weekends now since Nebraska held a press conference announcing Tim Miles as its new head basketball coach ... two weeks for Miles to fly so fast that even his new assistant coaches have seen mostly just a blur of the man who hired them because he’s racing through a hotel lobby at the Final Four or sprint-walking outside with his cell phone pressed against his ear, setting up private interviews to fill that final position on his new coaching staff.Tim Miles is a walking billboard of hyper-media, hyper-focus, hyper-hope, hyper-inspiration and yes, hyper-fear. “I’m Catholic. I live in fear, worry and doubt,” Miles joked at his press conference, acknowledging the skeptics who question his hiring. But he punctuated that statement with four quick-hitting words that describe who he is and what he’s all about. “Come and join me,” Miles said, inviting Big Red fans everywhere to jump aboard and join the journey as he uses nearly every waking moment to achieve two primary goals etched into his hyper-kinetic mind: 1) Qualify for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and 2) Win a game in that tournament, so Nebraska can trash the most maddening fact in their March Madness vocabulary: Going 0-for-forever.
Instead of dwelling on a negative, Miles pledges his allegiance to Big Red fans, calling them phenomenal and insisting that they’re a critical ingredient in his recipe to turn around a program that not only has one of the nation’s best practice facilities, but also is preparing to move into one of the nation’s best game-day facilities 18 months from now.
Tom Osborne hired Miles because he liked his track record of taking three basketball programs from nowhere to relevance, and he liked his strategic plan on how to achieve results at a much higher level. We all know how difficult the reclamation will be. The Big Ten Conference had the nation’s highest Ratings Percentage Index this past season while sending four teams to the Sweet 16 – Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Purdue.
Miles Tells His Players: No Whining
Osborne and Miles know rebuilding projects of this magnitude take time, patience and the kind of energy Miles shows every day when he wakes up. In the midst of the brand-spanking new construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in the West Haymarket Area, Tim Miles will be the Chief Reconstruction Officer of a men’s team that will join a rock-solid women’s program already blessed with a firm foundation. Miles puts on a hard hat every day, even on Good Friday when he becomes a last-minute speaker at a Huskers Athletic Fund Luncheon. He gets a standing ovation the second he's introduced and gains everyone's attention when he tells donors how he’s already clamping down on a team-wide policy that demands absolutely no whining.
It’s another example of how a 45-year-old head coach emerges from the shadows of Colorado State and into the glaring spotlight of a conference that has led the nation in basketball attendance for more than 3½ decades. Miles’ small army of supporters has crossed paths with him while recruiting, coaching or watching him from afar. They are not surprised by the fervor he takes into restoring, regenerating, reorganizing and remodeling a program that would fully embrace a refresh button that can take the Huskers to the middle of the Big Ten pack.
Miles lights up a room the minute he walks into one. He’s made happiness a habit and learned how to laugh when pressure reaches its peak. Tim Miles is proof positive that continuous cheerfulness is contagious. His confession of living in fear, worry and doubt flies in the face of the emotional armor he wears every day when he’s smiling, solving problems and digging for wise treasures to share. He takes happiness to a state that goes well beyond the mind.
To reinforce our thoughts and conclusions, we take you into the heads and hearts of those who know Tim Miles best – his mom, his dad, his wife, plus a brother and a sister, all of whom made the trip from South Dakota to Lincoln two weekends ago for their son’s/husband’s/brother’s press conference that officially introduced him as Nebraska head basketball coach No. 27.
Parents: Early Signs of Hyperactivity
Norbert (Tip) Miles, 85, and Alyce Miles, 80, are the parents of Tim, the youngest of their five children. We asked mom what makes Tim special. “Well, he was .... how can I say it?” she said, posing another question before answering it. “He was well … maybe ADHD, or however you say that.” She laughs out loud before continuing to discuss what the entire family believes is a classic case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, one of the most common childhood psychiatric conditions in the United States ... a disorder that continues to manifest itself in Tim Miles as an adult.
“They didn’t know anything about that then, but we should have known because he was constantly shooting a basketball when he was little,” his mom said. “He drove us nuts, really. He was just hyper. He would never watch TV like the rest of us. It was just basketball all the time ... basketball, basketball, basketball. Even when he started playing in grade school, he was always telling the other players what to do. You know, when you really stop and think about it, Tim’s been a coach since he was a little kid, and we’ve talked about that. He’s figured it all out.”
Growing up, Miles always was a better coach than he was a player. He was a bench-warmer at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., and thank heavens for that because the experience helped him identify his skill sets and hone them with teammates. If it wasn’t going to happen on the court, he figured he could become a master strategist and a master motivator. The whole process played to his strengths instead of his weaknesses.
“In grade school, he talked all the time,” his mother said, recalling a meeting with his third or fourth-grade teacher who said she had to put Tim’s desk in the back of the room. Looking directly at a disappointed mother, she said: “You know he talks all the time, don’t you?” she asked.
Miles Simply Couldn't Sit Down Either
“Well, make him shut up,” Alyce Miles replied. “Put him up in front of the class. Maybe that’ll help him shut up.”
That forced an equally disappointed teacher to deliver more discouraging news. Looking at Alyce, she said: “I can’t do that because he won’t even sit down. You do know that he stands at his desk to do all his work, don’t you?”
“He stands at his desk?” his mother asked.
“Well yes,” the teacher explained. “He can’t sit down. He just won’t do it.”
Talk about discouragement and disillusionment. “Honestly,” his mom said after Tim’s press conference, “I went home that day and just said to myself: ‘Oh, my gosh, what are we going to do now?’”
In his press conference, Tim told the media that he wasn’t very smart and, in fact, ranked seventh in a graduating class of 13 in tiny Doland, S.D.
“Don’t believe that,” said Tip, his dad, after the press conference.
“Believe it,” Tim said after hearing what his dad said. “It’s true.”
Every Teacher Knew Tim Was Bright
Whatever the class ranking was, it was not reflective of Tim’s intelligence. It was more reflective of the condition his condition was in.
“Every teacher he had would tell us how bright he was,” his mom said. “I guess he just wouldn’t put the work in that was required. I think for so many years, he was too busy being the class clown.”
He was funny, and everyone knew it.
“He had a classmate who didn’t exactly help matters any,” his dad said. “It wasn’t until his senior year that Tim really started to get serious about school. He realized he had to change if he was going to realize his dreams.”
Both parents laugh when asked to share their favorite stories of Tim. “There are too many and most of them, we wouldn’t be able to tell you,” his dad said. “But you know what? He was a good kid. He was president of the student body, and everyone voted on that.”
His mom is more forthcoming. “Tim aggravated some teachers,” she said, “because he was a little smart aleck and was a real challenge to them. At the same time, he was loved by the student body, and the little kids loved him because he would always pay attention to them. He was always finding different ways to encourage them and inspire them.”
Great Escape: From School to Home
Hearing his wife’s wisdom, Tip Miles decides to tell a story. “Tim will kill me, but I’m going to tell it anyway,” he said, explaining how finicky of an eater a hyper kid can be. “He has the most unusual appetite you’ve ever seen or heard about in your life,” his dad said while his wife nods her head, knowing the explanation to follow. “He would eat pizza, pizza or pizza. Sometimes, if you really pressed him, he’d eat ravioli.”
The problem was Tim Miles, the kid who wouldn’t stop talking and couldn't sit down, also refused to eat in the school’s lunch room. He would go home for lunch period, even though it was against school regulations. Finally, Alyce felt so guilty, she decided to see the superintendent, a former coworker of her husband’s, and acknowledge the problem. She asked the school’s top administrator what she could do to correct the problem.
“I know Tim’s going home, Alyce, and the teachers are having fun trying to catch him,” the superintendent said. “It’s okay if he goes home for lunch. Just make sure he doesn’t go downtown and gets back to class on time.”
Whenever a teacher would try to block a door, Tim had a solution and found a different way out of the building. He never got in trouble for doing what he did, most likely because everyone knew that underneath every great escape was a heart that beat for others.
“Tim’s a Christian, very devout, and I’m very proud of that,” his mom said. “When he called dad and me about the Nebraska job, Tim said: ‘I want to know how you folks feel about it before I take it.’ And I said: ‘Well, Tim, you’re a man. It’s your decision.’”
Tip followed that tip with another one: “Follow your heart, son,” he said. “Go wherever it leads you. We’ve always said that.”
Mom added one more word: “Pray,” she told Tim. “We’ll pray for you, and you pray for you and your family.”
Tim answered. “I have,” he said, “and I will continue to pray.”
Brother: Tim is All about Devout Faith
“Tim’s a devout Catholic, and a big part of that comes from the University of Mary,” his mom said. “He prayed and chose to go there when all the rest of our kids went to Northern (S.D.), except for our oldest (Karin), who went to Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner is her ring tone). But, you know, Tim didn’t want to follow in their footsteps. He wanted to make his own way, create his own path. He loved the student recruiter from the University of Mary. He admired him, and he was wonderful. Tim took a leadership course at Mary, and even he will say that he got a lot out of that.”
Tip and Alyce have no idea how their son developed a relationship with Ndamukong Suh or Terry Pettit, but they suspect it’s an outgrowth of his leadership. “He’s a mixer,” his dad said. “My son-in-law in Aberdeen (S.D.) came to me and told me: ‘That darn Tim. He’s only been here a year, and every time he walks down the street, everyone he sees wants to shake his hand. That’s why I follow him … so they’ll notice me, too.’”
Alyce Miles laughs when Tip delivers the punch line. “Tim likes people,” she said, “and when you like people, they like you.”
Kari Miles, the sprinter who competed at Northern State University when Tim was a graduate assistant basketball coach there, is the opposite personality of her husband’s. She’s confident, but in a quiet, more measured kind of way.
“Tim’s always on the move,” she said. “He can’t stand still. He just has to constantly be on the move. I tell him all the time that he has ADHD, but he also has an infectious personality and such a hard work ethic to go with it. He will work until all hours of the night, and it doesn’t stop. He’s all about hard work and dedication. He just has that type of personality. When he walks in a room, you can see fairly quickly that he owns it.”
Wife: Controlled Chaos Part of the Gig
Kari laughs, admitting: “I’m one of those who fell for his infectious personality. I’m still digesting this (accepting the Nebraska challenge). It all happened so fast. It’s not easy to put it all together. It’s been a whirlwind, but it is part of the gig. As a coach’s wife, I always say, 'It’s not for the weak, and it’s not for the sane' because it’s a different world. Life in coaching is almost always controlled chaos, but it’s going to be fun.”
Kevin Miles, 49, is Tim’s older brother. He lives and works for the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls as director for stewardship and communications. “I’ve been working for the church since 1988,” he said. “Being Catholic is a big part of who I am and who Tim is, and it’s very important to him. It’s important to his children, who are in Catholic schools. It’s something we learned from our parents. You’ll see that in Tim’s work, in his dedication and in what he’s doing. He will continually grow and continually get stronger.”
Tim is close to his brother. “When he sent a text to me and then called, I said ‘You’re in our prayers.’ And Tim said, ‘Thanks. I need them. This is crazy. It’s going fast.’ That’s a part of who Tim is and a part of our family. We pray for each other all the time.”
Kevin said drive is Tim’s greatest strength. “When I was a senior in high school, standing at the free throw line for the district championship, I missed the front end of a two-shot free throw,” Kevin recalled. “I looked over at the bench, and our coach wasn’t looking at me. But there was Tim, a freshman at the end of the bench. He was sitting there waving his hands and telling me to get more of my wrist into the shot and get that gooseneck. He was coaching then, and he was coaching well before that. He just has that drive to help others get better. He has that desire to inspire.”
Statistics Important for One Reason Only
Like the athletic director who hired him, “Tim loves numbers,” his brother said. “He loves statistics so he can know and then say: ‘Here’s what we can do here, and here’s what we do can here.’ He’s continually throwing his mind around it and how WE can succeed, how we can better ourselves and how we can better the team. For Tim, it’s always about the whole and not one person. That’s how he always was and still is.”
Tim Miles was that way when he was the starting quarterback in his last two years of high school. “The football coach used to come over, and they would work out plays,” Kevin recalled. “In Doland, we weren’t very successful in football, but Tim was always trying to be better. Everyone always wanted Tim to sit down, but he always had to be moving, even if it was around his desk. That’s just the way he is. He was coaching me when I was four years older. We’d challenge each other and fight like cats and dogs and pound on each other. He would always cry uncle, and when I’d start to let him up, he say ‘I didn’t mean it’ and he’d start right back at it. I would get him to the point of tears and hear him cry, but I never saw him give up on anything.”
Karin Wiese, 56, is a special education teacher in Sioux Falls. She’s the oldest of the five Miles children, and Tim is the youngest by 11 years. “Tim thinks he’s still 18-years-old, and he is … in his head,” Karin said two weekends ago as she prepared to get in a car after her little brother’s press conference and official “Cornhusker christening”.
“Tim thinks that he can do anything,” Karin said. “He’s like the Energizer bunny. He just keeps going and going and going. I’ve seen it forever. I was kind of the second mom around our household and yes, I changed Tim’s diapers.”
Karin most remembers Tim’s plastic basketball and the hoop on the family’s front door in Doland. “I mean, we’d wake up in the morning, and Tim would be slam-dunking that ball when he was 6 and 7-years-old,” she said. “One morning, I came down, and I grabbed that ball. I opened the front door, and I threw that ball in the street, hoping that a car would run over it and ruin it, so I would never have to see it again.”
The Kid and The Man Will Never Give Up
You can probably guess how that situation turned out. When little Tim came down the stairs and realized that his oldest sister had thrown away his little plastic ball, he bolted out the front door and retrieved that little ball. It was, after all, every bit as important to him as that sacred volleyball Tom Hanks called Wilson – his constant companion on a deserted island in the movie Castaway. Ever since that day Karin threw her little brother's ball into the street, no one can remember Tim without a basketball in his still fidgety hands. And judging by the pace he’s already established in his first two weeks on the Nebraska job, that’s not likely to change any time soon.
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