Profile Of A Possible Savior: Tim Miles

LAS VEGAS NV - JANUARY 19: Head coach Tim Miles of the Colorado State Rams signals his players during their 78-63 victory over the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center January 19 2011 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Previously on Profile Of A Possible Savior:

Blaine Taylor (ODU)
Cuonzo Martin (Missouri State)

Brian Gregory (Dayton)

Chris Mooney (Richmond)
Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)
Keno Davis (Providence)
Darrin Horn (South Carolina)
Tubby Smith (Minnesota)
Billy Gillispie (at the bar)

Today: Tim Miles, the 44-year-old head coach at Colorado State University.

Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

No. Before he came to Colorado State, he was at North Dakota State and oversaw their relatively successful move to I-A, but those teams were without conference affiliation and they were ineligible for postseason play. His CSU program is still a work in progress.

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

Yes. He stepped into a terrible situation at Colorado State; or rather, the coaching change made for a terrible situation. Almost every scholarship player left the program before the start of his first season:

"We were left with what could have been the fifth-best intramural team on a lot of campuses," Miles said of the 2007-08 team. The Rams needed the best intramural player on campus, current senior starting guard Adam Nigon, to merit Miles's claim of fifth-best.

Why so short-handed?

"Apparently our first meeting didn't go well," Miles said of the mass exodus after meeting his team in March 2007. "It was a melee for the next six weeks."

Of the nine inherited players with eligibility, seven left. Most transferred or quit playing. Freshman forward Xavier Kilby was kicked off the team after firing a gun into a couch during an argument with a teammate.

"We had to get rid of guys," Miles said. "The only smart guy was Jason Smith. He entered the NBA draft."

Seven players and one couch. That's a tough offseason. It was so bad that Miles was forced to hold open tryouts on campus to fill out the roster. That season was as bad as you might guess: the Rams went 7-25 and lost all 16 conference games. They even lost to something called Panhandle State, which I assume is some sort of diploma mill for hobos.

Colorado State has no tradition whatsoever. The school has lost more games than it has won, and over the five years prior to Miles's arrival, the team averaged 15 wins and 15 losses per season. They've made eight NCAA tournament appearances and just three in the last 40 years. Even Stew Morrill, who went on to build a very good program at Utah State, struggled to win at CSU; in seven years he never took them to the NCAA tournament.

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

Yes. Since that incredibly awful first season, Colorado State has gotten better every year under Miles, and they're now at a point where they can challenge for an at-large NCAA bid, which is an enormous accomplishment for this program. Here's their progression through the Pomeroy Ratings:

2008: 240th (7-25; 0-16)

2009: 183rd (9-22; 4-12)

2010: 150th (16-16; 7-9)

2011: 65th (18-9; 8-5)

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

They are modest successes, but yes. At NDSU, he not only weathered the transition to I-A but also built a team good enough to win at Wisconsin and Marquette in successive seasons. His last NDSU team, which went 20-8, was also competitive against other major-conference schools like Kansas State and Texas Tech.

His first program, Mayville State (NAIA), won its league the two years he was there. He led his next school, Southwest Minnesota State, to a conference title and Div-II Elite Eight appearance.

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

Nope. His pedigree is sorely lacking--he has less than ten years of coaching experience at the I-A level, and Colorado State is the most high profile job he's had. He got his start as an assistant at Northern State before taking the head coaching job at Mayville St. and moving up from there.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

They're pretty good, though not on the San Diego State/BYU tier, obviously. Colorado State sits in fourth place in the Mountain West with an 8-5 record; Pomeroy projects a 10-6 finish. They've beaten UNLV and New Mexico and they've been competitive in losses to BYU (94-85; 84-76), SDSU (56-54), New Mexico (68-61) and UNLV (68-61). Those teams all sit above them in the Pomeroy Ratings, so they're good losses, at least. They've taken care of business against the teams at the bottom of the league.

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

Maybe? His first two CSU teams were horrifically bad, ranking in the 270-290 range in terms of defensive efficiency. But he may deserve an exemption for having to work with a program in shambles. Last year they were 99th, while they're at 87 so far in 2011. It's such a short period that there isn't much to say except that the results are inconclusive. The defense has progressed in step with the program, and that's encouraging, but it's hard to guess where they go from here.

8. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?

No. He has signed some three-star kids, but no one approaching blue chip status.

9. Does he run the Princeton offense?

No. His motion offense is neither lethargic nor overly reliant on the three-point shot. I don't know that I've ever outlined this, but here's how I tend to break down a team's inclinations based on their 3FGA/FGA ratio:

40+%: Princeton extremism

36-39%: perimeter-oriented

32-35: average to above average

20-23: Hey we'd take more if we had more than one Scott Wood, okay?

At 33.9% this season, CSU is right there in the average/inoffensive attempt range. (Inoffensive to State fans' sensibilities, I mean.) That's pretty typical for Miles's tenure. His offense ranks 58th in offensive efficiency this year, making it the best offense he's had at Colorado State.

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?

None. He was born in South Dakota, went to school in North Dakota, and has spent his entire coaching career in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Colorado.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

He is sharp, candid, far more open to interacting with fans than most coaches, and a legitimately funny guy.  I suspect he would "win the press conference" and endear himself to the fan base given enough time. The fan base would just have to get past the confusion phase first. He's the kind of person who I think would relate well to everyone and work the coaches caravan circuit with ease.

He has embraced new media and deserves a lot of credit for taking that route to build awareness for his program. He has one of the most entertaining coach's Twitter accounts in existence and he's been known to tweet from the locker room at halftime. This is all so strange and amusing to me. The Twitter thing seems like it could never work at NC State. Imagine the message board posts after a loss. "What's he doing on Twitter when he should be coaching?! Where is the commitment?"

He writes letters to the Colorado State student body. He buys them pizza. (Of course, Herb bought a slice or 500 in his day too.) He's done Q-and-A sessions with fans:

How can I get an orange Aggies basketball jersey?
Jarrod, Denver

TM: Jarrod, can you play for the Rams? Do you have any eligibility? Are you 6-foot-10? If you are, call me!

There's also a reality show:

While Facebook and Twitter are useful additions in CSU’s promotional toolbox, the most impactful use of modern media has been Reaching the Peak, which chronicles the day-to-day life of Miles and his basketball program. Miles granted full access to video crews from The Mtn., and fans get to watch the team develop – warts and all.

The show has been a huge success for both CSU and the network. Not only is it the highest-rated, non-event program on The Mtn., Reaching the Peak has been nominated for Emmy Awards in each of its first two seasons.

The No. 1 reason: Miles.

"People in the industry can’t believe coach Miles is letting us do this all-access show – they tell us how great it is," says Alysen Hargrove, the show’s co-producer. "Most of the coaches we’ve interviewed said they would not do a show like this, but coach Miles has embraced it and made it work for him. He projects exactly what a student-athlete is looking for. The kids on his team enjoy their time with him. He’s their coach, but he’s also a mentor and friend."

 

Summary:

Would he be better than Sid?

Yep.

Would he be better than Herb?

Tough to say...this is bit of a problem. What he's doing at Colorado State this season is impressive, but it's arguably his first breakthrough year at the I-A level. This is just his seventh year in I-A. I like his trajectory, it's just too early to make any guesses about the long term. At this point he represents a big leap of faith.

Would he take the job if offered?

The only thing that would give him pause is the culture change. He's never coached east of the Mississippi. If this salary figure is accurate, he's making $400,000 at Colorado State, so it would be no sweat for NC State to triple his salary.

How would I feel if he were hired?

As much as I like this guy, I'm pretty sure I'd be alarmed. His track record is too short to inspire much confidence. On that basis alone, he's probably behind every other mid-major candidate we might interview.

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

There would be confusion and outrage, I'm guessing. As I mentioned above, there are plenty of mid-major candidates with superior resumes. He'd need some early success more than other candidates in order to generate good will, counter the misgivings, and give his personality a chance to win fans over. Like Cuonzo, it's a fair bet Miles's time is coming. He needs a few more years to prove he's the real deal.

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