LINCOLN — So I was sitting in the Nebraska basketball office — isn't that how all great columns start? — when my cellphone rang.
“Hey Tom, it's Coach Miles. I'll be about 10 minutes late. I got caught talking to someone.”
That's partially true. Tim Miles later admitted he was on a leg of his Lincoln pizza tour, sampling all of the pizza joints in the Capital City. One thing you need to know about the new Husker men's hoop coach: He's a dough-a-holic. Thin, thick, saucy, gooey, whatever. Just make sure there's pepperoni and Italian sausage somewhere in the area.
There's another thing readily apparent about the new head coach: He's a student of the game.
Take a scan around Miles' office and it's pretty vanilla. Some family photos and some furniture. Mostly, the bookcase. The centerpiece of Miles' world here is the bookcase.
There are stacks of books, almost all of them related to coaching or written by coaches. There's a John Wooden coffee table-sized book that stands out. The rest are books that are slightly obscure, unless you like to read up on how to be a basketball coach.
Miles cited two favorites. One, “The Franchise,” by former Detroit Pistons General Manager Jack McCloskey.
“I read it in 1990,” Miles said. “It was the first (basketball) book I read. It was about how they moved to the Palace and got Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars (and) built that team. I always thought college coaches should pay attention to NBA general managers, how you build a team. It's kind of the same deal, right?”
His favorite book is “The Smart Take From the Strong,” by former Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril, a common sense approach to coaching and teaching. Miles recites the story of how Carril had a big kid who had bad hands. By the time the kid graduated, Carril had taught him to handle the ball. The next year, after the player graduated, he came back for an alumni game, missed a pass and broke his nose.
“Carril said, 'There goes four years of hard work,'” Miles said. “The idea is, if a kid has bad hands, he's going to have bad hands. It is what it is.”
As the coach readies for his opener on Sunday vs. Southern, Miles is who he is: a guy with an unwavering belief in his plan, vision, patience and a wicked sense of humor. All of which will come in handy this season.
Q: First, an observation. You're still here. You haven't run away yet.
A: Well, after I got booed (playfully) in my first game (exhibition) after failing to take advantage of the 70-point rule. ... There was no pink slip in the door this morning. I'll see if there's a “For Sale” sign in my yard when I get home.
I knew this was going to be a difficult job because as you move up the ranks the jobs become more difficult. But the fans have been great. We had 6,000 fans for an exhibition game in a year when we're picked to finish last of the last. It's been gratifying.
Q: How will you measure success this season? Record? Certain upset? Player development?
A: For me, personally, it's going to be making sure our team is clearly better at the end of the year than we were at the beginning. Getting your ideals and principles in, and there's an investment from the players. Self-improvement in all areas and team above self. We're not going to get soft if things go well and we're not going to be overwhelmed if things go poorly. And, it's about team, not me.
Q: What do you hope to show recruits this year?
A: Recruits are really drawn to a style of play, being able to make an impact on a program, tradition of excellence and facilities. I think we have three of the four in place.
Q: You've been very active in recruiting so far. What are kids saying about Nebraska, the facilities, the opportunity?
A: Usually, they're blown away by the facilities plan. Young people, the visual excitement captures them early. I don't think there's any question they will consider us. What we have to do is identify the young men who will understand the challenges and are willing to go back to their schools and sit in the lunch room and say 'I'm going to Nebraska' and when the rest of the kids say 'Where, why?' they are able to defend us, and our goals and ambitions. Those kinds of guys are going to do great here.
Q: Will you coach a certain way this year to attract recruits?
A: It doesn't do any good to lose ballgames and get a better draft pick. It works the other way in college basketball.
Q: What about a style of play that would attract some kids?
A: What we want to do here is have an open floor style, multiple ball handlers, creating dribble off the pass, attacking the basket in a variety of ways, screen and roll and handoffs. It's an NBA style of play. I met with the Denver Nuggets last year and their style matches up really good. We did a lot of that at CSU (Colorado State) and I'd like to get to that point here.
Q: Some coaches, when they take over a team at the bottom of a league, play an unorthodox style at first to help them move up the ladder. The thought is, if you play like the same style as everyone else in the Big Ten, but don't have the players, you go nowhere. Agree?
A: I've tried different things at different places. At the end of the day, I've always had a chance to build a successful program when we had motion offense and base man-to-man defense. Guard personnel the way we need to and create mismatches the way we need to. The recipe has worked at every spot along the way. I like to think it will work here once we get the pieces.
Q: But do you think you need some edge early, to jump-start the program in this league?
A: I think your edge is crafted daily. It's just this daily operation, how you evolve with your guys. How we will set ourselves apart from the Big Ten — all I know is what I know how to do and do that the best I can. I hope that sets us apart from everybody.
Q: What's your talent level this year?
A: We have some good players. We need more of them.
Q: You obviously are recruiting Texas and parts of the Big Ten and you have an assistant with connections in Australia. But you had some Nebraska kids at CSU. What's your feeling about recruiting at home and can those kids win for you in the Big Ten?
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A: Yes, they can. My best teams had regional players on them, players from the state or areas in the region. You're not going to win until you can have that investment in the locker room.
Q: How much do you know about the history here, and what Danny Nee, Barry Collier and Doc Sadler did, what worked and what didn't?
A: I know it's been done here before. I know they were a three seed and a six seed under Danny. I've reached out and talked to Danny and Doc. Barry and I have exchanged texts but haven't talked yet. I do want to hear the history.
Danny was great. He loves Nebraska, you can just tell. He said just stay patient with the process. And I'm not naive. I may be a positive guy, but I know what I'm up against. Danny was just like, you can do it here, but you got to get players, got to get players, got to get players.
Q: What kind of kid do you want?
A: We have three things. I expect you to be a commendable citizen, expect you to be academically accountable and you need to be able to compete at a championship level in the Big Ten or don't expect to play. That can be a tough standard. They are what we have to be.
Q: Might you have to bend that standard to get players who can help you win?
A: You can find good and bad in every program in the country. I want good people. I want guys who aspire for more, who want to be problem-solvers, not problem-makers. But you never know what you're going to get.
Q: I have a theory that Nebraska basketball has a better chance to win in the Big Ten than the Big 12 because the Big 12 is a one-and-done league and the Big Ten is more about coaching and good, skill players than NBA talent. True or false?
A: A few years ago someone asked me what do you think of the Nebraska job and I said I thought it would be a great Big Ten job but not a good Big 12 job. First of all, you don't want to be the northern-most school in your league. It's always difficult. Nobody wants to go north, willingly. Here, we're south and west. We're the San Diego of the Big Ten. That's a John Cook line, by the way.
Q: I have another theory that Nebraska needs to shoot for sixth or seventh place in the league. That's how many NCAA teams the Big Ten typically gets.
A: Creep, crawl, walk, run. We're at the beginning stages of our program. You're not going to win the championship until you can run. We are not there yet, I think anyone breathing knows that. But we move forward knowing that six get in most every year. How do we get to that stage? Purdue was sixth last year and was a couple baskets from the Sweet 16.
Q: You're a social media kind of guy. You send out a tweet at halftime of every game. How did that start?
A: Twitter was forced on me by an official at CSU. He came to me and said we want you to Facebook and Twitter. I said I'm not doing both. I said I'm not doing Facebook because you use Facebook to connect and I had 13 kids in my graduating class and I know where the other 12 are. I'm connected.
So we did Twitter and it went pretty well. We had more followers than the university (account). So they came to me the next year and said how about a halftime tweet? I said how do I do that? He said, “don't worry, we'll do it for you, when you walk off the floor, just tell the sports information director what you want to say and he'll post it.”
The other night, I go into the locker room at halftime and do our deal, then as I walk out onto the floor, I walk by Shamus (McKnight, NU basketball SID) and I said something to Shamus that's unprintable, and then I said whatever the tweet was. After the game, someone said, “How about that halftime tweet?” I said what was it? I had no idea.
You have to watch out with Twitter. One year at Air Force, we were 2 of 15 from the 3 and 10 of 12 from inside the arc. On my halftime tweet, I said we just need to put up more 3s. I was so angry. I was being sarcastic. After the game, people on Twitter were blasting me. I was just joking.
Q: What's your bench demeanor? Do you get fired up? Are you an entertainer?
A: I don't do much during games. I might talk to an official once in a while. I stand there a lot. The arm-cross thing, the self-assurance thing, try to make my insecurity better.
I probably get one technical a year. I got teed up in 42 seconds one time. There's not a motive behind my technicals. I usually feel wronged.
Q: Best pizza in Lincoln?
A: I don't have a favorite. They've all been good. I just tried Isle's in Havelock and Lazarri's downtown. Of course, Valentino's. It was excellent. I'm still experimenting around town.
Q: Some people — ahem — got a little excited about your “only show in the state” comment. What were you going for there? Would you agree that Nebraska and Creighton is a little like Wisconsin and Marquette, which doesn't play football?
A: That's a great comparison. I had no intention of malice toward Creighton in any shape or form. My point was, there is no Nebraska State. I'm accustomed to Colorado and Colorado State. It was unintended.
Greg McDermott, who is a good friend, sent me a text saying you're not making any friends over here. I don't think I lost any friends. I may have made some enemies, but I'm not sure those people were going to be my friends anyway. I believe in Nebraska. I'm a Nebraska basketball coach.
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