Miles: A Coach Who’ll Never Forget His Roots

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Tim Miles was a happy TV interview after Nebraska beat Miami, 60-49.

By Randy York

As I drove home last night from Pinnacle Bank Arena, I do what I always do after a Nebraska men’s or women’s basketball game – tune into the postgame radio show on the Huskers Sports Network. It took me awhile to get to my car, so I was a bit surprised that Tim Miles had yet to sit down with Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison to discuss the Huskers’ 60-49 defensive lock down of the Miami Hurricanes and their 2013 National Coach of the Year – Jim Larrañaga.

No more than half a minute into the post-mortem, Miles started talking about how his Husker team set the defensive tone. “It was 22-13 at halftime, right?” he asked Nebraska’s play-by-play man and color analyst. Miles then shared what he said to Craig Smith, his longtime assistant coach, when he walked into the Huskers’ locker room at halftime: “Smitty, what does this remind you of?” Miles asked.

“Valley City-Mayville 1997,” replied Smith, digging deep into his four-school joint journey with Miles. Mayville State University in Mayville, N.D., was the pair’s first collegiate coaching stop, followed by North Dakota State, Colorado State and Nebraska. Since both coaches were on the same track, Miles asked Smith if he remembers the halftime score of that game, and sure enough, both minds were razor sharp … “22 to 9,” Smith recalled. “Yeh,” Miles said, laughing during his post game show. “I can’t believe we didn’t let ‘em get to 13!”

Yes, I laughed, too, and enjoyed listening to a Division I head coach who had just saved the day with a Big Ten win over an ACC team that allowed the nation’s oldest conference to tie in their annual league challenge series with six wins and six losses each. Miles’ teams at Nebraska are now 2-0 in the challenge series because the Huskers upset Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., to force a similar 6-6 deadlock last year.

Miles jokingly wondered why the Big Ten wouldn’t reward Nebraska in some creative way, like send a box of Girl Scout Cookies through the mail. Actually, I learned something Thursday afternoon that meant a lot more to Miles than cookies. The reason he was 10 minutes late for his radio show was taking the time to say goodbye to a former player on that 1997 Mayville team.

Jeff Walen had made the drive from North Dakota to Lincoln to see his coaches live and in living color. The 36-year-old has MS and is in a wheel chair but showed his loyalty to coaches who still inspire him to this day. Miles and Smith gave him a tour of the Huskers’ world-class practice facility earlier, and here’s betting that he also could have guessed the Valley City-Mayville halftime score. What a neat way to honor the good old days of a school that still only has 449 full-time students.

I like Tim Miles, and one of his best traits is the respect he has for his coaching roots. It’s a quality that will serve him well with every step he takes to achieve his vision for Nebraska – 1) Qualify for the NCAA Tournament; and 2) Be the first Nebraska men’s basketball team to win an NCAA Tournament game … ever! He wants that madness to end.

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