Is there a more popular figure in Nebraska than Tim Miles right now? After this season's unexpected rush to the NCAA Mens' Basketball Tournament, it's hard to argue that anybody not named Tom Osborne has a higher approval rating. His results speak for themselves. But for many people, they didn't need that NCAA tournament berth to be a fan of Miles. He has an everyman touch and connects to fans on all levels. It doesn't hurt that he interacts with fans on Twitter either. So many people have been fans of the Miles hire well before Nebraska shocked the Big Ten by finishing fourth after being picked to finish dead last. (Don't think that'll happen again anytime soon, either.)
I wasn't one of those people, though. In fact, I was disappointed in the Miles hire originally, and I've remained skeptical throughout his tenure. And to be completely honest, some of the things said by and about Miles registered on my BS detector at levels that haven't been seen at Nebraska since the Bill Callahan/Steve Pederson error. Why?
Let's walk back to March 2012 after Doc Sadler was fired. The talk at that time was that in order to shake the perception of the program, Tom Osborne needed to make a bold hire. He had already invested in a practice facility that was considered the finest in the country. Construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena was already underway. But the perception of Nebraska basketball couldn't be lower, and it required a bold move. The first target was bold: UCLA's Ben Howland, who wasn't particularly loved in Westwood despite having a record that would be the envy of most schools. But Howland declined.
A lot of people, myself included, thought Nebraska should pursue Ohio's John Groce, who had just led the Bobcats into the Sweet 16. Groce seemed to be the ideal candidate for Nebraska, as he'd previously been the top assistant at Ohio State. Proven winner, with real Big Ten experience not only recruiting, but actually signing, Big Ten caliber players. I don't know how hard Nebraska pursued Groce. The rumor mill is that Groce said he wasn't interested in the Nebraska job, but I don't know how hard (or even if) Osborne tried. Sometimes you have to convince people to take a job like the basketball coaching job at Nebraska. But before Groce's Sweet 16 run was over, Osborne had already picked Miles.
Miles was a proven winner as well, and everybody familiar with him spoke highly of him. But his resume had a glaring hole in it that I couldn't reconcile, and frankly, found it hard to accept. Colorado State was the biggest school that Miles had ever coached at, and that was as the head coach. He had taken the Rams to the NCAA tournament with four Nebraska born players on the roster. Great story, to be sure, but it wasn't what Nebraska needed in my opinion.
Miles looked like the the third remake of the Barry Collier and Doc Sadler hires. The accomplished mid-major coach gets a promotion to the next level, and falls flat on his face because he can't sign the talent necessary to compete at the next level. Some new head coaches recognize their own weaknesses and hire a staff that rounds it out. Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg knew he didn't have any game coaching experience, so he hired assistants who did. Miles didn't do that. In fact, he actually demoted the one member of his staff, Ronald "Chin" Coleman, who had AAU experience and connections with the type of players Nebraska lacks. Coleman was an assistant coach at Colorado State, but Miles only brought him to Nebraska as a director of basketball operations. He didn't even make it to the start of the season, leaving to pursue an assistant coaching position at Bradley.
Miles is clearly a nice guy, but that's not what Nebraska needed. If that was really the case, then Osborne should have kept Doc Sadler. I liked Doc, and Doc did occasionally pull off an upset. He had some late season runs to get Nebraska into contention for an at-large bid as well. But Sadler's teams never could finish it off and get those March wins that they lacked. Every time he seemed to catch some momentum, he'd find the banana peel and fall short.
No, Nebraska needed a bold hire. Why spend the money on the Hendricks facility and Pinnacle Bank Arena if you are going to repeat the same failed strategy when hiring the next coach. And Miles wasn't a bold hire. He decided to hire assistant coaches from other mid-major schools as well, cementing into place that institutional lack of experience in dealing with Big Ten caliber players. Even worse was trying to sell the playing experience of his assistants as some sort of substitute for coaching experience.
Sometimes we got doubletalk as well. Tim Miles first said he's not going to rely on jucos and foreign players, then went out and recruited them.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Hiring Kenya Hunter from Georgetown did impress me, and warmed me up a bit. Even though Hunter was being ousted from the Hoyas' coaching staff after a lackluster 2012-13 season, he still had the resume that the rest of the staff lacked.
So yes, Miles is great on Twitter. Great in press conferences. Great with fans. But bottom line, I needed to see something out of Nebraska basketball to convince me to change my mind. But then I turn around and see Creighton opening a 30 point lead on the Huskers in the first half. Getting blown out by Michigan and Ohio State as well.
That fourth place finish in the Big Ten is something tangible I can lock onto. Getting Nebrasketball a first round bye and a #11 seed in March Madness is something I can believe in. Turning Terran Petteway into an all-Big Ten honoree is something I can believe in.
The next step is to translate this season's success on the court into success on the recruiting trail. Capitalize on that momentum and build on it. Build on what happened this season and keep the momentum moving forward. Maybe Miles and his staff don't have a lot of experience recruiting top level talent, but they do have something tangible to offer to recruits: an up-and-coming program playing in one of the toughest, if not the toughest, basketball conference in the country.
I'm still not 100% sold on Tim Miles, but the track record of the 2013-14 season goes a long way in validating Miles as the right solution to what Nebraska basketball needs. I see Nebraska basketball as a sleeping giant that has almost all of the resources that a top notch basketball program needs. The facilities are now in place. The support structure is in place. The fan support is undoubtedly in place. The money is there to do what is necessary. The only thing that Nebrasketball lacks is the players. The 500 mile radius isn't just a liability of football; it's a liability of just about every sport (except volleyball, it seems). It's Miles' job to convince those players to come from farther distances to play in Lincoln.
We've seen evidence he's starting to do that. Keep that momentum up, and my concerns about Miles will be completely disproven. And I'll be the happiest Husker fan around to be proven wrong about it.