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By Randy York
One of America’s most popular writers once said that 20 years from now you will never be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did do. “So throw off the bowlines,” Mark Twain advised. “Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore … Dream … Discover.” Twenty years from now, Tim Miles will be 65, and he would be the last man on earth not to try to achieve something that no Nebraska men’s basketball coach has ever done – Win a game in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
In the end, that’s why Miles accepted Tom Osborne’s offer to become Nebraska’s head basketball coach: To throw off the bowlines that have kept him under the radar and to sail away from the safe harbor of the best team he’s ever coached – the Colorado State Rams, which return most of their experience and firepower from this year’s NCAA Tournament team. Now that Miles has left that safe harbor, he can catch the trade winds in his South Dakota sails and explore the Big Ten, the nation’s best college basketball conference and, truth be told, a tough place to dream about breaking NU’s NCAA victory drought. Everything, of course, depends on Miles’ discovery of what life is like in a BCS Conference, where facilities are dramatically better, budgets are incredibly higher, pressure is unbelievably greater and tombstones are far more abundant than the levels Miles has coached in - the NAIA, NCAA Division II and the non-BCS regions of D-1.
With Lincoln’s downtown Pinnacle Bank Arena a year-and-a-half from completion and Nebraska’s first year in the Big Ten in its rear-view mirror, “I feel it’s a unique time for Nebraska basketball,” Miles said Saturday at his introductory press conference. “I don’t believe they’ve ever been poised like they are now.” Timing was critical element No. 1 in Miles’ decision to accept the job. “I see the things that haven’t worked in the past, but I know budgetary-wise that what I need, I can get,” he said. “Can I get the home games I need? Can I have practice at 3 and have the wherewithal to go recruit that night? From talking to Dr. Osborne, I have been assured those things are going to be in place.”
The only thing as important as timing in this hiring is the vision Miles shared when he met with Osborne and Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s executive associate athletic director and “right-hand man”. “If you can take four different programs that were pretty much flat on their backs and build them up as he has, it tells you something. I’m very impressed by his vision,” Osborne said of Miles at Saturday’s Hendricks Training Complex press conference. Never mind that the four programs Miles directed were Mayville State, Southwest Minnesota State, North Dakota State and Colorado State, none of which can be considered college basketball blue bloods. Still, “Coaching is coaching,” Osborne said. “Maybe I felt that way a little bit having played at a small college (in Hastings, Neb.). I’ve never been that impressed by all those other things.”
Vision, in this case, goes beyond a detailed discussion about the national AAU connections Miles can tap into while formulating a coaching staff to recruit quality players and compete in a league with the highest RPI ranking in college basketball. Vision also includes “winning the locker room” with in-state recruits and developing the trust of people who understand Nebraska’s unique culture and fondness for extraordinary work ethic. “I place a lot of confidence in people I know who care about Nebraska and whose judgment I value,” Osborne said. “Every one who knew Tim and knew Nebraska couldn’t have been more complimentary.”
So who were Miles’ most enthusiastic supporters? You would be surprised. One was Ndamukong Suh, the most decorated defensive player in college football history. Suh knew about Miles’ unique qualifications through a mutual friend. Former Nebraska coach Terry Pettit was another. Pettit, of course, put Nebraska volleyball on the national map. He now lives in Fort Collins and has worked one-on-one with Miles in national leadership classes. Miles also received high technical praise and personality endorsements from former Nebraska football defensive coordinator and now North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl, who coached a recent national championship team. A fourth personal reference was earned by Bill Doleman, a popular former Nebraska sportscaster who now works with the Mountain West Conference. Suh, Pettit, Bohl and Doleman are four highly respected professionals with Husker hearts, and all four strongly believe that Tim Miles is a perfect fit for a head basketball job that has not delivered a regular-season conference championship in six decades.
Miles knows the Big Ten footprint and wants to take a different approach to prove that the nation’s No. 1 winning football program in the last half century can compete nationally in basketball. Saturday, he was honest, witty, funny, engaging and without airs when he met the press and explained why he’s willing to tackle a job that even a Final Four-type of coach doesn’t seem comfortable taking on. Miles does not have delusions of grandeur. He knows how tough the task is. He also knows the importance of students who will set the atmospheric tone at basketball games, and he understands the support that he must earn from season ticket holders in their last year in the Devaney Center en route to their new game-day home in the downtown West Haymarket arena.
After exploring, dreaming and discovering everything he can about Nebraska, Tim Miles is ready to dig in and do the heavy lifting that’s required to turn around Nebraska basketball’s program. “Husker fans, give us a chance,” Miles said. “We’ve exceeded expectations everywhere we’ve been. I intend to continue to do the same, and I know what we’re dealing with.”
Miles also knows a certain Hall-Fame coach who’s a pragmatic man that he most wants to please. “I appreciate Dr. Tom Osborne for having the faith and the confidence in me to do this,” he said. “When Dr. Tom Osborne bets on you, you want to come through for him.”
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Voices from Husker Nation
Your articles are right on the mark regarding Tim Miles, and I was really excited to see Nebraska hire him. I was bred, born and raised a Husker fan, after graduating from Nebraska in 1976. I’ve lived in Marshall (Minnesota) for more than 30 years. Marshall is the home of SMSU. Tim was brought in at the ripe old age of 28 to breathe life into a struggling program. I’ll never forget the first game he coached. He looked more like a high school math whiz. He was small in stature and wore oversized glasses. I thought, oh boy, what have we got here? When Tim made his debut here, I sat right behind the bench with a good friend. Let’s just say I had the wrong impression about this guy. There was no question about who was in charge here. Tim made a quick believer out of me. What will surprise people about Tim is his ability to embrace the fans and enjoy every minute of it. Every week, we had a booster club lunch. Each coach would give a weekly recap during the season. I came to hear about the team, but I also came to be entertained by Tim. He could make a living as a standup comedian. He always had us in stitches. His energy and passion are real. It’s a great hire if they can keep him. John Pollock, Marshall, Minnesota
I couldn't agree more with your columns on Tim Miles. I was coaching at Northern State University when Tim earned his Master's Degree and stayed on as an assistant. Even as an assistant, and before he ever took a head coaching position, everyone on the staff could tell that this young man was going to go a long ways in the coaching profession. I've watched Tim's teams at Mayville State University and at SW State University and was always impressed with their style of play, their aggressiveness, and their never quit attitude. All of his teams reflect the attributes he brings to the programs he coaches. Dr. Osborne and his staff have hired a young man to coach Husker Basketball that truly reflects all that Husker Athletics stand for. Go Huskers!! Fran Hummel (former athletic director and now women’s golf coach at Hastings College), Hastings, Nebraska