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Andy Katz | Correspondent | May 11, 2018

Contract extensions for Nebraska, Penn State prove value in progress

2018 One Shining Moment

Making the NCAA tournament doesn't have to be the main reason for a head coach to receive an extension. 

Proving that you have control over and consistency in your program can deliver an extension -- as long as there's genuine interest and not fan apathy.

This worked for two Big Ten coaches who were on the cusp of making the 2018 NCAA tournament but fell short.

Nebraska’s Tim Miles and Penn State’s Pat Chambers both received contract extensions within the past month — despite both playing in the NIT. Nebraska lost at Mississippi State in the first round of the NIT, winning a Miles’ Nebraska high 22 games overall and 13 in the Big Ten.

Penn State won the NIT title, ultimately winning four of five games at Madison Square Garden in the postseason after going 2-1 in the Big Ten tournament in early March and winning 26 games overall, the second most in school history and the first 20-win season since 2008-09.

Miles’ deal is now through 2020-21, Chambers through 2021-22.

Miles has been to one NCAA tournament in six seasons at Nebraska with a 97-97 record. Chambers hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament at Penn State in seven seasons, with a 133-122 record.

What does that say?

That decisions on the leadership of the program shouldn’t be decided by whether a coach wins one more game. Decisions should be seen on progress. And there is no way you wouldn’t have seen an improvement if you watched the two programs this past season.

Would it have mattered if Nebraska beat Kansas in December instead of losing in the final seconds? Well, it could have for the Huskers making the NCAA tournament, but not for Miles’ job.

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Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos, the third athletic director for Miles during his tenure, said at the time of the extension last month that he was impressed with the energy and passion Miles’ shows and that his “performance certainly merits an extension.’’ Miles has made Nebraska basketball more relevant. The Huskers finished fourth in the Big Ten. They have made basketball a happening in Lincoln.

When the Huskers knocked off Minnesota at home but then lost to Creighton and Kansas, Miles was still at ease.

“I was at peace with the program,’’ said Miles. “I was never worried about my job.’’

Would it have mattered if Penn State beat Purdue in the Big Ten tournament in the semifinals — didn’t lose to Rider at the buzzer in the non conference? Possibly for the NCAA tournament, but not for Chambers’ job. Chambers said it’s natural to always fret about job security but even when the Nittany Lions were 3-5 in January, “we knew we had really good players and we knew we were doing the right things and in a position to win a lot of games on the road and at home and eventually it would break.’’

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“For me it’s about being the right guy and a great fit for Penn State and building it the right way,’’ Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said by phone Wednesday night during an alumni stop in Philadelphia. “We saw progress.’’

“The NIT championship was fabulous and a great confidence builder, the next step is the NCAA tournament,’’ said Barbour. “The evaluation for me is that is where we’re headed.’’

Barbour said she made a decision to extend Chambers at the end of the regular season, before Penn State reached the Big Ten tournament semifinals in New York.

“It was clear to me that significant progress had been made,’’ said Barbour.

Penn State lost sophomore guard Tony Carr to the NBA draft. Carr was a near 20-point scorer in the Big Ten, hit one of the biggest shots for the Nittany Lions when he beat Ohio State in Columbus at the buzzer, and was the go-to scorer for the Nittany Lions. Seniors Shep Garner and Julian Moore are also gone.

But Penn State does return Josh Reaves, Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, John Harrar and Jamari Wheeler. The impact of incoming players Myles Dread, Myreon Jones, Izaiah Brockington, and likely Rasir Bolton and possibly Daniel Kasatkin will/should be felt early in the season.

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Chambers said the go-to guys to start will probably be Stevens and Reaves.This is a team that should and we underscore should be in contention for an NCAA berth again. The Big Ten is going to 20 league games, which should help the overall power rating. Penn State will play an ACC-Big Ten Challenge and Gavitt Game against the Big East to be determined, have to go to Duquesne, a rising A-10 program, play a neutral-site game, possibly against an ACC team, in Atlantic City and are in a tournament in Cancun, with SMU as at least one of the other teams.

“A lot of people define success by going to the NCAA tournament and I was asked would you rather go to Dayton and lose in the first game and not go on this great NIT championship run? We were one of only two teams that get to end the season with a victory. We’re a championship team. We cut down a net. We were on prime-time television and had over one million-plus views,’’ said Chambers. “It was great for our program. That was invaluable for us.’’

Nebraska could be picked to compete for the Big Ten regular-season title if James Palmer Jr., and Isaac Copeland Jr., both return.

“If we don’t lose anybody we’re a top 35 team in the country next season,’’ Miles said. “That’s based on what we’ve already done.’’

Neither Palmer or Copeland was invited to go to the NBA draft combine next week in Chicago.

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Miles is fully supporting them working out for NBA teams to get feedback. He said Palmer was thrilled to work out in front of Jerry West.

“That means everything to those guys, to have the chance to have those opportunities,’’ said Miles. “The feedback is great. They’re not delusional.’’

The Huskers also bring back guard Glynn Watson Jr.. If the Huskers have Palmer, Copeland and Watson that gives them three seniors and experience has mattered for conference titles and deep NCAA runs of late.

“We’re going to return our top scorers, top producers and we don’t want to screw this up,’’ said Miles. “We want to add to this team and have them play within the framework of a successful team.’’

Nebraska will host Creighton, are at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and for the Gavitt Game (one that he hopes will be an elite Big East team), are in the CBE Classic in Kansas City with Texas Tech, USC and Missouri State. Miles is still trying to schedule a high-major neutral-court opponent.

“If we make a shot against Kansas, which was a two seed and in the Final Four, how much of a difference is that for us? Does that get us in? We beat Michigan and that would have meant being 2-0 against Final Four teams,’’ Miles said. “It’s a sliver of difference. But the fact is that our people believe in us.

“When I got the job we were moving into the Big Ten, into a new arena, we were building a national brand,’’ said Miles. “Nebraska basketball is more relevant than it has been in a long, long time. We’re building on that and we believe we can be successful.’’

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