SAN JOSE, Calif. — Tim Miles won the press conference, of course, with his smile and frenetic energy and the tale of being ranked seventh in his high school graduating class.

"It was a class of 13," Miles added, providing the punchline to a joke he's used in previous coaching stops in Mayville (N.D.), Marshall (Minn.), Fargo, Fort Collins (Colo.) and Lincoln (Neb.).

Whether the folks in San Jose were as smitten with Miles' charm as those at his previous stops were is a debatable question. Maybe the one-liners and self-deprecating wisecracks don't translate as well on Zoom as they do in person, but it didn't seem like media from San Jose and nearby San Francisco were overly taken with the guy from Doland, S.D.

Or maybe it's because San Jose State, where Miles is the new men's basketball coach and had his introductory press conference Wednesday, has been so bad for so long that nobody in California is getting too excited about a hyper dude from the Midwest promising big things.

It's likely they've heard it all before, multiple times. And still the Spartans remain one of the worst men's college basketball programs in the country. They've had one winning season since 1994-95. They were ranked 335th of 356 Division I teams in this season's Sagarin ratings.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Former North Dakota State head men's basketball coach Tim Miles, right, last coached at the University of Nebraska before taking over the San Jose State men's program. Miles had his introductory press conference Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Bruce Thorson / USA TODAY Sports
Former North Dakota State head men's basketball coach Tim Miles, right, last coached at the University of Nebraska before taking over the San Jose State men's program. Miles had his introductory press conference Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Bruce Thorson / USA TODAY Sports

Miles' reputation is that of a coach who takes broken programs and fixes them. This might be his toughest job yet.

And, as a sage coach once told me, the programs are always in worse condition than the new bosses say they are.

That coach was Miles. When he left North Dakota State after the 2007 season to take over a bad Colorado State program, he stepped into a 47-car pileup left by predecessor Dale Layer. But get this: Layer at least brought the Rams to the NCAA tournament once, was named a regional coach of the year twice and had back-to-back winning campaigns in the two seasons before he was fired.

San Jose State has two winning seasons since 1986-87. It's won 20 games the last four years. That's 20 games total, an average of five per season.

The Spartans need a miracle worker, but apparently Jesus was unavailable. They settled for Miles.

This will be a different gig for Miles. He's taken on the familiar underdog role, but San Jose ain't Mayville, Marshall, Fargo, Fort Collins or Lincoln. His previous stops were Midwest (or in the case of Fort Collins, Midwestern-ish) college towns where the local school was a big deal. In the case of the University of Nebraska, it was by far the biggest deal in the state.

People cared. Fans cared. Donors cared. Media cared. They cared more in some places than others, obviously, but even when the Comets of Mayville State were terrible at basketball, residents of the small town kept an eye on things because the college is such a big part of the community.

Now Miles finds himself in wholly unfamiliar territory in California — where there are 18 Division I basketball programs — in a metropolitan area of nearly 10 million people that includes San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. It is the Bay Area. It is Silicon Valley.

It is big-time, with major-league sports franchises galore and about 13,000 things that grab people's attention more than San Jose State basketball.

It's easy to get lost out there, as witnessed by fact the Spartans drew all of 1,600 fans a game when they last played home games in 2019-2020.

It's not like Miles didn't know what he was getting into. He knows the score. He was in the running for the New Mexico job that went to former Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, a gig in the same Mountain West Conference that would've been 100 times better than the one in San Jose.

But Miles has been out of coaching for two years and wanted back in. Being a glib TV analyst doesn't quite satisfy his 54-year-old itch yet. And so San Jose State, and the lowest salary in the MWC, it was.

It'll be fascinating to watch what unfolds. Miles remains one of the most popular coaches in NDSU basketball history, and in the region. His goofy charm is addictive.

The question will be whether the Midwest schtick works in California, in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. San Jose has the most millionaires and billionaires per capita in the United States.

Will they care about a guy from Doland (population 260) who tells stories about Mayville (population 1,800)? If history tells us anything, it is this: The stories get funnier with each victory.