Commentary: Carmody Must Go
by Jonathan Hodges

It's that time of year again when I chime in on Northwestern basketball (which makes most NU fans look forward to the upcoming football season even more). Almost exactly four years ago, I called for the removal of Bill Carmody from the head coach position after what was by far the worst season during his now 12 year tenure at Northwestern. The following year, I insisted that he must still go despite what was probably his best year at the helm and a trip to the NIT (his first postseason trip at NU). Now, after what will likely be four consecutive trips to the NIT, two 20-win seasons, continued off-court success, and a team that was on the brink of the tournament, the plain fact is that Carmody must go, and he must go now.

I am not one that routinely comes to rash conclusions in the heat of the moment and I particularly stay away from calling for coaches' jobs, particularly at Northwestern where I think the administration is dedicated to running things the "right way" and part of that includes loyalty to coaches who run things the right way and have success while at the helm. Also, I usually deride others for calling for change just for the sake of change while providing no viable alternative, particularly for a school like NU that has real obstacles in the way of progress (academic requirements and its athletic history, just to name the top two). But, Carmody has been given more than his share of time to reach the next level (12 seasons) while plenty of other schools have shrugged off obstacles to have success (think schools like Duke, Vanderbilt, and Stanford who have all had success on the hardwood despite similar academic restrictions and even a team like Baylor who have quickly rebounded from one of the worst off-court scandals one can imagine).

Yes, Carmody has had a positive tenure and has helped boost Northwestern from a perennial basement-dweller in the Big Ten to a competitive team that can knock off top teams and is now regularly in the hunt for a postseason appearance. As mentioned earlier, four straight trips to the NIT is nothing to scoff at, and he's put together a string of seasons with some of the highest win totals in NU basketball history. He's brought in some talented players (Vedran Vukusic, TJ Parker, Michael Thompson, Kevin Coble, John Shurna) and has coached them on to some solid careers (including Shurna leading the conference in scoring and breaking the NU career points mark in this, his senior year). And, what many consider most important, he has done so the "right way" by running a clean program (following NCAA rules and the law), graduating his players, and being a generally likeable guy.

Despite all of those positives, there is one huge negative: Northwestern has STILL never been to the NCAA tournament.

It's been 12 full seasons under Carmody, and he's certainly taken Northwestern basketball a long way. But, that is not enough: the Wildcats must step up to the next level and it is not an insurmountable step. In fact, one must only reach the top 20% or so of teams in the country to make the NCAA tournament, and that's without even considering the opportunity afforded to NU thanks to its membership in one of the strongest major conferences in the nation. Keeping Carmody at this point would essentially be allowing him to have a lifetime contract, and what he has done is not worthy of a lifetime contract.

A good analogy would be that of Dennis Green, a coach who broke barriers (first African American head football coach in major college football) and had success (led Northwestern to stopping "the streak") but never took the team to the next level (had a total of 10 wins over five seasons before leaving voluntarily to coach under Bill Walsh). Would it have been wise to offer him a lifetime contract after his 3-8 season in 1982 (during which he ended "the streak" and won Big Ten coach of the year)? Many would argue no, since he wouldn't crack the three-win mark during the rest of his NU tenure and the 'Cats would not reach the postseason until the fabled 1995 season, almost a decade after he departed. Allowing Carmody to continue coaching this team would be akin to this, and would reward progress (from essentially the bottom rung) instead of true success.

Some of the key deficiencies during Carmody's tenure have been around recruiting: he has never had a deep team (this year's squad essentially had a six-man rotation) and he has never brought in even a respectable big man to grab rebounds and put the ball in the hoop near the basket (this was a major deficiency in this year's back-breaking loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament). Plus, one can argue that the fluky Princeton offense and 1-3-1 defense may work well in a single game but cannot provide sustained success in a major conference (he won just one NCAA tournament game while head coach at Princeton and never built a solid enough resume while at NU to even get in). One could also bring up how his teams have played (and usually folded) in crunch time, particularly this past season. He was also afforded a huge second chance after that one-win Big Ten season four years ago and his hanging around so long may also have something to do with former NU President Henry Bienen (who came to NU from Princeton in the mid-1990's).

Northwestern administration must make a committment to success and move on from the Carmody era. NU fans must thank him for what he has done to lift the Wildcat basketball program from the very bottom, but they also must demand a step to the next level. The next Northwestern basketball head coach must be a better recruiter who can bring in more players to yield a deeper team (which will hopefully lead to better results in crunch time where the players on the court can be better rested) and that elusive big man who can help NU out during conference play in a notoriously physical league. Then, some day, Northwestern fans can finally sit in front of their TV screens in joy on Selection Sunday and flock to some arena to watch NU play in its first ever big dance.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.