Randy York's N-Sider
Nebraska men’s head basketball coach No. 27 makes his debut Wednesday night when the Huskers host Midland University in an exhibition game at the Devaney Center. He is so positive and hyperkinetic, so scrappy and driven and so feisty and cheerful that those who know him best are not surprised at all that one of the most motivating things in his life is a horse that hasn’t raced for eight years ... a mare that became a personal hero for him when he was head basketball coach at North Dakota State and, in all honesty, is an even more fitting metaphor for him now that he’s moved to Lincoln.
“I just thought that Smarty Jones was so cool in 2004 that I went online and bought one of his hats when he was making his run for the Triple Crown,” said Tim Miles, Nebraska’s new head basketball coach who was hired last March. “I could identify with the horse because we were trying to move from Division II to Division I at North Dakota State at the same time Smarty’s trainer had his first horse in the Kentucky Derby and won it. I thought that was so neat because I wasn’t even in Division I yet, but I knew what race would be my goal – the NCAA Tournament.”
Last March, as the head coach at Colorado State, Miles finally reached that goal, and he found it no small coincidence that his team was playing in Louisville, the home of the famous Derby. “I’ve worn that Smarty Jones hat periodically, but it was so ironic that we ended up in Louisville, I had to put it on again,” Miles said. “All of a sudden, it resonated with me again, and I thought there was more good karma because 10 days later, I got the Nebraska job, and Smarty Jones seems more appropriate for the Nebraska job than for anywhere else.”
Nebraska Zero-for-Forever in NCAA
For those who might ask why that would be true, the simple answer is so Miles and his team can end the most maddening March Madness fact in Nebraska basketball history ... the one where the Huskers are “0-for-forever” in terms of winning an NCAA Tournament game despite playing six times in “The Big Dance”. Even though Nebraska is just one of two BCS schools which have never won an NCAA Tournament contest, Miles is undaunted, thanks to his favorite racehorse.
“I think Smarty Jones is a fitting metaphor for the challenge we face, and that’s one big reason why I embrace the challenge of this job,” Miles said during a late-summer stretch that kept him hop-scotching across the country to recruit.
At the same time, Miles was so busy that he had a luncheon speaking engagement at Lincoln’s Kawasaki motorcycle plant and a feature dinner appointment that night addressing Lincoln TeamMates mentors at Lincoln’s Southwest High School. That daily double would not be considered such a big deal, but it all happened on the same August day that movers arrived at his new South Lincoln home.
Miles prefers talking about Smarty Jones over moving logistics. “Smarty’s such a unique thing, and I’m hoping it’s more good karma,” Miles said. “I’ve been in contact with his trainer. He’s volunteered more hats, and I’m going to take him up on that and try to get some Nebraska color to go with ‘em. I just feel that at Nebraska, we have a horse in the race because we’re trying to get into the NCAA Tournament, and like Smarty, once we get there, we want to win.”
Texts and Emails Precede Bedtime
The goal is so important and so pressing that Miles doesn’t mind supervising painters and contractors at his Lincoln home at the same time he’s “jogging back and forth” between Kansas City and Las Vegas on recruiting trips. His summer schedule was so continuously busy that it was not uncommon for Miles to shut down his texts and his emails to national recruits until 11 p.m. Central Time.
When an estimated 200 senior citizens listened to Miles address a “Men’s Health Night” at the Champions Club this summer, they got the full brunt of his passion. On a night of heavy thunderstorms outside the windows, Miles supplied plenty of electricity himself. He not only spoke as Nebraska’s newest head basketball coach, but also as a ticket salesman, a marketer, a fan and a recruiter. He worked the floor for 35 minutes and received several spontaneous bursts of applause. After Q&A, the ovation was even more robust.
It was another example of Tim Miles using his full communications range to win friends and influence people in a state that borders South Dakota, his home state and a region he insists has the same values, work ethic, attitude and sense of respect for others.
Wants Decisions to Last a Lifetime
“I view my obligation as a basketball coach as one where I serve the needs of our fans, our people, our students and our student-athletes especially,” Miles said. “First of all, I want to be well connected with our guys and bring them along so they do things the right way and grow up to make good sound decisions that will last a lifetime after they get their degree.”
Playing championship style basketball is as firmly imbedded in Miles’ mind as it is in his job description. “We want to get into the NCAA Tournament and then win games once we get there,” he said. “Those things all fit hand-in-hand, and they are all part of our daily process.”
Connecting with players requires being heavily involved in the recruiting process, and Miles takes that challenge to heart. “It is so important to be out there and be a front man for your program and your university,” he said. “You recruit these guys first-hand, so you know how they are, what they’re like and how they’ll fit into Lincoln, at the university and with our team.”
Supportive Fans Deserve ‘Hot Tickets’
Miles considers himself “very fortunate” because he believes he’s assembled a “very strong staff” of coaches. “They’re all guys who want to be here and be part of building a winner,” he said. “Nebraska fans forever have been ultra-supportive of all their athletic programs. Even during down times, they’ve been supportive of men’s basketball. If we can stoke that fire and if we can build a winner, I think that fan base will become even more intense and we can become a hotter and hotter ticket in town.”
Wherever he goes or whoever he meets, Miles doesn't know why that cannot happen.
“When you look at a place like Nebraska, there is no pro culture. Nebraska’s it for the fans who want to support a winner,” Miles said. “They expect that they’re going to come out and get a winner, and that is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish for them.”
For Miles, it all starts when you win the locker room. “We have to recruit guys who are invested in being here and who want to build this program,” he said. “With our fans, it’s making the investment to be a great home team.”
'The Devaney' Needs to Rock this Winter
How can fans be a great home team? “We make the Devaney Center and then the Pinnacle Bank Arena the most difficult place to play in the Big Ten Conference,” Miles said. “That’s where we have to start, and it’s my job to get around and rally the troops and get the kind of players who want to invest that way. We also have to make sure our fans know that we’re trying to build it the right way. We’re asking them to participate and to help us out in this process because it’s going to take everybody to get it done.”
Having one of the best daily homes in all of college basketball is a great place to start. “The Hendricks Training Complex is a big part of the recruiting process,” Miles said. “That’s why I’m texting and emailing all the time. You do whatever you can to connect with these guys and get our product out and get them on campus as quickly as we can. We want players here, so we can show them what we’re about and how they can have the opportunity to make an impact and build a winner.”
Miles has been a pivotal force for national media who believe in his track record of turning around three previous college programs with infinitely larger roadblocks. Miles’ impact is being well publicized, and even Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo asked Nebraska’s new head coach if he could fly from Las Vegas to Kansas City on NU’s chartered plane this summer to reach the same tournament.
Nebraska is on Solid Recruiting Ground
Call it the fine art of showing one of the nation’s most prominent coaches a sense of camaraderie or, perhaps, a sense of confidence in his own abilities, but Miles offered up a quick one-word answer: “Sure!”
Miles sees Nebraska sitting on solid recruiting ground, now and well into the future.
“It’s a pretty cool moment when all the upper personnel and all the decision-makers from a franchise as storied as the Chicago Bulls comes into your facility in Lincoln and says ‘This is a model for us to build our own practice facility,’” Miles said. “I think that means the Hendricks was very well done by our donors, our contractors, our architects and our administration. They were all on the same page and really worked together to build an unbelievable place, and I’m proud to come to work here every single day.”
Winning a Tall Order and Won’t Be Easy
Make no mistake. Winning at Nebraska is a tall order, especially when a new head coach loses four senior starters from a team that was never in contention in its first season in the Big Ten. Recruiting, of course, becomes pivotal to a turnaround. “I think we’re getting a lot of top-notch prospects that are very capable of being excellent players in the Big Ten Conference and major college basketball,” Miles said. “I think we have a lot to offer to just about anybody who’s interested in being at the University of Nebraska.
“The schedule was basically set and probably reflects the state of our program,” Miles added. “We’re in a rebuild, and we don’t intend to be there for long. That’s the goal – to get in and out of this stage as quickly as possible.” According to Miles, the Huskers will play the only style he knows how to coach. “Our style is to find a way to be in position to win every night,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re sound defensively, hard to guard offensively and that we’re a team that’s on the attack.”
However Nebraska goes about doing that and whatever specific schematic the Huskers use can change. “In terms of plays, I expect we will run a lot of motion and ball screen motion, which is very popular and something we used a lot last year at Colorado State,” he said. “We need to learn how to position ourselves to win basketball games, and it’s my job to figure that out on annual basis.”
Miles Asking Fans to Take a Leap of Faith
Miles is passionate on a daily basis, and he’s asking Husker fans to show their passion by taking a leap of faith and betting on the future of Husker men’s basketball.
“Any time you’re in a situation, even in recruiting, there’s a bit of a leap of faith,” he said. “You have to get your message out there and deliver it as simply as you can, and that’s what I’ve been doing since last March when I accepted the head job here.”
Realizing many fans must see results before they buy in, Miles asks Big Red fans to be a big part of Nebraska bouncing back and getting competitive again. “There's no doubt about how much we need people to make that leap of faith, but I think it’s a leap worth taking,” Miles said. “I’m asking our fans to join me, so we can get this thing done ... together.”
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