When you first meet CSU basketball coach Tim Miles you canâ€™t help but like the guy.
Heâ€™s friendly, charismatic and has probably never shied away from a conversation in his life. If you were to bump into him around campus, youâ€™d never guess the man is the head coach of the basketball team (though of course the gray CSU basketball sweat pants might give it away).
Heâ€™s not standoffish and doesnâ€™t carry himself like heâ€™s better (or smarter) than everyone else,
which is so common with head coaches. As far as interviews go, heâ€™s a gift from above. Heâ€™s not afraid to say whatâ€™s on his mind or dodge questions with so called â€œcoach speak,â€ which is not the case with all of his peers within the department.
But above all else, his personality makes him special. What he is, is good for this school, for this program.
Miles inherited a basketball program that had been relatively stagnant since the schoolâ€™s last appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2003. CSU won just three Mountain West Conference games in the 2004-05 season with an overall record of 11-17, and barely improved in 2005-06 with four conference victories.
Former coach Dale Layer was let go and Miles was ushered in, and with him he brought enthusiasm and a drive to succeed. Miles was a successful coach at three small schools, but his winning record of 212-132 spoke for itself, though Iâ€™m sure he did a fair amount of talking as well.
Since Miles was hired in 2007, the Rams have steadily improved on the court and in recruiting, barely missing out on the NCAA Tournament last season. Last year was the teamâ€™s first winning record since Layerâ€™s final year and it marked the first 19 win season in eight years. CSUâ€™s basketball program experienced newfound success off the court too, thanks in large part to Miles.
In the two biggest games of the year, fans came out and supported the Rams against the BYU Jimmers, oh Iâ€™m sorry Cougars, and San Diego State. Both games sold out, something that seemed unimaginable in previous seasons. In fact the multiple sellouts were a first in 20 years and Moby set a 11-year high in attendance.
CSU Director of Athletics Paul Kowalczyk said in 2007 he wanted â€œsomeone who strikes a cord with our fans and the community.â€ Miles has done just that, reinvigorating the buzz surrounding a program that seemed lost in the dark just three years before.
Entering 2011-12, the Rams were selected to finish fourth in the MW preseason media poll, their highest preseason ranking since 2003-04 when CSU was picked to finish third. New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State, all legitimate NCAA Tournament contenders, were picked ahead of CSU in the conference.
â€œThis is a great opportunity for us to show the mark of our program,â€ said Miles of his teamâ€™s preseason ranking.
But what I love most about Miles is his fearless pursuit of excellence and his realization that the best way to rebuild the program is to get it on the map. Last season the Rams scheduled Kansas in Kansas City, Mo. and for more than a half stayed competitive before falling by a wide margin. But the margin of victory didnâ€™t really matter. It showed recruits, fans and people around basketball that CSU meant business.
This year Miles took it a step further and scheduled national powerhouse Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the toughest road environment in all of college basketball. Because of last yearâ€™s National Invitation Tournament appearance, the Rams will compete in the nationally televised Dickâ€™s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off. Yet another platform to showcase the program.
I have no doubt that it is simply a matter of time before CSU is a consistent NCAA participant because I believe in Tim Miles.
Heâ€™s good for this school. Heâ€™s good for basketball.
Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.