Tim Miles returns five starters from first NCAA Tournament Team in 16 years.
By Randy York
Since Nebraska’s first NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament experience in 15 years, Tim Miles has been on basketball’s version of a high-speed bullet train. After his longtime right-hand man accepted the head coaching position at South Dakota State, Miles’ email and text boxes are clogged with hundreds of messages. His fellow coaches’ choice as Big Ten Coach of the Year, Miles leaves early Wednesday for North Texas and his annual trek to the NCAA Final Four knowing full well which team and coach he will be rooting for – Wisconsin and Bo Ryan.
Q: Bo Ryan has the only Big Ten team in the Final Four. Why are you a fan?
A: We had three Big Ten teams in the final eight and two of those games went right to the bitter end. Wisconsin got it down. Bo Ryan is a guy that’s been a small-college coach and I think he’s a guy that has always identified with the small-college guys. I watched how Bo built things, and, in fact, when we started to go Division 1 (at North Dakota State), he was one of the programs that I studied a great deal. I hired his operations guy (Saul Phillips), who played for Bo at UW-Platteville and then was an assistant at UW-Milwaukee for two years. I hired Saul and he took over for me when I left North Dakota State. I learned a lot from Saul and we got a chance to get to know Bo better and just really got some serious attention about how well his team performs. They have a Ph.D in fundamentals. They’re well beyond the rest of us. The way they pass and catch and pivot to get other players open to get really good shots…it’s just amazing to watch them play. They definitely have a shot to win the title. Kentucky’s talent level is incredible, but Bo Ryan understands how to stop teams. He makes it very difficult for you to score on them. And he also understands the fundamentals it takes to be able handle superior length athleticism. They’ve done it that entire time, and he’s going to keep doing it. That’s what makes him special.”
Q: Let’s talk Nebraska’s NCAA experience in San Antonio. What kind of accomplishment was it and how does it influence what comes next?
A: “I think that you have to credit the guys. We’re out there, 8-and-8 and they go on this monstrous run through the Big Ten and finish fourth, play ourselves into a berth into the NCAA Tournament and that’s not easily done. I just commend our guys for really bearing down. We became such a good, strong defensive team. If you would have asked these guys ‘what your niche going to be in Big Ten play?’ I don’t think anyone would have told you it would be great, strong defense. So for them to become something that was necessary to win and that was maybe unexpected or wasn’t what they thought was the most important thing is big, and it became the most important thing. It’s a real testament to their wanting to build this program right and wanting to see Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament.”
Q: That was the first NCAA experience for Nebraska in 16 years. What did you learn that will help you get back?
A: “Anytime you earn your way into the NCAA Tournament, you feel like it’s been a special year. There’s no doubt that I think our guys feel great and understand the process that it takes to get to that point where you can make the tournament. And that’s going to be valuable down the road. You can’t really prepare them for how overwhelming the attention is. It just feels like you’re almost in a fishbowl whether it comes to the fans, or the media, or the just whole event in itself. It’s just bigger than anything we’ve been around in a long time. I thought that we were really playing great in the Big Ten Tournament and let the Ohio State game get away from us. I thought that we did some really good things, but I think you could see with the way we fouled, we were just too hyped up. I think in the future, if we can get back next year and the year after, which is our goal, I think that this experience will be worth it because we will have learned from it.”
Q: What’s it mean to be one of 15 finalists for the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year, which will be announced Friday in Texas?
A: “It’s awesome and kind of fun just to be candidate. You never even dream about it. And the fact that you’re alongside some of these guys is just so humbling because to be voted on by your peers with this group we have, when life is better than your dreams, you just kind of have to roll with it. And that’s what I’m doing.”
Q: Losing Craig Smith is more than losing a great coach. He’s one of your best friends, but at least he’s going back to your home state, right?
A: Yeah, we’re going to hire a good coach, a good recruiter. We’re going to hire a guy that improves our program, and Craig will surely be missed. First and foremost, he’s been a friend of mine for 18 years and we’ve worked together almost every stop along the way. He’s been a valuable contributor to our success. He’s the smartest coach I’ve ever met, and I really think that he’s going to get South Dakota up and rolling sometime soon. I respect him so much and I’m so happy for him as a friend. I’m sad as a coach to see him go but really happy as a friend to see him get the opprotunity to become a Division 1 coach.”
Q: Besides feeding your small-college teams two $1 special sandwiches at Hardee’s for a pre-game meal, what’s the oddest thing you’ve ever had to deal with in terms of austerity?
A: “We stayed in a Motel 6 in Miles City, Montana, that was one of those lodge places. And the cowboys kept coming in until about 4 a.m. and we didn’t get any sleep. Craig never made a hotel or motel reservation again while working for me.”
Q: In the midst of all this March Madness, you had a situation last Friday where you had to put down your family’s 16-year-old lab. How did you get through that?
A: “Charlie was our female lab, so we called her Charlie girl. One of the best stories of all time involves (Creighton Coach) Greg McDermott. Charlie would have been 2 or 3-years-old. I came home late one night when we’d lost to Wayne State on a tough game at Wayne. People had always told me: ‘Coach, when you get home, the great part about having a dog is the dog is always happy to see you, just like your baby is always happy to see you.’ Well, I walk into (daughter) Ava’s room after we lose to Wayne State. She was about a year old. I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and she grabbed my cheek. Because my cheek was cold, she woke right up at 2 a.m. I pick her up and my dog comes in with me. I put in the game tape to watch the game where Wayne State hits five 3-pointers and the crowd was clapping. And Ava was sitting up on a blanket and she started clapping because the crowd was clapping. The dog got up and walked away and went back to bedroom with my wife. So Charlie was so disgusted with our play, plus the fact that we couldn’t get Ava on board either. Your kids are there for you, and your dogs are there for you. But that doesn’t always happen for coaches. Charlie Girl was just one of those dogs who been through so many things with me through the years. To be with her in that room when we put her down was really a sad moment. And that was a tough day last Friday.
Q: Nebraska has all five starters back next season. What’s their intensity going to be like in the off-season?
A: “They’re definitely not satisfied with the way things ended. They want to do better in the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. There’s no doubt about it that their goals are ambitious. We’re going to work our butts off. We return 90-plus percent of our offense, our rebounding and every stat that matters. We still have work to do to add to this team. We know this team overcame some obstacles in terms of us having a complete team. I look forward to the late spring recruiting period. We’re going to add some odd pieces to the puzzle and make us better and make us the type team that can go to the NCAA Tournament and win.”
Q: Who will you sit with at the Final Four?
A: “You never know who’s going to be around me. Last NCAA game I went to, a whole bunch of Michigan fans were around me. It just kind of depends. I’ll probably go with a friend and hang out and watch the game. But usually, it’s one of those situations that I like to watch the games but I’ll watch half and go back to my hotel and watch the second game. You just have to decompress, at least I do.”
Q: I know you’re rooting for Bo Ryan? Is part of the reason tied to his father?
A: "Definitely. His father passed away this year, and he’s really dedicated this season to his father. And the team has really done that for him. They want to do that for Coach Ryan more than I think he wanted to make it. I think it just happened with the whole team. That’s what makes it so special. I just hope it happens for him and the team."
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