Tim Miles has been introduced as the new head coach of Nebraska basketball signing a seven year deal paying $1.4 million per year. Good work if you can get it. He comes to Lincoln after building a Colorado State program into a contender in the Mountain West Conference. He took over a program that returned only 2 players (2!) and had to piecemeal a roster together just to field a team. That team only won 7 games, none in conference play, though they did grab one in the conference tournament defeating Wyoming. I’m sure that went over well in Laramie.
Over the next four seasons, he steadily built a program that finally qualified for the NCAA tournament this season making the dance as an at large selection as an 11 seed. They fell to the Murray State Racers in the second round of the tournament.
Nebraska will be Miles’ fifth head coaching position. He took NAIA school Mayville State (Yeah, I’ve never heard of it either) to conference titles before moving on to Southwest Minnesota State (Another one hadn’t heard of that one) and building that into a Division 2 power and making an Elite 8 run in 2001. Miles moved to North Dakota State from there. His first year, 2002, they finished 8th. Two years later they finished 3rd, oh, and they made the move to Division 1 after that season. In the 2004-05 season, they played as an independent and had only 8 games vs. D1 competition. They lost all of them, but they went 16-4 vs the rest of their competition. Two years later after leading the Bison to a 20-6 record including what was his signature win up to that point over #9 Marquette, he made the jump to Colorado State.
The news of Nebraska’s courtship of Miles Friday afternoon with rumors that he had shown up in Lincoln and toured the facilities. The news of such developments were met with a collective thud. Nebraska basketball fans had talked themselves into the certainty that John Groce, the Ohio Bobcat wunderkind currently making an impressive run through March, would be brought in and, as Gregg Doyle of CBS Sports said, "money-whip".
Well, it looks like that’s not going to happen, at least not with Groce. Miles will be paid a pretty significant chunk of change. I’d take that salary for seven years. The problem is, Nebrasketball, with its shiny new toys and all, does not carry the same cache that the football program does. The move from Athens, Ohio to Lincoln, Nebraka is a lateral one at best, or at least that’s how it’s viewed in the college basketball community and head coaches who are viewed as the next big thing. Why would you jump from your mid major school that you’ve got in the Sweet 16 in the middle of one of the most talent rich areas of the country to a program that has no population base from which to draw talent and even less tradition? Groce, probably rightly, feels he can get a bigger, or at least more prestigious gig by waiting. Or maybe he takes the Illinois job, which is a better job than Nebraska.
Nebraska fans are welcome to take the posture of a jilted lover if they’d like but the science scholar with braces and acne isn’t going to take the cheerleader to prom. Oh, sure, scientists and researchers can make a lot of money, and may one day land the cheerleader, but that’s not going to happen in high school and probably not going to happen in college either. The jilted lover routine doesn’t work of the other party isn’t interested.
I don’t know if representatives from Nebraska or the search firm they hired to help with the search reached out to Groce or Shaka Smart or their representatives. I doubt they talked directly to Groce while his team is still in action, but they could certainly contact his agent. The fact that they’re moving forward with Miles tells me that they got word that it wasn’t worth their time to pursue coach Groce, that is assuming they contacted him (or his representatives) in the first place. So, once Smart and Groce are out of the picture you move on to plan B or perhaps plan C. When Osborne announced the dismissal of coach Sadler, he said he was looking for a couple of things: integrity, priority on academics. He also wanted to hear how he planned to recruit. Beyond that, he was fairly vague about what he was looking for. Tim Miles must have one heckuva recruiting plan to build Nebrasketball into a contender in the B1G.
There are a couple of interesting things to note when dissecting Tim Miles roster and coaching staff. The most obvious of those is that he has 4 Nebraskans on his roster. He shouldn’t have too much to do to build relationships and develop a reputation amongst high basketball coaches in the state. Good thing too because he’ll have an immediate recruiting test upon his arrival. Akoy Agau, standout power forward for 3-time defending champion Omaha Central will be a senior next year. He is a must get for Nebraska. Players with his skill set don’t come through this state very often. According to Rivals.com, Coach Miles had extended an offer to Agau to come play basketball for the Rams. He shouldn’t have to try and build that relationship either. Finally, last year he hired Ron Coleman. Who’s that, you ask? Oh, well, he’s the former coach of Mac Irvin Fire AAU team, which is based in Chicago. He was the head coach there from 2005-2011 and produced 3 top 3 finishes in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, featured 4 McDonalds All-Americans and 4 Illinois POYs. He was also a very successful assistant in the high school ranks. Assuming he comes with Miles, that would be the strongest tie Nebrasketball has had to talent in those prime B1G markets and could be just as big a get as Miles himself. That is assuming he comes along* and doesn’t, you know, take the CSU job for himself.
*According to Brian Rosenthal, Miles does intend to bring Coleman with him, but acknowledges that he may be in the running for the CSU opening.
Tim Miles may very well be a terrific coach, time will tell whether or not he can get it done at this level. It’s not the splash hire most were expecting and hoping for, but upon further inspection, it does seem to be a very solid hire. By those that follow college basketball, it has widely been hailed as a very solid hire. But the two previous hires were highly thought of as well. Miles’ biggest challenge will be getting talent in here, not matching wits with Thad Matta and Tom Izzo. He may be coming into the state at the prime time. There is a lot (relatively speaking) of talent coming up through the ranks over the next couple of years in Nebraska high schools. It could be a Danny Nee-esque boon crop of talent. It starts with Agau. It’s too bad he wasn’t able to be here to get Mike Gesell as well, we’ll see. If he can get talent in here, he’ll be just fine. It is a concern that Miles has never been a part of a program in one of the six power conferences. He’s never had to recruit to that level or to compete against that level. Ultimately that’s what did in the two previous coaches at NU. If he can figure that out he’ll be well on his way to building a solid program. Getting Coleman on board will help.
A couple of other things to watch: Erick Strickland. He’s made it no secret that he wants to be a part of the program in some fashion. Don’t be surprised if he’s given an interview. I don’t know what Miles has in mind for his staff, but a guy with ties to the area as well as in the NBA and in Texas (one would hope with all the time he spent playing and working for the Dallas Mavericks). If you listen to Danny Nee, he says he’s one of the smartest players he’s ever had, so take that for what it’s worth. If you’ve got a former player with the reputation and enthusiasm for the program, I think he should get an interview. It shouldn’t be forced on Miles, like Shawn Watson was perceived to be on Pelini, but I think he would be well served to at least talk to him.
The relative thud that this hired was greeted with shouldn’t be a surprise. Nebrasketball fans had hopes of something sexier. If Miles is able get this team over that hump this program hasn’t been able to overcome the better part of the past several decades, this reaction will be forgotten, but on its surface, it is eerily familiar.