It's a cliché to call for Tim Miles' job now. And there's no need. Hank Bounds and Bill Moos — the NU team that is overseeing Nebraska's basketball future — did it right last year when they gave Miles a token one-year contract extension, essentially putting everything on this season. The situation would take care of itself. And that's what is happening now, with an exclamation point at Penn State.
We all know how this movie ends. We've seen it before. Shame on us if we thought we'd seen it for the last time, but I'll never apologize for having hope.
We're down to the last couple weeks now, and there will be time to talk about what they need and speculation and all that stuff. I don't like to speculate on the next guy when the job's not open, but that's going to be put to the test. By the way, Fred Hoiberg had some interesting things to say in Ames, Iowa, last night about his future (hint: keep his number handy, Hank and Bill).
The most interesting thing I found in the reaction from the Penn State stinker came from Stephen Bardo on the Big Ten Network's postgame show. Bardo had a critical take on NU's seniors, not the coach. Here's a transcript of what he said:
"Nebraska didn't have a lot of depth to begin with, when (Isaac) Copeland was healthy. But, in their seniors in James Palmer and Glynn Watson, you have upperclassmen who understand how to play out there, and with (Isaiah) Roby, you've got enough to compete, better than they did tonight. It's a heart thing. And I'm challenging the Nebraska upperclassmen, show some heart. Finish your college career. I would trade a body part right now to lose the amount of games that Nebraska has lost, but to be able to get back on the floor and play. That's how important that time of my life was. It bothers me to see guys that are upperclassmen, who don't understand this is not a right, it's a privilege. If you are playing a game, and you get beat by 25 and you don't foul out or get a flagrant foul because you're trying to foul somebody, then I have a problem with that. I may be a little hard right now on Nebraska, but as a former player, I think this is a privilege and it bothers me when I don't see upperclassmen compete."
A few thoughts on Bardo's take:
» I've always tried to be careful (and have not always been successful) in accusing athletes of quitting or not playing with heart or effort. You can't see inside their head or heart. You don't know what they might be going through in their personal lives. But here was a comment from someone who played the game at a high-level. Bardo was a starter on the 1989 Illinois "Flyin' Illini" team that made the Final Four and he had a couple of years in the NBA. Bardo also has been very positive and complimentary toward Miles' program and the seniors in general. He hasn't been dogging them. Here, I think this is an honest emotion from someone who played and a competitor. I had no problem with it, and agreed for the most part.
» Bardo's comment struck me as the "heart" of the matter with Nebraska basketball right now, no pun intended. Coaches come and go at Nebraska and they have. But the major takeaway from this Husker basketball season will be lost opportunity and regret.
Regret? From the frustrated fan base, yes, but the fans will have other chances, another coach, other players. The players on this team, especially the seniors, won't.
Go listen to Bardo's comments and you can hear the ache in his voice, in his heart, in talking about giving up a body part. Here's a man who loved the game so much he played seven more years after his last NBA appearance, kicking around the CBA and overseas. It's why players and coaches have such a hard time leaving the arenas and practice fields and locker rooms, why Tom Brady keeps fighting Father Time. They love the game, but also the life, the competitions, the camaraderie. It's the greatest time in their lives and they want it to go on forever. For many, they would trade anything for one more game, to get that feeling once more.
That was the message Bardo was sending to Watson and Palmer and Roby, etc. These college days are great days, and for some of you it won't get better. You might play professionally somewhere, but it will be a job then, it won't be as much fun, like this. Gents, one day you're going to miss this; you're going to wish you had it back and you might just wish you had played harder. When you let the last-place team in the Big Ten toy with you in front of a near-empty arena, there's no denying it.
Now, should they be trying to get flagrant fouls? I don't think Bardo wants anybody hurt. What he's saying is, you should be competing so hard in a losing effort that you'll do anything to make it stop. Somewhere, my old friend Bruce Chubick agrees.
» That lack of urgency is nothing new to the program. And while some of us thought this team was beyond a performance like Penn State, it wasn't really a big surprise for those who have followed Husker Hoops over the years.
The roller coaster has been a prevalent part of the Miles era. It's not all on the coach; the players have to have enough pride to show up, especially at this stretch of an important season. But the Penn State stinker also speaks to the overall culture of the program, the messages they hear from the coach, the way they practice, what they are and aren't allowed to get away with. Earlier this season, Miles called his team "soft" on a radio show, but that falls on the coach. Culture is how you do things all the time, on good and bad days. Miles said he didn't see this one coming but it's been there, over the years, and it's still there.
Let's be honest, though. This attitude has been Nebraska basketball long before Miles. Basketball means more than ever at Nebraska, where the fans turn out in big numbers and are hungrier than ever to win. But it still doesn't mean nearly enough. I'll have more to say on this topic in the coming weeks as the program moves forward and toward a most critical juncture in the future of Husker Hoops.
For now, Nebraska has a minimum five games remaining. Can the Huskers play them like the five most important games they'll ever play? It probably won't save the season, but at least they could say they went down swinging. As the analyst in Chicago would say, it's never too late. But it's now or never.
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March 24, 2012: Tim Miles is introduced as Nebraska's men's basketball coach after five seasons at Colorado State, where he led the Rams to the NCAA tournament in his final season.
Nov. 11, 2012: Tim Miles coaches his first game for the Huskers and picks up his first win, defeating Southern 66-55.
Nov. 27, 2012: Tim Miles becomes the first Nebraska coach in 93 years to win his road debut after the Huskers defeat Wake Forest.
March 6, 2013: Tim Miles coaches the Huskers to a victory in the final men's basketball game played in the Devaney Center, a two-point win over Minnesota.
March 14, 2013: Nebraska earns its first-ever Big Ten tournament victory with a 57-55 win over Purdue.
March 15, 2013: Tim Miles' first season as Nebraska's head coach comes to an end with a loss to No. 10 Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. The Huskers finished that season with a 15-18 overall record.
Jan. 20, 2014: Tim Miles wins his first game at Nebraska against a ranked opponent, beating No. 17 Ohio State, 68-62. Miles went winless in his first 12 games against ranked teams.
Feb. 16, 2014: It had been 17 years since Nebraska last beat a top-10 team on the road, but Tim Miles changed that with a 60-51 victory over No. 9 Michigan State.
March 9, 2014: Nebraska upsets No. 9 Wisconsin in front of a raucous crowd on what Tim Miles dubbed "no-sit Sunday." That win completed a 15-1 home record in Pinnacle Bank Arena's first season and capped a stretch of eight wins in NU's final games to propel the Huskers into the NCAA tournament.
March 10, 2014: After leading the Huskers to a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten standings, Tim Miles is named the conference's coach of the year.
March 21, 2014: Nebraska reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years, but Tim Miles would get ejected in the second half as Baylor eliminated the Huskers with a 14-point victory.
April 4, 2014: Tim Miles wins the Jim Phelan Award as national coach of the year after leading Nebraska to a winning record overall and in conference, the first time that happened since the 1998-99 season.
Nov. 16, 2014: Nebraska opens the 2014-15 season ranked No. 21 in the country, the first time the Huskers cracked the Top 25 in 20 years. But NU would drop out of the rankings after losing the fourth game of the season.
Feb. 22, 2015: Tim Miles locks his team out of the locker room after a 74-46 home loss to Iowa.
March 11, 2015: Tim Miles completes a disappointing third season at Nebraska with a loss to Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. NU finished the year with a 13-18 overall record and on a nine-game losing streak.
Jan. 20, 2016: Tim Miles proves he has a knack for beating Michigan State, upsetting the No. 11-ranked Spartans, 72-71, on the road.
March 11, 2016: Year four under Tim Miles ends with another losing record, though the Huskers did win two games to reach the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament before falling to No. 18 Maryland.
Aug. 4, 2016: Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst tells The World-Herald that he decided not to offer Tim Miles a one-year extension on his contract that would've kept the length at an industry-standard five years.
Feb. 22, 2017: Amidst growing uncertainty about his future at Nebraska, Tim Miles says during a press conference: “I want to be forceful that I want to be the coach here. I believe Shawn (Eichorst) wants me to be the coach here. I believe Marc (Boehm) does.”
March 5, 2017: Nebraska and Tim Miles finish the 2016-17 regular season with a 93-57 loss to Michigan, the most lopsided home defeat in program history.
March 8, 2017: Nebraska's fifth season under Tim Miles ends with an overtime loss to Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. The Huskers finish 12-19 overall, their third consecutive year with a losing record, but Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst tweeted immediately after the game that Miles would return for another season.
Sept.-Oct. 2017: Tim Miles gets a new boss after Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst was fired on Sept. 21. “This doesn’t affect us on the court," Miles said at the time. "We have in place what we have, and we’re in a position to elevate our program.” Bill Moos was hired about a month later, someone Miles expected could "help us all get better."
Oct. 19, 2017: Expectations were low for Tim Miles and the Huskers in 2017 as they were picked to finish 13th in the Big Ten preseason media poll. "I think we’re going to outperform that," Miles said. "I would expect we do."
Dec. 16, 2017: Nebraska nearly had one of its biggest upset of the Tim Miles era when it led No. 13 Kansas with under a minute to play. Then a 3-pointer by the Jayhawks with 23 seconds left sealed the win, leaving the Huskers 7-5. “They make one more play than we do," Miles said. "That hurts.”
Feb. 25, 2018: Nebraska caught fire in the Big Ten portion of the 2017-18 season. The Huskers capped it off with a win over Penn State to finish the regular season 22-9 with a school-record 13 conference wins.
March 2, 2018: Despite the strong regular season, Nebraska was still on the NCAA tournament bubble entering the Big Ten tournament. A 19-point loss to Michigan in the opening game sunk the Huskers' postseason hopes, and two days later, they were left out of March Madness.
March 14, 2018: The disappointment from not making the NCAA tournament carried into the NIT, as Nebraska's record-breaking season ended with a first-round loss at Mississippi State.
April 17, 2018: Despite the disappointing end to the season, there was still enough optimism surrounding Tim Miles' program that A.D. Bill Moos granted him a one-year contract extension — though there were some questioning why it was only one year. "I'm excited about our progress, so the length isn't a big deal to me," Miles said. "I'm glad Bill — and the upper administration — saw fit to extend me."
May 30, 2018: Isaac Copeland and James Palmer (pictured, left) announce they'll return to Nebraska for their senior season after considering the NBA. That meant Tim Miles returned his four stars — Copeland, Palmer, Isaiah Roby (pictured, right) and Glynn Watson — sending expectations for the 2018-19 season through the roof.
October 2018: There was a lot of hype surrounding Tim Miles' Huskers near the start of the season. They were picked to finish fourth in a strong Big Ten and were ranked in the preseason coaches poll. "We have four guys I think anybody in the league would take," Miles said.
Dec. 3, 2018: After starting the season 7-1, the Huskers move up to No. 24 in the AP poll. It was the first time in four years Nebraska had appeared in those rankings.
Dec. 8, 2018: Tim Miles finally got the blue and white monkey off his back after beating Creighton by 19 points. It Miles' first win over his in-state rival and ended Nebraska's seven-game losing streak against the Jays. "I just wanted to get that win for my coach," said Glynn Watson, pictured. "I've been here with him through the thick and thin."
Jan. 26, 2019: Nebraska's once-promising season seemingly started to unravel after a 10-point loss at home to Ohio State. It was the Huskers' third straight defeat and the fifth in seven games. It dropped them to 3-6 in the Big Ten, more losses than they had in conference all of the previous season. And to make it worse, starter Isaac Copeland suffered a season-ending torn ACL during the game.
Feb. 9, 2019: The Huskers' struggles continued without Isaac Copeland and Tim Miles spoke about hitting "rock bottom" in a loss to Maryland a few days later. But the losing eventually hit seven after an 81-62 loss at Purdue on this day.
Feb. 13, 2019: After 30 days, seven losses and a litany of disappointment, Nebraska broke its seven-game losing streak with a 62-61 win over Minnesota. “This is good, finally,” Tim Miles said. “There’s a collective sigh of relief.”
March 5, 2019: The good vibes from back-to-back wins dissipated after the losses returned. The Huskers lost four straight games — including three to ranked opponents — culminating in a 91-76 defeat at Michigan State.
March 10, 2019: A disappointing year ended with a bang when Nebraska overcame a 16-point deficit to defeat Iowa in overtime. “That’s a special one,” Tim Miles said. Despite the win, though, Nebraska still finished the regular season 16-15 overall and 6-14 in the Big Ten.
March 15, 2019: Tim Miles took a shorthanded team to the Big Ten tournament — just six active scholarship players — and went on a run. The 13th-seeded Huskers beat Rutgers in the opening game, then upset No. 5 seed Maryland to reach the quarterfinals. But the Huskers were eliminated after a 66-62 loss to No. 4 seed Wisconsin.
March 24, 2019: The 2018-19 season comes to an end in Fort Worth, Texas. After the Huskers won their first-round game of the NIT against Butler, they traveled to face TCU. Short-handed due to injury and Isaiah Roby's ejection, Nebraska fell 88-72 to finish the year 19-17.
March 26, 2019: Tim Miles is fired after seven seasons as Nebraska's basketball coach. He compiled a 116-114 record — the third-most wins in program history — but he never advanced past the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament and only reached the NCAA tournament once.