WASHINGTON — If Tim Miles is Kevin Stallings, an Oscar the Grouch type, if he’s a surly, joyless bugger, this is easy. He’s a goner. He’s a goner yesterday.
But Miles has divided the Nebraska Cornhuskers fan base at the moment in something of an unconventional manner: like the man, hate the product. He’s sunny and honest and delightful and personable. His basketball teams — and this Huskers bunch is off the rails right now like nobody’s business — can look about as much fun as an ingrown toenail.
Tim Miles will be fighting for his job today. How will this team respond? Will they beat Penn State? Or will Penn State blow them out?
— Adam Furley (@adam_furley) March 8, 2017
No matter what the Nebraska Penn St score is at 5 pm, Tim Miles should be here next year.
— Will (@GBRnFISH) March 8, 2017
“I would always caution someone, before you break up with somebody, you might want to think about really what kind of coach he is and what kind of job he’s doing,” ESPN analyst Tim McCormick said. “I think he’s a pretty good coach. I’m not going to speculate (on his future).”
The rest of us, though, can’t help it. The Huskers are making a beeline for a fourth losing season out of their last five, have dropped four straight games, and celebrated their regular-season Lincoln finale with the worst margin of defeat at home (36 points) in the history of the program. The Huskers have lost at least 18 contests four times in the last five years.
Of the four teams launching the first-ever Big Ten Tournament east of Indiana on Wednesday, Nebraska (12-18, 6-12 conference) is the one where the buzzards are circling the fastest. Embattled Ohio State coach Thad Matta isn’t dying and isn’t going anywhere. Penn State coach Pat Chambers got a vote of confidence from athletic director Sandy Barbour. Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell is in his first season of a Scarlet Knights rebuild.
And when the spotlight swings over to Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst: silence.
“It’s all up to the AD and what he views as important and not important,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Brian Snow offered. “It’s moreso how about a program is being built and where the results are relative to expectations. I’m not going to be the guy who comments if the guy should keep his job or not. But I think there is good young talent at Nebraska. You’ve got (Georgetown transfer) Isaac Copeland and he’s sitting out. So I think there are talented players on the roster. It’s up to Shawn Eichorst to decide what he wants or what he doesn’t want.”
Cut the cord? Or one more year, no ifs/ands/buts?
That’s the question with Miles, isn’t it? It’s like the can you can’t stop kicking down the road.
On one hand, postseason odds dropped several notches the minute guard Andrew White III bolted the program last June. A roster with only one senior and a base of 10 freshmen and sophomores was always going to be pushing a boulder uphill, especially against a schedule that featured Virginia Tech, Dayton, UCLA and Kansas.
By 247Sports composite rankings, only one of Miles’ last four recruiting years — 2015 — ranked higher than eighth in the Big Ten. (2013: eighth; 2014: 13th; 2015: fifth; 2016: ninth.) But the stock in the cupboard is better than what he found when he first set up shop. The ceiling has promise. Is it worth blowing that up?
“The class a couple years ago (2015) with Glynn Watson Jr. and Ed Morrow was really highly thought of,” Snow said. “Especially relative to what Nebraska has been getting.
“It seems like every year he gets a player who is a solid piece, whether it’s (Isaiah) Roby or a Watson coming up from Chicago. So he’s bringing in a couple of good players. They’re not looking at Nebraska as (among) the top 20 (classes), but I don’t think anyone expects that. But they’re identifying and recruiting and I think they’ve brought in some talented pieces.
“Certainly, Nebraska is not the easiest place to recruit to. He’s gotten some good players out of areas like Illinois. He’s uncovered some gems, where Roby is clearly one. I think his staff, Kenya Hunter, Mike Lewis, they do a good job. They’re well-respected. So it’s tough to make a broad over-arching statement on Tim Miles as a recruiter, per se.”
Except for one.
“Certainly, he’s not John Calipari,” Snow cracked. “But he’s also not the coach at Kentucky.”
On the flip side, White left for a reason. And the Huskers are at risk of becoming the most relevant campus in the state with the third most-relevant Division I men’s basketball program.
The loss of guard Mo Watson put a crimp on Creighton’s Final Four dreams, but this winter re-established the Bluejays (23-8) as a regional force and a pain in the backside. The University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks, a school whose bread is buttered by hockey, picked up a win at Iowa — Nebraska didn’t — and reached the Summit League title game with an 18-14 mark.
‘They have made an investment in the program. But if they had a 50-year-old arena, I don’t think that changes (expectations).’
– ESPN analyst Tim McCormick
If there’s any semblance of a silver lining in the cloud that’s following Miles around these days, it’s the Mavs just missing out on a ticket to Bracketville. If the state of Nebraska has two teams in the Big Dance and you’re not one of them, the look isn’t a good one.
Nor, for that matter, is this: On Jan. 30, the Huskers and Iowa Hawkeyes were tied for sixth in the league standings at 4-5. Over their last nine contests, Iowa won six; Nebraska went out and dropped seven.
The Hawkeyes got out of the wagon, rolled up their sleeves, and pushed it out of the ditch. The Huskers have been stuck in theirs for more than a month now, wheels caked with mud, spinning in perpetuity.
Development matters. Growth matters. Perception matters. In 2014, his second season at the controls, Miles steered the Huskers to their first NCAA Tournament berth in 19 years, elevating expectations across the board. He’s 41-54 (.432) since.
You can tell a lot about the aspirations of a basketball program by the home arena. The Devaney Center was functional. Pinnacle Bank Arena is a jewel in the skyline.
“The facilities are second to none,” McCormick said. “They have made an investment in the program. But if they had a 50-year-old arena, I don’t think that changes (expectations): ‘Well, we’ll keep him because we don’t have great facilities.’ I don’t think that makes a whole big difference.
“They’re in the Big Ten, and to me, the Big Ten has the best stable of coaches of any conferences in college basketball from top to bottom. There are other conferences that are really good, but I think the Big Ten’s the best. It’s a hard conference to win.”
And a hard resume to ignore. Over their last 10 games, the Big Red closed the regular season on a 3-7 stagger. Last winter, it was 2-8. In 2015, 1-9. In 2013, 3-7. In March, charm only gets you so far.