Nebraska fires men’s basketball coach Tim Miles after seven seasons

Nebraska fires men’s basketball coach Tim Miles after seven seasons
Tim Miles spoke to reporters shortly after it was announced he would no longer coach the Nebraska men's basketball program. (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — After seven years, the Tim Miles era has come to an end.

Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos announced on Tuesday that Miles has been relieved of his duties as the head basketball coach.

Miles finishes his time at Nebraska with a record of 116-114. That’s the third-most wins in school history, but his winning percentage (.504) is better than only one Husker coach (Barry Collier) since 1964. The Huskers reached the NCAA tournament once under Miles and never advanced past the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

“Tim Miles is a good basketball coach who has put his heart, soul and energy into the Nebraska men’s basketball program over the past seven years,” Moos said in a press release. “Ultimately, we have not maintained a level of consistent success and stability on the court, and after a full review I have made the decision to move in another direction for the leadership of our program.”

Per Miles’ contract, he’ll be owed $105,000 per month through March 2021 — about $2.5 million total — though that amount could decrease if Miles takes another job.

The move comes after Miles and Nebraska finished a disappointing season with a 19-17 mark. That was a dramatic fall after the Huskers started the year 11-2 and rose as high as No. 24 in the Associated Press poll.

But Nebraska lost seven straight in January and 11 of its final 14 games of the regular season, derailing the season and the chances for Miles’ return.

Nebraska did provide some excitement toward the end, earning a dramatic come-from-behind overtime win over Iowa in the regular season finale and two wins in the Big Ten tournament.

That helped the Huskers secure an NIT bid for the second straight year, but a second-round loss at TCU marked the end to Miles’ time at Nebraska.

“Thank you to the University of Nebraska for a remarkable journey,” Miles said in a press release. “It was a great honor to represent this University the past seven years. I am extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish during my tenure, most notably developing relationships with so many fantastic people associated with the Huskers.”

Nebraska is now looking for its fourth head coach since 2000.

Nebraska’s main target for the position is former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, a source close to Nebraska athletics told The World-Herald last week.

Hoiberg, 46, was born in Lincoln and is the grandson of Jerry Bush, who coached Nebraska from 1954-63. Hoiberg moved to Ames, Iowa, as a child and played at Iowa State before going on to a 10-year NBA career.

Hoiberg began his coaching career in 2010 when he was hired by his alma mater after serving in a front office role with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He went 16-16 in his first season with the Cyclones, then made four straight NCAA tournaments, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2014. Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament in his final two seasons before he left for Chicago in 2015.

Hoiberg went 115-155 with the Bulls before being fired in December.

“I am confident there will be strong interest from the coaching community about the opportunity to lead our men’s basketball program,” Moos said. “We are fully committed to providing the necessary resources to position our basketball program for success on the conference and national level. I expect to find a head coach who will elevate Nebraska basketball to new heights.”

The Miles era ushered Nebraska into the Big Ten and Pinnacle Bank Arena. But an NCAA tournament bid in 2013-14 and “No-sit Sunday” will be overshadowed by two seasons of disappointment that followed the promise of the season prior.

Miles was hired in March 2012 by then-Athletic Director Tom Osborne with a five-year, $1.4 million contract. In his second season, Miles helped Nebraska to its second NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years when NU won 10 of its final 12 games, including wins at Michigan State and Indiana. In the regular season finale, Pinnacle Bank Arena hosted “No-sit Sunday” against No. 9 Wisconsin. The Huskers won, 77-68, which sent NU to the NCAA tournament, but Nebraska lost as an 11 seed to Baylor 74-60.

Nebraska couldn’t capitalize on that momentum in the next season, losing 11 of its final 12 games to finish 13-18. But Miles was rewarded by newly hired Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst for his first three seasons with a new five-year, $2.1 million contract.

In year four, Miles and NU finished 16-18, and Eichorst chose not to extend Miles’ contract.

Year five was Miles’ worst with a 12-19 record. But after Nebraska lost to Penn State in the first game of the Big Ten tournament, Eichorst tweeted just before Miles’ postgame press conference he was looking forward to Miles’ “continued leadership.”

The Huskers bounced back in the 2017-18 season with a 22-11 record. But they also became the first team in Big Ten history to finish with 13 conference wins and not get into the NCAA tournament. NU lost in the first round of the NIT at Mississippi State, 66-59.

Moos, who took over for Eichorst in the fall of 2017, chose to extend Miles’ contract just one year, which most saw as a “trial period” with the new A.D.

“I like the direction we are moving with Tim,” Moos said in April 2018. “I just felt to protect the university at this juncture that a one-year extension to three overall would be good, and we could talk about it again after next year.”

Nebraska returned its four best players entering the 2018-19 season with Isaiah Roby, James Palmer, Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson. But it didn’t pan out as planned, and Miles’ final season at Nebraska came to an end in disappointing fashion.

Moos has hired a basketball coach three times as an athletic director. The first time was in 1990, when he promoted assistant coach Blaine Taylor to take over Montana. Twice Moos chose to hire Ernie Kent, first at Oregon in 1997, then at Washington State in 2014. Kent was fired at Oregon after 13 seasons but twice took the Ducks to the Elite Eight. Kent went 58-98 in five seasons at Washington State and was fired on March 14.

The last four hires for Nebraska have come from mid-major schools, including Ohio, Butler, UTEP and Colorado State. In 2001, Husker A.D. Bill Byrne first went after Bill Self at Tulsa, then chased Leonard Hamilton of Miami and Oli­ver Purnell of Dayton. Byrne eventually went with the Plan B pool and took Butler’s Barry Collier.

In 2006, after Collier didn’t get a contract extension, he resigned in early August to become Butler’s athletic director. It took seven days to replace him with Doc Sadler. A.D. Steve Pederson and Marc Boehm, executive associate athletic director — with the help of ChampSearch run by California twins David and Dana Pump — picked Sadler after also looking at Mark Fox of Nevada, Karl Hobbs of George Washington, Randy Bennett of St. Mary’s and John Pelphrey of South Alabama.

Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall was offered the Nebraska job in 2012, but declined, according to three World-Herald sources. Gonzaga’s Mark Few turned down an interview.

In a hotel in Atlanta, Miles impressed Osborne and Boehm during his interview. Nebraska announced the Miles hiring live on BTN on March 25, 2012.

“When Dr. Tom Osborne bets on you, you want to come through for him,” Miles said that day. “You give us a chance and we’re gonna come through for ya. We’ve exceeded expectations everywhere we’ve been.”

Husker A.D. Bill Moos has three coaches atop list to replace Tim Miles. One is Fred Hoiberg

Tim Miles at Nebraska

2012-13: 15-18, 5-13; 10th in the Big Ten (no postseason)

2013-14: 19-13, 11-7; Fourth in the Big Ten; lost in first round of NCAA tournament

2014-15: 13-18, 5-13; 12th in the Big Ten (no postseason)

2015-16: 16-18, 6-12; 11th in the Big Ten (no postseason)

2016-17: 12-19, 6-12; tied for 12th in the Big Ten (no postseason)

2017-18: 22-11, 13-5; tied for fourth in the Big Ten; lost in first round of NIT

2018-19: 19-17, 6-14; 13th in the Big Ten; lost in second round of NIT

Total: 116-114 (.504), 52-76 (.406)

How similar was Tim Miles’ career arc to his most recent predecessors?

Nebraska coach Tim Miles failed to deliver Husker basketball the same success it enjoyed in the 1990s under Danny Nee. Miles joined his two most recent predecessors, Barry Collier and Doc Sadler, in falling short of making NU a consistently competitive program in college hoops.

Just how similar was Miles’ career arc to that of Collier and Sadler? Take a look at some relevant comparisons of the three coaches since Collier took over the job in the spring of 2000.

* * *

Overall record

Sadler: 101-89 (.531)

Miles: 116-114 (.504)

Collier: 89-91 (.494)

Conference record

Miles: 52-76 (.406)

Collier: 36-60 (.375)

Sadler: 34-64 (.347)

Record vs. ranked teams

Sadler: 9-28 (.243)

Collier: 8-27 (.229)

Miles: 10-46 (.179)

Conference tournament record

Miles: 5-7 (.417)

Collier: 2-6 (.250)

Sadler: 2-6 (.250)

Postseason tournament record

Collier: 2-2 (.500) (2 NIT)

Sadler: 1-3 (.250) (3 NIT)

Miles: 1-3 (.250) (1 NCAA, 2 NIT)

Weeks ranked in the AP Top 25

Miles: 5

Collier: 0

Sadler: 0

Ranking the teams according to Ken Pom’s ratings

*2001 team not included

2008 (Sadler): 39th

2004 (Collier): 40th

2019 (Miles): 48th (as of March 25)

2018 (Miles): 55th

2014 (Miles): 56th

2009 (Sadler): 63rd

2011 (Sadler): 64th

2005 (Collier): 80th

2007 (Sadler): 82nd

2016 (Miles): 85th

2010 (Sadler): 93rd

2002 (Collier): 103rd

2017 (Miles): 107th

2006 (Collier): 111th

2015 (Miles): 121st

2013 (Miles): 136th

2003 (Collier): 138th

2012 (Sadler): 152nd

Tim Miles’ salary ranked in Big Ten’s bottom half

Tim Miles made less than most of his Big Ten counterparts and head coaches throughout the country.

Miles earned $2.375 million during the 2018-19 season. His salary would have raised to $2.5 million had he been retained for next season.

According to USA Today’s salary database, the “school pay” Miles received this season — which doesn’t include bonuses or revenue from other means — ranked eighth out of 13 Big Ten schools that provided data. It also ranked 44th nationally.

He also trailed many of his peers from high-major conferences — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. Of the 67 coaches from those conferences with entries in the USA Today database, Miles ranked 41st.

Notably, Miles did make more money than three league coaches — Wisconsin’s Greg Gard, Iowa’s Fran McCaffery and Minnesota’s Richard Pitino — whose teams made the NCAA tournament this season.

So if Nebraska wants to pay its next coach a more competitive salary compared to the top of the Big Ten, where will that mark fall?

There are at least 20 high-major coaches who earn at least $3 million annually, and four of them come from the Big Ten. One of those coaches — Michigan State’s Tom Izzo — has won a national title and reached seven Final Fours. Another — John Beilein, the conference’s highest-paid coach — has twice led Michigan to the championship game.

Recent history could also give an idea of market value for new Big Ten coaches. Of the seven coaches ranked ahead of Miles, three were hired by their respective schools prior to the 2017-18 season — Indiana’s Archie Miller, Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann and Illinois’ Brad Underwood. All three make at least $2.85 million.

Below is a breakdown of the annual salary for each Big Ten men’s basketball coach:

Michigan: John Beilein, $3.8 million

Michigan State: Tom Izzo, $3,732,562

Indiana: Archie Miller, $3.25 million

Ohio State: Chris Holtmann, $3,013,750

Illinois: Brad Underwood, $2.85 million

Maryland: Mark Turgeon, $2,847,232

Purdue: Matt Painter, $2.825 million

Nebraska: Tim Miles, $2.375 million

Wisconsin: Greg Gard, $2.35 million

Iowa: Fran McCaffery, $2.3 million

Minnesota: Richard Pitino, $2,188,141

Rutgers: Steve Pikiell, $1.6 million

Northwestern: Chris Collins, $1,507,154

*Penn State is protected by Pennsylvania state law from providing salary figures for coach Patrick Chambers.

Other notable salaries:

Kansas: Bill Self, $3,881,857

Wichita State: Gregg Marshall, $3.57 million

Oklahoma: Lon Kruger, $3.2 million

Oregon: Dana Altman, $2.822 million

Kansas State: Bruce Weber, $2.6 million

Notre Dame: Mike Brey, $2,420,838*

Arizona State: Bobby Hurley, $2.355 million

Cincinnati: Mick Cronin, $2,224,483

Mississippi State: Ben Howland, $2.2 million

Iowa State: Steve Prohm, $2.05 million

Washington: Mike Hopkins, $1.9 million

Colorado: Tad Boyle, $1,803,500

Creighton: Greg McDermott, $1,527,721

*Includes more than $1 million from Notre Dame’s media rights holder, which the World-Herald folded into Brey’s overall compensation.

Funds necessary to cover Nebraska coaching changes historically come from department reserves

The Nebraska athletic department will likely dip into reserve funds to cover the remaining money owed to former men’s basketball coach Tim Miles and any of his assistants that are not retained.

The NU athletic department has said in the past it does not receive any state money and it maintains millions in a fund that historically provides the flexibility it needs to cover big-ticket items.

It is from that fund, for example, that Nebraska drew to make monthly payments of $128,009 to former football coach Bo Pelini. It’s also likely where Nebraska got the money to pay lump sums of more than $7 million combined to former football coach Mike Riley and Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.

Nebraska could owe Miles more than $2.5 million, depending on whether he takes a position elsewhere during the duration of his contract, which runs through March 2021.

The reserve fund allows the Huskers to not turn to the chancellor or (directly) to donors to bankroll changes or projects. Nebraska has declined to make the total balance of its fund public, but Tom Osborne told The World-Herald during his tenure as athletic director that about $15 million was deposited in the reserve fund each year from ticket premiums. He said the accrued stockpile allowed the athletic department to cover budget shortfalls and buyouts.

In the past, the NU athletic department and University of Nebraska Foundation have declined to answer other questions about the fund, aside from noting it’s not taxpayer money.

With Nebraska being among a low number of athletic departments that are self-sufficient, it puts the Huskers in position to say “resources are not the question here at Nebraska,” as Eichorst did when Pelini was fired.

Nebraska has needed to use its reserves more than a handful of times over the last decade, with firings since 2007 including Athletic Director Steve Pederson and football coach Bill Calllahan before Pelini, Eichorst and Riley. NU also had to cover nearly $2 million in money owed to Pelini’s assistant coaches through the duration of their contracts.

Nebraska football season ticket-holders pay anywhere from $150 to $2,500 a seat each year when renewing or purchasing, although contributions were lowered for most seats in 2016 and some were added that required no donation. That revenue helps fund and replenish the athletic department reserves.

According to a 2014 World-Herald report, the university tapped the reserves to cover $7.2 million of the $9.2 million penalty it paid to move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten in 2011. Even after that cost and the Callahan-Pederson buyouts, the Huskers took $25 million more from the fund to jump start the East Stadium expansion that was completed in 2013.

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