So much for holding out until the end of the season. After numbly watching the NU hoops version of Groundhog Day in another loss at Penn State yesterday I’m only printing what nearly every one of you now realizes – it is time to replace Bill Carmody. This plea is not full of venom or disdain, but rather objective and calculated. One that says now is the time. Coach Carmody (NU career record 154-173) is in his 11th season at the helm in Evanston, the Big Ten’s second most tenured coach. We’re one loss away from cementing yet another sub-.500 conference record and will have failed to muster a winning season in conference since 1968. There is a small chance Coach Carmody might salvage an NIT bid this year which would be an unprecedented third straight bid (lost both in the first round @Tulsa, @URI). In relative terms Carmody would own half of the six total “postseason” bids in school history and have done so in three consecutive years. Objectively, one might argue this appears to be progress. I say it is no longer enough.
It is remarkable we’re writing about this less than two weeks after NU nearly upset the #1 team in the nation at Welsh-Ryan WITHOUT our best player, John Shurna, who sat out due to a concussion. The ‘Cats followed-up that performance with a scintillating home win over then#24 Illinois. That one week blip appears to be an anomaly in a sea of an inconsistent season that has seen little to no defense, long stretches of no energy within games and at times appearances that the head coach has given up. To be fair, Carmody, like so many before him, has been snakebitten with the type of karma that seems to surround programs that haven’t developed a winning culture. All you had to do was watch Wisconsin manhandle NU thanks to John Gasser’s triple double (or watch Gasser’s game-tying 3 vs Ohio State) to get a snap shot of the bad bounces we seem to get. You see Gasser was headed to NU – done deal. Then a spot opened up on Bo Ryan’s squad thanks to Diamond Taylor getting tossed off the team for buglarizing several dorm rooms. Gasser pledged his future to old state U and NU was left scrambling. There are countless tales like this. Kevin Coble’s freak injury in 2009. John Shurna’s weekly MASH visits. Every school has their share of these types of challenges, but somehow they seem to manifest themselves with the key players time and time again at NU.
I give Coach Carmody a lot of credit. He has managed to inch the program in opponents’ mindsets from “gimme win” to “expect competitiveness”. But it’s not enough. The Northwestern basketball program has yet to achieve consistent mediocrity and that is no longer acceptable. Fitz has raised the bar. Many of these very same readers on LTP are clamoring for more heat and expectation on the football program as this past season left a pretty bad taste in our mouths. And that was a winning season. Fitz is coming off of a losing conference record (3-5) after two straight 5-3 finishes (’08,’09) and folks are squawking. Carmody has had one .500 conference mark (2004) in eleven seasons. Across the board NU’s Athletics programs come with expectations of excellence. Why should basketball be any different? When you consider it is the second in command in terms of revenue generation, the reasons for change become readily apparent. And just to clarify, the fact Carmody has one year left on his contract doesn’t mean anything. If NU wants to make a change they can and will (it’s called a buyout).
What makes me think that a new coach will be any different? There is no guarantee it will be. It could get worse. However, not being willing to change with the expectation that we need to take the program to the next level is not a solution. A good friend told me yesterday that Googling and Wikipedia-ing potential coaching candidates during the Penn State game was his equivalent of “hoops porn” as it gave hope to those of us that are sick of enduring the pain. We’re going to have a month plus of speculation time and a never-ending supply of new post material to dive in to on this subject matter. Today is not the day to go down the road of connecting Jim Phillips’ dots to Kevin White at Duke and therefore surfacing Chris Collins. Or the inevitable mention of Craig Robinson or even the untested X’s and O’s but proven recruiter Tavaras Hardy. That is for tomorrow and the next day and the next day.
Today is simply about voicing my want for change. I want to hear your voice as well. The administration reads this forum, respects it and also looks to it as a finger on the pulse of the fan base. It’s painful for me to write this as we’re talking about someone’s livelihood here. I don’t discount that. I remember writing a personal letter to Coach Carmody when I saw him outcoach Bo Ryan early in his NU tenure at Welsh-Ryan. It was something to behold. I can’t remember a coach deserving so much credit for a win. I thought for certain we’d found the guy who would take us to the next level. In just his second season, Carmody got NU to 16-13,7-9 and you thought – “wow”. After a step-back in ’03, Carmody got NU to 8-8 in conference and earned 2004 Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. We then seemed to pleateau and while competitive went 6-10 in both ’04-’05 and ’05-’06 with the real struggle many seasons being our below average results out of conference. Then we went south big time and won just two conference games in ’06-’07 and bottomed out in ’07-’08 with a 1-17 Big Ten mark. How Carmody survived that two year stretch is beyond comprehension. Henry Bienen is how, as the former president who brought his fellow Princeton hoops buddy to town staunchly stood behind Carmody once even referencing he didn’t even now how long his contract was as if to underscore how secure he was with Carmody.
The past three seasons gave the glimmer of a Phoenix. The combination of Kevin Coble’s emergence (and then demise) followed by the emergence of John Shurna while upticking our recruiting haul with the likes of Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb had all of us set for expecations that were un-NU-like. As I’ve mentioned before, 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?). The alternative of waiting makes the “get” that much harder.
There is one major caveat to this proposed action. That is, Dr. Phillips needs to know the intentions of the current roster. Will guys like JerShon jump ship if Carmody leaves? What about the incoming recruits? The entire premise of making a move now is based in part on the assurance your team returns. All it takes is a Drew Crawford to say “see ya” and then the proposition for new coach to be takes a turn down rebuilding row.
If we wait until after next season the team roster for 2012-2013 looks unwinnable from a front line perspective. “Here you go new coach, you’ve got some talented players, but good luck having Drew Crawford play center.” It wouldn’t be unthinkable for NU to win 18+ games next year and the momentum that would give a fresh coach with recruiting skills is something you can’t emphasize enough. It is challenging at NU. But, in our lifetime someone will get us over the hump. I refuse to buy in to the fact it can’t be done in Evanston. I will continue to point 30 yards south of Welsh-Ryan as the proof point. But, the key is to kick-start our coach to be and leverage the level that Carmody has gotten our program to. To start over by waiting another year will make it that much more challenging and as my age continues to go up, my patience and tolerance for accepting NU hoops’ streak to continue goes down.
I respect Coach Carmody’s basketball knowledge. He’s the kind of guy I’d love having a beer with to go over chalk talk. I think he has done many good things at NU as our players graduate, they’ve got good character and he’s made us competitive night in and night out. After 11 seasons that simply isn’t enough. It’s time for a change.
Let the discourse begin.
2011 Recruiting – The Poll Results Are In:
LTP Poll Question:
What are your thoughts about the 2011 recruiting class?
Total Voters: 393