Give Tim Miles credit for all he’s done at Nebraska.
I genuinely mean that. By saying I genuinely mean it, I understand that I immediately call into question my sincerity. But I absolutely mean it, my frequent criticisms of him aside.
That said, we have a pretty good idea how the Tim Miles story at Nebraska is going to end, and truth be told, the final chapter hasn’t been all that interesting. The only real intrigue in the late stages of this lost Husker men’s basketball season is wondering just how much uglier it might get. It’s already one of the most remarkable collapses you’ll ever witness anywhere. Not fun at all.
It’s been the equivalent of Evel Knievel clearing all the cars, but missing the ramp on the other side. You almost want to avert your eyes.
But know this: the Tim Miles story at Nebraska has had fun chapters. It’s had intriguing chapters. It’s had chapters that had you begging for more. Just this season, Miles’ crew hammered nemesis Creighton by 19 points before a packed house at Pinnacle Bank Arena. That early December night seems like a dream now, for the Huskers performed at a level that led one to believe they could win multiple NCAA Tournament games. Yes, multiple.
A week later, as Miles and company toyed with Oklahoma State in the second half of a game in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I was convinced this was the year. You figured this was the season that Nebraska finally would break through with a triumph in the Big Dance. You could practically hear Bill Raftery discussing Miles making history, for all the world to hear. This had to be the team, right?
Long-suffering Nebraska fans crossed their fingers. After all, many experienced “No-Sit Sunday,” the unforgettable home win against ninth-ranked Wisconsin in 2014, and envisioned that sort of intensity helping push us through an impossibly long winter.
Yes, Miles has given us moments of extreme excitement. Thank him for that.
He built a program that at one point won 20 straight home games.
Just last season, his team throttled 23rd-ranked Michigan by 20 points -- yes, the Michigan team that finished as national runner-up.
In the memorable 2013-14 season, he delivered the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998.
Early in his tenure, he beat Tom Izzo three straight times, for crying out loud.
He markedly improved Nebraska's overall size and athleticism, pushing it to a level the program hasn’t seen since the Danny Nee era. And he’s apparently steered clear of Christian Dawkins -- no feds snooping around, no wiretaps that I’m aware of.
He’s been a fine ambassador for the program, a Nebraska media darling along the lines of Mike Riley. My heavens, media adore those two guys.
And get this: Since moving into Pinnacle Bank Arena in 2013-14, Nebraska has ranked in the top 15 nationally in attendance all five seasons. The Huskers rank 10th this season. Yes, the Railyard is a draw. But that sort of devotion indicates belief in the head coach.
Which bring us to Sunday’s 1 p.m. regular-season finale against backsliding Iowa. It’s a safe bet 12,000-plus Nebraska fans will be at Pinnacle Bank Arena even though the home team has dropped 11 of its last 13 games to fall to 15-15 overall (5-14 Big Ten). It’s a hungry fan base. But I’m guessing it will be kind to Miles. It should be kind to the coach because during his seven years in charge, the program has improved -- much of it because of his doing, but some of it because NU has built and maintained excellent facilities and plays in a strong conference that happens to have a lucrative media rights deal.
But we know where this story is going. There’s a cold reality we must acknowledge: Miles, with a record of 112-112 at Nebraska (51-76 in the Big Ten, a .402 clip), clearly isn’t the coach who can push the program to greater heights. And let's be real, the program possesses the wherewithal -- financially, for sure -- to hire a coach who you intuitively know will produce wins in the Big Dance.
You know the type of coach I’m talking about. It’s Fred Hoiberg or Dana Altman or Thad Matta or Kelvin Sampson, to name a few. You know intuitively any of those coaches would push Nebraska to levels it’s never come close to experiencing. It likely wouldn't take long. The program’s ready for it, positioned for it. No more lame lack-of-internal-support excuses.
Any of the coaches mentioned above would be offended if you told them all they had to do was reach one NCAA Tournament in seven seasons, as Miles has done here. Those guys wouldn’t even want to bother with that sort of gig. Expect more, Husker fans.
Go back to the night Nebraska jack-hammered Creighton. Tell me the Husker program didn’t feel like it was ready to explode.
Give Miles credit for helping create that sort of excitement. If you’re a Nebraska fan, give the man the respect he's earned, but don’t feel guilty for wanting more than he can provide.