When Bill Carmody’s Extension Expires, Time for Northwestern to Move on?


bill carmody

Two years ago, the Northwestern Wildcats won at both Michigan State and Purdue. Both opponents were highly ranked in the national college basketball polls at the time. That’s when the “NU can make it’s first ever NCAA Tournament” talk began. The Cats finished one win shy of the school record for wins, but still settled for the NIT in 2008-09.

Last season saw their first national ranking since 1969, and a promising hot start that re-kindled the NU dancing discussion. Once again they fell well short, despite getting the first 20 win season in school history.

This year saw the Cats start 8-0 and ranked in one poll, receiving votes in the other. They went 9-2 in the 2010 portion of the season, but they’ve been abysmal in the 2011 part of this campaign. Today, their only chance of reaching March Madness lies in an against all odds run through the Big Ten Tournament.

Northwestern Head Coach Bill Carmody has done a great job of taking the program from forgotten non-factor to competitive respectability, but these last three years has made it obvious that he’s not the man to take them over the hump.

Some of the problems are not Carmody’s fault. John Shurna was having a conference player of the year type season until he got hurt- twice. And about halfway through the season his scoring production reduced by almost half.

According to Tina Akouris of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But Shurna sprained his ankle in December, and Carmody said Monday that he aggravated it in the Wildcats’ 71-70 victory over Illinois on Feb. 5.

‘‘He probably won’t be perfect until May,’’ Carmody said.

In a lot of fans’ eyes, Carmody isn’t perfect, either. After NU started the Big Ten season 0-3, the blogosphere was buzzing with pleas for athletic director Jim Phillips to fire Carmody, who coincidentally announced his contract extension around the same time.

That extension means he’ll likely be around for a couple of years, but his buyout clause is probably an easily affordable amount. If the University is serious about winning, they really should consider it. I don’t think they will pull the trigger on cutting him loose, but to become a big boy program- it’s time to get a big time recruiter/coach. If Pat Fitzgerald can get the college football team to bowl games, than someone out there can get the Cats into the tourney.

In midseason, the University hung banners from the rafters of Welsh-Ryan Arena honoring every sport. Two stand out due to their high level of unintentional comedy: men’s basketball which reads “4 NIT Appearances,” and baseball which reads “15 Big Ten pitching leaders.”  If you’re going to hang banners in your home gym, then you need to make some NCAA appearances and win some conference titles at the very least.

According to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune:

Carmody’s defenders point to his school-record 20 wins last season and back-to-back NIT bids. He runs a clean program. His .471 winning percentage tops those of predecessors Kevin O’Neill (.349), Ricky Byrdsong (.304), Bill Foster (.277) and Rich Falk (.360).

Low expectations can last for only so long.

And Carmody is a decent Xs and Os guy, with a fine knowledge of the Princeton offense, but he’ll never win any major recruiting battles over any players that can make a major difference. And in last night’s win over Iowa he committed the same mistakes we saw versus Michigan State, and in numerous other close games in recent years. I’m talking about the sins of empty, useless possessions and bad clock management in crunch time. With under a minute to go, and NU leading by three, they committed a shot clock violation on a very key possession.

His gaffes are the main reason this team has choked away so many potential signature wins these past three years.

“Lake the Posts” in an article entitled “Time for a change” said this:

I think Jim Phillips has the chance to offer a new coach an actually enviable task.  You have an NIT level team coming back in 2011-2012.  How many new coaches at BCS level schools get to walk in when the program isn’t in full rebuild mode? I realize the sell job at NU is a tough one, despite what we may tell ourselves.  However, the combination of NU’s imminent facility overhaul combined with the actual players on the floor are a pretty interesting selling point. Heck, I’d even keep Kevin Coble’s cell phone handy as who knows what he’d think if a new coach was coming to town (not sure of eligibility rules – but can you imagine?).

Exactly. NU will lose a lot in the graduation of Juice Thompson, a four year starter at point guard, but they’ll be more respectable than your usual program in transition. But the Coble incident is what hurts Carmody the most.

Players who have a chance to become the school’s all-time leading scorer do not leave before their time is through. They simply should never forgo a year of eligibility. Can you imagine a player at Illinois or DePaul, with a realistic shot of ending up among the top two or three in all-time program history actually leaving an entire year of eligibility on the table? (Unless of course, they were doing it to jump to the NBA)

Now part of that might be Carmody’s fault, but most of it is likely Coble’s. Yes, he completed his degree, but clearly he had no heart at all for college basketball.  The fact that Coble quit, instead of looking to transfer means that more of the problem may have been with him than with Northwestern.  But that’s exactly what it is so alarming about the Bill Carmody regime.

His most talented and decorated player was someone who didn’t actually care to be there. In big time college basketball programs, players like Coble, who aren’t really interested in playing are not depended upon. They are either marginalized or not even recruited at all.

And prime time college coaches know how to make sure situations like that never happen.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net. He is also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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