Tim Miles

Earlier this season, Nebraska coach Tim 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.

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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Sports columnist

Tom is The World-Herald's lead sports columnist. Since he started in Omaha in 1991, he's covered just about anything you can imagine. Follow him on Twitter @TomShatelOWH. Phone: 402-444-1025.

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