Finally Miles Ahead? With a solid returning point guard and some new talent, NU coach says team in a good place

LINCOLN — The first four times Tim Miles left a head coaching job, it was his decision.

The next time, it might not be.

Miles enters Year 6 at Nebraska with three straight losing seasons after doing the improbable in 2013-14 — taking the Huskers to the NCAA tournament, ending a 16-year drought.

Overall at NU, Miles is 75-86 (.466) and 33-57 (.367) in the Big Ten. The last two years, his contract wasn’t extended the standard one year, but that was under Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, who was fired in September.

After the final game last season, which ended with a 12-19 record, Eichorst tweeted that Miles would return for the next season.

“But it didn’t go past that,” Miles said. “Anytime you’re in that situation, you kind of wonder. It doesn’t really affect me coaching my team. It might affect me if I’m going to redo my kitchen.”

Trademark humor aside, the 51-year-old Miles is well aware of what’s at stake.

“I feel strongly about this team,” he said. “I want to be the coach at Nebraska. And I want to do the fans right. We came here to go to the NCAA tournament — and win — and exceed expectations.

“We haven’t done that yet, so I’m as disappointed as anybody. I’m also proud of some of the things we have done. But we haven’t won enough games. I know that.”

Miles was signed to a seven-year contract by then-A.D. Tom Osborne. It was the longest contract ever given to an NU coach.

“If you look at the history of Nebraska basketball,” Miles said, “you knew you needed security.”

The Huskers haven’t won an outright conference title since 1916, or a shared title since 1950. They are the last Power Five school without an NCAA tourney victory. When that last fact was presented to newly hired A.D. Bill Moos, he softly uttered the word, “Wow.”

Miles, who took the NU job coming off an NCAA tourney season at Colorado State, could have stayed another season at CSU to coach a team built for a deeper NCAA run.

“If I wanted a Power Five job the next season, I knew I probably would be all right,” he said. “But I wanted to be at Nebraska. I wanted to be in the Big Ten. I wanted to be closer to home. This feels like home to me.

“But I knew there were going to be some things to figure out about the job. The Big Ten will punish you. If you’re weak at anything, you get punished.”

Nebraska finished 16-18 in 2015-16 in what was a transition year after losing a big senior class and two players early to pro basketball. Miles thought things were in place for a step up last season — until top returning scorer and rebounder Andrew White bolted June 25 for Syracuse as a graduate transfer.

The late departure created an undercurrent of betrayal and discontent that the Huskers never could fully escape.

“Last year, there was no doubt I had more anger and anxiety in me,” Miles said. “People close to me or astute people noticed that. The reasons for that were an accumulation of all kinds of things, almost exclusively professionally.”

Now, Miles thinks he’s in “a way better place.”

“I feel more at ease,” he said. “It’s fun coaching this group. I’m excited to go on the floor and practice or go watch tape. Not that you weren’t previously, but toward the end of last season there was an exasperated feeling.”

Something else Miles didn’t have to use energy on before this season was hiring a new assistant. His staff of Kenya Hunter, Michael Lewis and Jim Molinari stayed intact.

“It’s always nice in the spring when you don’t have to hire someone,” said Miles, who added with a smile, “or twice, like the year we got Burno-ed.”

That’s a reference to Rashon Burno, who took a job at NU, then left after 50 days to go to Arizona State.

“It’s nice to be able to concentrate on your team,” Miles said. “I like our staff a lot. We’ve got three veteran guys who are parents and family guys and know how to treat kids. I believe in all of them.”

In the offseason, Nebraska got a rare piece of good news in getting Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland immediately eligible. And early returns indicate that three players who underwent surgeries — Copeland (back), guard Anton Gill (knee) and center Jordy Tshimanga (knee) — are progressing.

So is it fair to say Nebraska’s basketball luck is changing, and the roadblocks to success are fewer?

“We still have to play Michigan and Michigan State,” Miles said. “The competition is fierce. But I feel in a better place, and the team is in a better place.

“Knock on wood we stay healthy. But I think making the NCAA tournament is closer to a reality than it is a dream.”

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