How Trust, Togetherness Moved a Mountain
Randy York's N-Sider
Last Friday night, 50 former Husker basketball players listened to Tim Miles talk for an hour inside Pinnacle Bank Arena, where Nebraska has won seven straight Big Ten games and all seven of its Season One non-conference games. Miles was standing in a makeshift pulpit in PBA’s Club Lounge, enabling letterwinners and their guests from seven decades to see his sparkle and the oomph he had to welcome everybody back to Lincoln. Miles couldn’t wait to tell the story about a new era for Nebrasketball, and once he launched into that epic, everyone listened and laughed and learned things that very few other head coaches in any sport would be willing to share.
Even though he had to be worn-out from preparation and the inherent pressure that goes with that, Miles showed no sign of fatigue. He had enthusiasm, energy, and insight. He was funny, incisive, and motivational. "He had the get-up-and-go that made me want to get up and go myself, and I played in the 1960s," said Nebraska basketball Hall-of-Famer Willie Campbell, who flew from Seattle to Lincoln to hear Miles speak and wave to Big Red fans at halftime. Miles was so open and so honest, he made every player who came to Lincoln on Legends Weekend feel like they were part of the family. When you dig as deep as Miles did explaining what the Huskers had to do to beat Northwestern, then Indiana and then Wisconsin to play their way into the NCAA Tournament, you know this is one man on a historic mission. Somehow, because he could start with the end in mind, Miles was able to present precise single-game snapshots that painted the portrait in his mind. In other words, he wasn’t getting ahead of himself. He was merely explaining how one important chapter in this crazy game has to happen before you can turn the page and move on to the next. I call it Tim Miles’ version of Great Expectations.
Motto ‘Us Always’ About Trust, Togetherness
It was an intriguing hour to connect Miles’ quick-thinking mind into the hearts of legends. He described the culture and constantly reinforced it. Teamwork is paramount in his leadership structure. The biggest proof point was asking each member of his inner sanctum to introduce himself before the head coach represented the way they coach, think and act. If you’ve ever wondered why the Huskers wear “Us Always” as a motto on their adidas pregame warm-up shirts, wonder no more. A team that was once 9-9 after a loss at Penn State searched its collective soul while media members privately tried to figure out if Nebraska could win three more games this season after opening Big Ten play with a 1-5 record. The bottom line? Nebraska needed an extreme makeover. Miles knew trust and togetherness would be critical, so he empowered his players to decide how they could achieve those important goals. Attitude became front and center and chemistry was close behind. To a man, they bought into Us Always. “Coach honestly believes that if it’s not Us Always, it’s Us Never,” said Teddy Owens, the Nebraska men’s basketball administrative coordinator who was in charge of Legends Weekend. “When we click on all cylinders, something special is going to happen. We’re still a work in progress, but it’s been enjoyable to see the pieces starting to come together. Guys buy in and guys step up.”
Make no mistake. Tim Miles hardly considers himself to be the magician who pulls a rabbit out of a hat. He isn’t and doesn’t want to be a one-man show. That’s why he asked eight critical members of his team to explain their respective roles in helping the Huskers adjust their sails and get Nebraska moving in a positive direction again. Assistants Chris Harriman, Craig Smith and Kenya Hunter went first, followed by director of operations Jayden Olson, strength coach Tim Wilson, Owens, video coordinator Gregory Eaton and associate media relations director Shamus McKnight. Miles praised each member of his team, then delivered an animated talk interwoven with Saturday Night Live-like quips, quotes and anecdotes. Yes, the presentation was funny, but it was mostly an honest inside look at a program that wants to be nationally relevant and has a plan to do just that. A small-town guy with a big-time heart, Tim Miles dreams B1G. He also shares B1G. Since everyone’s still on the ground floor of this new escalator, Miles not only defines the challenges, but also describes game plans, shares hopes, explains dreams, and in the process, accomplishes his goals to win friends and influence people.
Great Plan, Great Passion = Great Performance
Tim Miles has a great plan. He has great passion, and he expects great performance now, not next year or the year after. To Miles, the future is now. If anybody can pull off a miracle after being picked to finish 12th and starting 0-4 in the conference, Tim Miles is the guy for one fundamentally simple reason – he says what he believes and believes what he says. It’s time to ask N-Siders the same question Al Michaels once asked: Do you believe in miracles? If so, perhaps you see Nebraska upsetting No. 9 Wisconsin (AP) Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. inside Pinnacle Bank Arena. Even without such a pivotal win, Nebraska replaced California to become one of the “last 5 in” the Big Dance, according to USA Today’s online NCAA Tournament Bracketlogy. Check out Lee Barfknecht’s lead for his Nebraska-Indiana game story in the Omaha World-Herald: “Dear NCAA men’s basketball selection committee: Does going into one of the college game’s hallowed houses of hoops, never trailing and winning by 10 points in the first week of March, get your attention? How about nine wins in the past 11 games? Or holding an eighth straight opponent to less than 38 percent shooting? Or moving into fourth place alone in the Big Ten?”
All-time Nebraska scoring leader Dave Hoppen represented NU basketball legends at the Northwestern game.
Game Reminded Miles of Watching CBS as a Kid
Beating Indiana 70-60 wasn’t a Tim Miles win. It was a program win, one that gave Nebraska’s second-year head coach goose bumps. "I got chills watching practice tape because the angle we filmed reminded me of watching games on CBS when I was younger," Miles said. "I got goose bumps thinking, 'Holy Cow, we're really here' That tells you how we feel about Indiana. I tried to stay in the moment and just coach our guys, but it means a lot. These guys are very committed to Nebraska basketball.
"The re-invention of Husker basketball started a couple years ago when we left the Big 12 for the Big Ten, which is the premier basketball conference in the country," Miles said. "When you look at the crowd, the team support, the Hall-of-Fame coaches, it's just unbelievable. The second thing that led to the reinvention was the facilities and lastly, the third thing was great administrative support to go out and bring in the right recruits. Now our kids have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament."
Beating Wisconsin Would Lead to More Bandwagons
Indeed. If Nebraska upsets Wisconsin Sunday night, there won’t be enough band wagons to go around. You have to love the way Miles was willing to share his pregame speech for the Indiana Hoosiers who were forced to celebrate Senior Night in front of thousands of disappointed fans after the game. Miles said his speech went like this: "Guys, it's our time. We're going to reap what we've sown. We've already done the Andy Dufesne of 'Shawshank Redemption'. We've crawled through our river. Those days are behind us. That's not who we are anymore. We're on the other side, so let's just enjoy this. We're stronger together." For those who haven’t seen the movie, Dufresne (played by actor Tim Robbins) was a successful banker who was wrongly convicted of murder and spent 19 years in Shawshank Prison before successfully escaping through a working sewer pipe and coming out clean. All they found of Andy was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap and an old rock hammer. If you want to know what the rock hammer was for, rent the movie. It’s a classic that you think is about to end in four or five different places.
Collins Hoping Huskers Qualify for NCAA Tournament
If Miles can use metaphors to describe the stuff his team had to swim through to get to where the Huskers are now, let the record show why credibility is building for this emerging team, which picked up another important believer last Saturday in Lincoln. After losing a second close game to Nebraska, Northwestern Coach Chris Collins mentioned how much respect he has for Coach Miles and his team. "They play really hard,” Collins said. “They're very physical. It was my first time coming to Lincoln. What a cool atmosphere to play college basketball. Walking around that (Nebraska) floor, seeing all that red and seeing the energy and the hunger in the crowd was a really cool thing. Even though we lost, it was a really fun game to be a part of because of the atmosphere and the way both teams were competing."
Collins was asked if he thinks Nebraska should be in the NCAA Tournament. "I hope so," he said. "They're a good team and they're confident. That's what I like about them. They carry themselves with the swagger of being a good team. Coach Miles, I respect the heck out of him. You get a chance to see it when you watch a lot of film and study these teams. These guys are well-prepared. They play hard. They're locked in defensively. They play physical. I hope they make it. I want teams in our league to make the tournament and do well. You want to win when you're in battle with them, but at the end of the day, I'd love to see these guys rewarded. Hopefully, they can finish the season strong and have a chance to go to the tournament."
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Voices from Husker Nation
Thanks for the inside look at Coach Miles and the way he connects with people around him. I've heard him speak. He inspires everyone, including fans. Dr. Osborne found a diamond in the rough. It's hard to imagine how far ahead of schedule this turnaround already is. Beat Wisconsin! Rich Johnson, Omaha, Nebraska
I believe in miracles every time I listen to Tim Miles on the radio and watch his videos on Huskers.com. He has it together, and so does his team. Go Huskers. Greg White, Overland Park, Kansas
Great article. I hope Coach Miles finds some players in Nebraska like he did when he was at Colorado State. Dale Vanlengen, Hastings, Nebraska