Comparing Tim Miles and Pat Chambers

Ronald Martinez

A common discusson on BSD last hoops season revolved around Tim Miles and Nebraska's uprising as a basketball program. While Pat Chambers team struggled to find any consistency, Tim Miles' bunch went on an absolute tear in February and made their first NCAA tournament in 16 years behind a talented trio of sophomores. Since PSU/Nebraska are similar only in that both have storied football tradition with no basketball success, it made for an annoying comparison that was used as evidence that Pat Chambers either A) needed to be fired or B) was taking way too long to rebuild Penn State.

I could go on and on about how Nebraska made a huge financial commitment to improving their program the last 5 years back when Tom Osborne was the athletic director, but we'll keep it short with a quick recap. Nebraska went out and built an $18.7 million practice facility and a $179 million new arena, and they dramatically raised the salary of not only their head coach (prior coach Doc Sadler was making 900k per year, Miles is making 1.4 mil per year), but his assistants as well. They had so much faith in their hire in Tim Miles that they gave him 7 years to play around with their shiny new tools. Nebraska's coaches also have private plane access for recruiting.

Now Penn State did go out and upgrade the BJC facilities a few years ago, but their coaches' salaries are a joke, and I'm not holding my breath on Chambers having unfiltered access to the university's private jets. So it's not exactly a level playing ground between the two.

But let's just focus on the basketball side of things for now, because that's not exactly a fair comparison either.

Let's start with the timeline of when both coaches were hired. We know Pat Chambers was hired late in the coaching cycle on June 6, 2011. Tim Miles was hired in the midst of March Madness on March 24, 2012. So Miles had a 2.5 month head start into his tenure. This is very important for one specific reason: every mid-April to early-May is the spring signing window in hoops. It's practically college basketball's free-agency. As transfer rates continue to climb, there's more and more roster turnover in these few short months than ever before.

So how did Miles benefit from that? His two biggest recruits so far were signed in his first 2.5 months. Terran Petteway, a transfer from Texas Tech, and Walter Pitchford, a transfer from Florida, both committed to Nebraska before Pat Chambers theoretically was hired (if they were hired in the same year). Petteway committed May 14 and Pitchford committed June 5. In fact, they were the third and fourth players Miles had already signed, as he landed JuCo point guard Deverell Biggs and 7-footer Sergei Vucetic earlier. All four obviously were on Miles' roster his first year.

In order to add players, obviously you need scholarships. These could be vacant scholarships readily available or vacated scholarships from the coach's prior players. Luckily for Miles, he had both immediately available. Nebraska had just graduated a 4-man class from their program, so Sadler had a 5-man recruiting class to replace them. But most players commit to coaches, not schools, so it's common for natural attrition to occur under a coaching change. Miles released three of Sadler's signed recruits from their LOIs almost immediately, and he also saw four scholarship players from Sadler's previous team leave the program with eligibility remaining. Look at that, seven open scholarships to use however Miles pleased.

Guess how many players Pat was able to add to his first year roster? One. DJ Newbill, who had to sit out as a transfer anyway. And the only reason Chambers was able to lure in Newbill was because Ed's last transfer, Juwan Staten, hadn't enrolled yet, so he was free to go elsewhere (although Tre Bowman quickly flamed out, too). So here's a side-by-side comparison of Tim Miles' roster when hired and when his first season started in November versus Pat Chambers' situation.

Nebraska Penn State
When Hired Start of Season When Hired Start of Season
1 A. Almeida - SR A. Almeida - SR C, Woodyard - SR C. Woodyard - SR
2 B. Ubel - SR B. Ubel - SR T. Frazier - JR T. Frazier - JR
3 D. Talley - SR D. Talley - SR B. Oliver - JR B. Oliver - JR
4 C. Niemann - SR R. Gallegos - JR J. Marshall - SO J. Marshall - SO
5 J.B. Diaz - SR D. Biggs - JR S. Borovnjak - SO S. Borovnjak - SO
6 R. Gallegos - JR D. Rivers - SO J. Staten - SO D.J. Newbill - SO
7 J. Young - JR* W. Pitchford - SO T. Bowman - SO M. Glover - SO
8 D. Rivers - SO* T. Petteway - SO M. Glover - SO* J. Graham - FR
9 C. Hilliard - SO S. Shields - FR J. Graham - FR T. Lewis - FR
10 J. Moore - SO B. Parker - FR T. Lewis - FR* P. Ackerman - FR
11 F. Alihodzic - SO* S. Vucetic P. Ackerman - FR* P. Alexis - FR
12 K. Coleman - SO* P. Alexis - FR* R. Travis - FR
13 S. Shields - FR* R. Travis - FR*
B. Parker - FR*

Legend Sadler Player Miles Player DeChellis Player Chambers Player
Left Program

*Denotes member of departed coach's incoming recruiting class
Strikethrough denotes redshirted player who was not available for competition

This hopefully illustrates the enormous jump Miles had on Chambers, simply because he was hired 2.5 months earlier. It cannot be said enough how much of a disadvantage Chambers had by being hired so late. He couldn't possibly accomplish anything his first year on the court with such a young, inexperienced group, but also no progress could be made in reshaping the roster. It is not unfair to say his first season at the helm shouldn't count towards the time needed to rebuilding this program. But guess who got the longer initial contract by their school? I digress.

Let's now move on to both coaches' first true recruiting classes. That would be 2012 for Pat Chambers and 2013 for Tim Miles. Looking at that graphic, you should be able to deduce that Miles had five open scholarships to fill at his leisure. Thanks to being dealt a roster with 9 underclassmen, Pat Chambers just had a mere two. You only see rosters with freaking nine underclassmen at Kentucky, because everyone leaves early for the NBA. Thanks Ed.

Let's also revisit Chambers first month on the job. He had to move his family from Boston to State College. Then he had to hire an entire coaching staff to join him. And in the meantime, he had to re-recruit the entire team by flying all over the country to visit players and their families. That would include trips to Houston, California and Minnesota, if you were wondering.

How prepared do you think they were heading into the July live period to recruit? Did they even know who they wanted to evaluate? Maybe they lucked out of the situation, since they only had two scholarships anyway. But then you realize PSU had to shut out a double-double machine just down 322 in Harrisburg, because they didn't have an extra scholarship for him. Despite his desire to commit to Penn State, Devin Thomas chose Wake Forest after being told there's no room for him in State College. A wise decision at the time considering 'oversigning' would not have won over fans of the 'Penn State way' and more importantly, it would have destroyed the already fragile state of a team who just had a coach bail on them last minute a few short months ago. It's kinda hard to build trust with new players when your actions show that someone's scholarship won't be available to them next year.

However, Chambers isn't completely defenseless in this instance. He could have not taken Akosa Maduegbunam, who was very much a reach at this level. Or he could have waited for Thomas' decision before accepting Brandon Taylor's verbal. Ideally they would have gotten Thomas and Taylor, but they did play the same position at the time. Regardless, this post is all about comparing Pat to Tim Miles, so let's hypothetically put Tim in this same situation.

What if Miles only had two scholarships when he first arrived in Lincoln? Obviously his recruiting decisions would have been different and there's no way to predict what he would have done, but what if he took Sergej Vucetic over Terran Petteway? Or Deverell Biggs over Walter Pitchford? Vucetic did commit to Miles before Petteway did, but now Vucetic has already transferred out after playing very little over two years. Biggs was a nice recruit for Miles at the time because he was a Nebraska native, but he played only 15 games for the Huskers last year before getting kicked off the team.

Just saying, a lot of coaches end up missing on kids here and there in recruiting. Even the blue bloods. That's why it would have been nice for Pat to have an extra scholarship or three when first getting to State College.

Anyway, let's keep it rolling to the year two roster comparison:

Nebraska Penn State
Year 1 Year 2 Year 1 Year 2
1 A. Almeida - SR R. Gallegos - SR C. Woodyard - SR T. Frazier - SR
2 B. Ubel - SR D. Biggs - JR T. Frazier - JR J. Marshall - JR
3 D. Talley - SR D. Rivers - JR B. Oliver - JR S. Borovnjak - JR
4 R. Gallegos - JR L. Smith - JR J. Marshall - SO DJ Newbill - SO
5 D. Biggs - JR W. Pitchford - SO S. Borovnjak - SO J. Graham - SO
6 D. Rivers - SO T. Petteway - SO D.J. Newbill - SO P. Ackerman - SO
7 W. Pitchford - SO S. Shields - SO M. Glover - SO R. Travis - SO
8 T. Petteway - SO S. Vucetic - SO J. Graham - FR J. Johnson - SO
9 S. Shields - FR B. Parker - SO T. Lewis - FR A. Maduegbunam - FR
10 B. Parker - FR N. Hawkins - FR P. Ackerman - FR B. Taylor - FR
11 S. Vucetic - FR T. Webster - FR P. Alexis - FR D. Jack - FR
12 N. Fuller - FR R. Travis - FR

Legend Sadler Player Miles Player DeChellis Player Chambers Player

Penn State's second year roster looks awfully similar to Nebraska's first under Miles, just based off who recruited each player. Also, take note of the experience level of all the rosters. Even in Miles' transition year in Lincoln, he had four experienced upperclassmen that he could throw out on the court. Pat never had that luxury in his first two years in State College, especially after Tim Frazier's devastating injury in his second season. Oh yeah, speaking of which, has Terran Petteway or Shavon Shields ever tore their achilles? No?

Miles second recruiting class has just arrived on campus, so it's not fair to compare them to Penn State's 2013 class yet. It is fair, though, to talk about the circumstances under each were recruited. Miles only landed one player in the fall before his second season began, because as you can see, there was only one available scholarship. But he lost three of his own recruited players after the season, giving him a second chance in free agency the spring signing period. After coming off a spectacular season that was the first in a sparkling new arena and ended in the NCAA tournament, Miles elected to only fill two of them. One was a career reserve from Georgetown named Moses Abraham who comes via the grad transfer exemption, and the other was 2-star guard in Tarin Smith who had offers from mostly mid-majors. Not very impressive, if you ask me, considering the momentum in the program.

Penn State's 2013 class fizzled out as we've documented here, but I still think it's unfair to act like Mark Emmert's press conference announcing the sanctions had no effect on basketball when it came during the most important month of the recruiting calendar. Penn State dominated sports talk that entire week or so for all the wrong reasons. Their highest ranked commit did decommit just a few short days after. A certain degree of leniency should be allowed here, as well.

But let's just wrap this up with some more charts. Below are the current rosters heading into 2014-2015. While Chambers has been in the league a year longer, I think the evidence laid out in this post offer a good case that they're practically both 3rd year head coaches. Of course, Nebraska is still ahead of the game having qualified for the NCAA tournament last year.

Nebraska Penn State
2014-2015 2014-2015
1 D. Rivers - SR D.J. Newbill - SR
2 L. Smith - SR J. Johnson - SR
3 M. Abraham - SR R. Travis - SR
4 S. Shields - JR B. Taylor - JR
5 T. Petteway - JR D. Jack - JR
6 W. Pitchford - JR D. Foster - JR
7 B. Parker - JR J. Dickerson - JR
8 T. Webster - SO G. Thorpe - SO
9 N. Fuller - FR P. Banks - FR
10 T. Smith - FR J. Moore - FR
11 J. Hammond - FR S. Garner - FR
12 I. Washington - FR
Legend Old Coach New Coach

Both of these rosters have solid experience (seven upperclassmen) with ample opportunity for new players to break into the rotation. Nebraska's backcourt is more suspect, mostly because Miles' most-prized prep recruit thus far, point guard Tai Webster, struggled mightily as a true freshman. However, their roster has plenty of size, so the potential loss of Leslee Smith, who recently tore his ACL, shouldn't be devastating. Not a lot of depth, though, with only 10 scholarship players including three freshmen who have never played.

Penn State's frontcourt has always been an issue, and it's crucial Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis develop into consistent scorers/leaders. There also is the pressing concern about who will fill Tim Frazier's shoes at point guard. I'd bet on a by-committee approach with Newbill and Devin Foster splitting the majority of the time with some John Johnson or Shep Garner mixed in here or there.

Both teams are bringing back similar production from last year's squad. They both return between 70-73% of their minutes and points, while Penn State returns more rebounding (81% to 72%) and Nebraska brings back more assists (73% to 44%).

Here's how both coaches have constructed the rosters they now field:

Pat Chambers Category Tim Miles
14 Recruited Players 11
9 Prep Recruits 6
1 Junior College Recruits 2
3 Collegiate Transfers 2
1 Graduate Transfers 1
2 Departed Recruits 3
7 Departed Inherited Players
(left before exhausting eligibility)
5 Retained Inherited Players
(stayed through graduation)
0 Top 100 Recruits 0
3 2015 Commitments 1

As far as how the inherited players were calculated, Billy Oliver was not counted because of his career being cut short due to injuries. Neither Niemann or Diaz were counted for Nebraska, because they did graduate and one was already not going to come back regardless of Tim Miles' hiring. Jermaine Marshall and Sasa Borovnjak were counted as retained players, even though both left in 2013 with one year of eligibility remaining.

In my opinion, Miles got a slight leg up here with a better inherited group of talent, but the difference is negligible. Marshall was a better scorer than Gallegos for two years, but getting four seasons with Shavon Shields is better than just two years with Tim Frazier. Parker/Rivers have been solid rotation players much like Travis and Borovnjak.

But overall, both coaches have had a pretty similar approach, right? They both found their face of the program through the transfer market in Terran Petteway and DJ Newbill. Miles landed another impact transfer in Pitchford while Chambers hopes John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson can do the same this year. Chambers dabbled with a graduate transfer (Allen Roberts) that didn't really work out, while Miles will try his first this year (Moses Abraham). Miles brought on two JuCos early, but one couldn't stay disciplined and has been kicked off the team. Chambers landed his first junior college player a few months ago with Devin Foster.

Both have seen a couple of their four-year recruits transfer out early with one being a reach (Maduegbunam and Vucetic) and another not seeing eye-to-eye with the coach (Woodward and Nate Hawkins). Chambers has redshirted two prep recruits so far in three while Miles has redshirted just one from last year.

However, I am fairly stunned at how Miles' prep recruiting has gone. With the fancy new facilities, his own twitter celebrity status and fresh off an NCAA bid, I would have expected Nebraska to be in with some consensus top-100 recruits, but that hasn't seemed to be the case. After two and a half years already, his roster has just four 4-year recruits and only one of them has seen the court (Webster actually is from New Zealand and had a dreadful freshman year). Their highest rated recruit, Nate Fuller from Wisconsin, redshirted this past year, and the wing is presumably stuck behind Terran Petteway, Shavon Shields and David Rivers for serious playing time. They add 6-10 big man Jacob Hammond this year who chose the Huskers over Texas Tech, Oklahoma and TCU, but again, nothing here that seems out of their league.

Neither coach has really separated themselves in four-year recruiting, although Chambers has the leg up right now in the 2015 class. Taylor, Thorpe and Garner seem to be on par with the competition Miles beat out for Webster, Fuller and 2015 commit Pinder. You gotta think this is a crucial summer period for Miles to stash a quality 3 or 4 man class that will be ready to take the torch from Petteway/Shields/Pitchford. Curious to see how their class rounds out.

Long story short, it's crazy to see how close/similar two coaches and their philosophies are, but how much good fortune for one and bad luck for the other has separated them. Miles is 16-20 in two Big Ten seasons, while Chambers is just 12-42 in three.

Regardless, what Chambers is up against for the next year or two is to contend and hopefully surpass these mid-level Big Ten programs. Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State aren't going anywhere with their coaches, although the latter 3 look more like bubble teams coming into this year than their usual ranked selves. Who Chambers should be targeting is the second tier with relatively new coaches like Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland, and Iowa. Many of them seem ahead of Penn State right now, but there's no reason to think PSU isn't right there with the roster they have now. That is who Pat Chambers will have to beat out to turn this program into a winner.

To round out the league, I'd include Northwestern in that second tier group in another year or two under Collins, but not right now. Matt Painter and Tom Crean are in trouble with their stagnating programs (although they both landed respectable recruiting class in 2014), while Rutgers is a few years away with Eddie Jordan from moving past the Mike Rice scandal.

The Big Ten doesn't seem top heavy next year, but it's going to be a fierce battle to see who sinks or swims in the midde of the pack, because someone's gotta finish 9th-12th.

Now pat yourself on the back if you actually read through this whole diatribe.

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