Behind Enemy Lines: Nebraska coach Tim Miles

By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 8, 2014

On Thursday night, the Michigan men’s basketball team will take on Nebraska in its third Big Ten game of the season.

Second-year coach Tim Miles, one of the Big Ten’s funniest and most lighthearted personalities, is working to turn around a Cornhusker team that was predicted to finish last in the conference preseason media poll. Nebraska (0-2 Big Ten, 8-6 overall) dropped its first two conference games to Iowa and Michigan State, both on the road.

The Daily sat down with Miles in October at Big Ten media day to talk about his return for a second season, playing in a new stadium and recruiting.

The Michigan Daily: With one year under your belt, are you a little more relaxed going into this season?
Tim Miles: Well, I don’t know if you can ever relax going into the Big Ten, but it’s that comforting feeling. The unknown always worries you, and now you know what to expect. But being a lifelong Big Ten fan, growing up in Big Ten territory in South Dakota, you knew how tough the league was going to be and it was certainly all that and then some.

TMD: What is the biggest area you want to build on from your first year?
TM: We were able to win five league games and we were able to win one in the (Big Ten) tournament (in 2013). We want to keep showing progress, and we did it when the league was at its most difficult. So just steady progress, I think, is really important to program building, especially at a place like Nebraska, which isn’t a traditional well-known or well-thought-of basketball power. In the ‘90s, we had a great run, but at this point in time now, we need to reinvent ourselves and that’s what we’re doing. We’ve done it with over $200 million in new facilities that are state of the art, and now we’ve got to get the coaching up to par and we’ll be ok.

TMD: You mentioned the brand-new stadium. How excited are you to break it in and how much does it help with recruiting?
TM: It definitely helps recruiting. It’s one of those things that I think shows progress. It shows commitment. When a recruit sees commitment and they see how well done it is, it’s an impressive thing. The other thing that goes right on top of that is we’ve sold that thing out. I mean, we sold it out in about a month or six weeks of time, and so it’s been sold out since the spring or early summer for the whole season. That matters a lot to people when you see that sort of commitment by your fans.

TMD: How hard is it to get a recruit to come out to Nebraska?
TM: Recruiting is always difficult. Everybody’s got it tough — that’s just part of the business. Any business where you’re at, when you get to kind of a certain level and especially the top level, the competition is more fierce and your job becomes more difficult. You have to find an edge and find a way. For us, it’s finding the right kind of guys that fit and that want to be in Nebraska for one reason or another. Whether they see the progress and the development of the program and they like that challenge, they see their opportunity for an impact to come play, or they like the coaches, or whatever it might be, we’ve got to find them. Because we don’t have a large base of local recruits and that can be a difficult thing to overcome sometimes.

TMD: You have a pretty laid back demeanor. How much do you rely on your personality to take you guys out of the Big Ten cellar?
TM: The personality part is probably a disorder more than anything, so we just try to deal with it. Certainly, the important part about recruiting is to let your recruits get to know you personally, and that’s one thing —we’re not (acting like) somebody we’re not. We just try to go out and be real guys and (tell recruits), ‘This is the way were gonna do it, and this is our plan for you.’ ”

TMD: What’s your goal for this year?
TM: It’s a standard. That’s what we have for a goal. We want to make the NCAA tournament and win when we’re there, and I’ve said that for years — even when I was at North Dakota State and we were a Division-I independent and ineligible for the NCAA tournament. I think you just have a standard, and that’s where it belongs.