Tim Miles promised he’d find somebody “really good” to replace Craig Smith on his Nebraska basketball coaching staff.
He believes Jim Molinari, a friend and coaching veteran, is that man.
Miles announced Molinari’s hiring Friday, a day after Molinari announced his resignation as head coach at Western Illinois.
That was the latest stop in a coaching career that began in the 1970s and includes a trip to the NCAA Final Four, time in the Big Ten Conference, experience as an NBA scout and coach of the USA men’s basketball team in 1997.
“Adding Coach Molinari to our staff can help elevate us to the next level,” Miles said. “He's a great coach and a better person. We are very fortunate he's joining us. He brings a wealth of coaching and recruiting experience.
“Jim has had every conceivable experience a coach can have, and he will have a major impact on our program.”
Molinari spent the last six seasons at Western Illinois, where he helped rebuild a program that won the Summit League regular-season championship in 2013. He also led the Leathernecks to the school’s first two postseason appearances as a Division I program, with trips to the College Basketball Invitational.
“It was a difficult decision because I love my players and Western Illinois University,” Molinari said. “I am extremely excited and blessed that the Lord has opened this door to partner with Tim and his staff to continue to build on their success at a very special place.”
Molinari is 302-290 overall as a head coach through 20 seasons, with stops also at Northern Illinois, Bradley and Minnesota, where he was an interim coach after spending two seasons as a Gopher assistant coach.
In his 12 seasons as an assistant coach on a Division I staff, Molinari has been to the NCAA Tournament 10 times. That included a trip to the Final Four with DePaul in 1979.
“What drew me to Nebraska is that you pick a person as much as you do a place,” Molinari said. “I think the challenge of trying to do something special on a national stage, and I obviously have a love and admiration for the Big Ten, having been a part of it for three years at Minnesota.”
Molinari’s Western Illinois team played Nebraska in Lincoln in November, and both before and after NU's 62-47 victory, Miles mentioned his close friendship with Molinari, whom he considered a brilliant defensive mind.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, who played with Molinari at Kansas State, agrees.
“Jim has one of the best defensive minds in college basketball,” Kruger said. “He is very highly respected among coaches. Jim relates well and gets the most from his players. He has great integrity and high character and is interested in development of players, both on and off court.”
Molinari replaces Smith, another close friend of Miles who left to become head coach at South Dakota.