It is a very uncomfortable position for a fan base. Imagine how uncomfortable a spot it is for an athletic director.
Here is the situation: A coach is asked to improve a program which has struggled throughout its history. He is given a task which several decades of predecessors failed to achieve. How do you know when he has been given a full chance to prove that he can do the job? How do you strike the balance between fairness to your employee and an insistence on the higher standards you and your fan base are yearning for?
This is a battle between “the right thing” as a matter of professionally treating another human being, and — on the other hand — “the right thing” as a matter of giving a large community of fans a deserved return on investments of loyalty and resources.
Right now, the right thing leans toward the former consideration more than the latter… but how much longer can athletic director Bill Moos maintain this stance? That is the real question.
Time flies, and Tim Miles has been Nebraska’s head coach since 2012. This is Miles’ seventh season. That one NCAA Tournament appearance he gave the Huskers — which is no small thing in the larger workings of Nebrasketball history — is now five years old. With Nebraska losing at Illinois this past Saturday, the Huskers have lost five games in a row in Big Ten play including defeats against Illinois and Rutgers.
Isaac Copeland is out with an injury, and beginning in late February, the Huskers must play Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa in consecutive weeks before the Big Ten Tournament. If they can’t rack up wins these next three weeks against more manageable opponents, their NCAA chances will be close to zero heading into the most exciting time of the college basketball season.
To be sure, the Copeland injury was a nasty break, but with Copeland, this ship had begun to take on water. The loss to Rutgers occurred with Copeland in the lineup. It’s not as though everything was going great, only for the Copeland injury to hijack the season. The downward trajectory had already started. Miles can’t explain away every problem as an injury-based development. Only to some degree can he rationalize this downturn.
He hasn’t made the grade this season, and in Year 7 on the job, it is fair to wonder if someone else should be brought in to pursue Nebraska’s first NCAA Tournament win. The Huskers are the only Power Five conference program without a single March Madness victory.
However: While it is fair to wonder if Miles is the right guy for this job, it is ultimately not fair to fire him after this season.
Here’s why: At any job where there is a history of even occasional success — success reasonably defined as a decent run in the NCAA Tournament, such as a Sweet 16 or even a Round of 32 appearance — the amount of time a coach deserves should decrease. This is basic common sense, and no one needs this concept to be explained. At Nebraska, though, NO ONE (literally) has ever made a run in March. The next coach who does will be the first.
Penn State often gives its coaches eight years — this is Patrick Chambers’ eighth season — but even PSU has made a Final Four (in the 1950s) and a Sweet 16 (in 2001 under Jerry Dunn). Nebraska would LOVE to have Penn State’s basketball history. Just digest that statement and realize what it means.
Is this a program which should fire Miles? Maybe you could make that argument, but when you then consider that Miles went 13-5 in the 2018 Big Ten, including a double-bye in the conference tournament, and still didn’t get into the NCAAs because the Big Ten had an unusually bad year (which devalued those 13 conference wins), that’s merely bad luck and something beyond his control. If Miles had not done well last season in Big Ten play, it would be so much easier to conclude that the program is going nowhere.
As things stand, the 2018 season means this 2019 downturn shouldn’t be the end. Miles should get a 2019-2020 season to see if he can fix what is broken… and then — THEN — if he can’t perform needed repairs, the Huskers can look for a new coach.
It seems to many that the Huskers are stuck. On a larger level, they certainly are — at zero NCAA wins — but are they stuck in ways Miles can’t possibly change? I think one more year is needed to find out that answer for sure.
Bill Moos, though, is the man whose view counts more than mine. I don’t envy the decision he has to make.
You can listen to and subscribe to the CBB Today Podcast on iTunes right here.
As always, don’t forget to subscribe to our college basketball and NBA Draft email newsletter below. It’s the only way to survive the impending alien invasion.