Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Tim Miles deserves consideration for National Coach of the Year. He may not win the award, or even get a single vote. After all, Big Ten media opted to name Michigan’s John Beilien the conference’s coach of the year, one year removed from the Wolverines playing for the national championship.
And sure, perhaps this idea is born of hyperbole, the kind of knee-jerk reaction that prompts talking-head programs on cable sports network to shout about bests ever rather than accepting the moment for what it is.
However, the current moment is something special that deserves historic context.
Fans swarmed the court after the Cornhuskers’ upset of then-ninth ranked Wisconsin to close out the 2013-’14 regular season on Sunday, one of the increasingly rare instances when a storming is warranted. That moment captured every reason Miles should receive at least a few votes for Coach of the Year. That moment is also a tangible reference point to which Cornhusker fans may be able to one day look back and say, “March 9, 2014: that’s when Nebraska basketball arrived.”
Nebraska is following the steady formula that made Miles a winner in each of his previous stops. The Huskers are 19-11 in Miles’ second season, already four wins and five losses better than their 2012-’13 finish with more basketball to be played. Some of the remaining slate could be played in the NCAA tournament, which would mark Nebraska’s first such berth in the Big Dance since 1998.
Likewise, Miles’ teams at North Dakota State and Colorado State showed improvement from season-to-season. Colorado State in particular was notable for its progress from Mountain West bottom-feeder, to CBI participant, to an NIT berth and ultimately an appearance in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
No, measurable progress is nothing new for Miles. It is new for Nebraska, however.
Basketball has long an afterthought at one of the nation’s preeminent football schools. While Tom Osborne was filling the trophy case with Big 8 and 12 Conference football titles and national championships, Huskers basketball was cannon fodder for the Kansases, Oklahomas and Texases.
Nebraska got away from those teams, but came into the Big Ten at the wrong time. The Big Ten established itself as arguably the best overall conference in the nation over the last few seasons, and lowly Nebraska struggled to finish in a tie for 11th and 10th place.
This year? Nebraska heads to Indianapolis and the Big Ten tournament in fourth place.
The Huskers aren’t just making noise: they’re making noise in one of the most difficult conferences in which to stand out. And the football-crazed fan base is taking notice. A shade fewer than 16,000 fans packed into Pinnacle Bank Arena for Sunday’s defeat of Wisconsin, and any skeptics in the crowd surely were made converts by the final horn.
This could be the start of something big. The Huskers are probably bound for this year’s NCAA tournament, and that’s no minor accomplishment. But what Miles has going is something perhaps even grander.
Sunday’s stars, Terran Petteway and Shevon Shields, are both sophomores. Now, that certainly is no guarantee of anything long-term. Petteway in particular is the kind of smooth, long swingman the NBA loves—and has an overabundance of. Early entry and bad advice have claimed plenty of underclassmen less equipped for the pro style than Petteway.
On Sunday though, he sounded like someone committed to a program’s vision.
“Changing the attitude of the program and changing the attitude of how you come to practice everyday,” he said in Sunday’s postgame press conference, per Huskers.com. In order to get better, you got to be willing to be coached. That’s really what changed with our whole team is staying together.”
Losing and winning are both self-perpetuating cycles, which is why programs like Duke, North Carolina and Wisconsin are consistently competing. Likewise, the Nebraskas get trapped in a loop of despair. Miles’ 2013-’14 is more than one great season; it’s breaking a longstanding cycle spanning many seasons.
Not many coaches have accomplished that feat this or any season.