Another Year, Another Trial for Bill Carmody

The bye week does give us a nice chance to take a basketball aside. And a chance to say what this season is really all about — just like every other season is about it seems at Northwestern.

Bill Carmody.

Despite becoming Northwestern’s all-time winningest coach and leading the team to its fourth straight NIT bid, Carmody is always embattled and always fighitng for his job. The failure to get John Shurna and arguably the most talented team in Northwestern history had many wondering if the program just needed to move in a different direction. The decision sat with Jim Phillips much longer than many expected and the rumors festered.

Phillips opted to keep Carmody and Northwestern continued to move forward — without Shurna, but now with a recruiting class that features a lot of size and give NU unprecedented depth (at least for recent memory) the Tournament dreams are alive again and the hope for breaking that infamous streak remains.

After 11 seasons as head coach, there is frustration among Northwestern fans. Sure, the first five or six seasons, Carmody was clearly getting the most out of a somewhat overmatched roster. A few down seasons (try three Big Ten wins in two seasons bad) and Carmdoy seemed to be on thin ice. Then the NIT run began and the expectations raised. Many began looking at his tenure and wondering, “Why hasn’t he broken through?”

That, to many of his peers, is an unfair criticism even if it makes complete sense to a fan base who is expecting more than just a ribbon for showing up each year.

Big Ten coaches during Big Ten Media Day last week expressed how impressed they are with the job Carmody has done at Northwestern considering all the obstacles he has to overcome in building the program literally from scratch:


I couldn’t figure that one out for the life of me,” Iowa head coach Fran McCafferysaid when he was asked about the rumors NU would drop Carmody after last season. “This guy’s one of the best coaches in the game. He has done an unbelievable job [at Northwestern]. I was sort of baffled by that, to be honest with you.



When you’re trying to climb a mountain,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said, “and you’re in a league like the Big Ten, it’s not as easy as people think, saying, ‘ We need to make the NCAA tournament.’ To [Carmody’s] credit, he has put them in a position to be very, very close. There’s nobody pulling harder for him to get it than me.


And so on and so forth. Call those platitudes coach-speak or whatever, but the respect has always been there for Carmody from his time at Princeton to his early years at Northwestern.

That does not help abate the frustration of Northwestern being so close and yet so far from that first NCAA Tournament bid. The frustration among fans is palpable, you would imagine the coaching staff and players are frustrated with it too.

What has changed around Northwestern and what has, perhaps, saved Carmody is the increase in recruiting prowess. Northwestern continues to bring in the best recruiting classes in the program’s history with more highly touted recruits coming in it seems every year. The future of the program remains extremely bright.

One of Carmody’s biggest criticisms throughout his tenure was his poor recruiting. That appears to have been remedied. And so the pressure is on and increasing now that he has the talent to break the streak.

This year will be no different. The players may love Carmody and buy into his coaching. He may finally be reaching recruits. His Princeton Offense may finally become as dangerous as it was when Pete Carrill’s other disciples ran it at Georgetown and elsewhere (even the Lakers are running it… to limited success).

And so, Northwestern will aim high once again, get our hopes up and then see what happens. Carmody will be in the crosshairs once again.

Bowl perceptions under attack

The Gator Bowl came under fire a few weeks ago for allegedly putting down Northwestern as a potential bowl target. Wildcats fans took that pretty hard and disputed that claim (targeting the writer more than the bowl as the bowl representative quoted in the piece was vague.

Northwestern is taking its stance directly to the Gator Bowl and fighting for its bowl profile. The Gator Bowl representative apologized in the piece saying that he did not mean to disrespect Northwestern with his quotes. The Wildcats are still fighting perception it would seem. But Jim Phillips has done a good job selling Northwestern and the football team has climbed in bowl selection. We will see where we go from here.

Soccer needs help for Big Ten share

Northwestern men’s soccer picked up a critical 1-1 tie against Indiana last night in Bloomington. The Wildcats are tied atop the Big Ten with the Nittany Lions right now. They need a Spartans loss or tie this weekend to claim the their second straight Big Ten championship.

  • vaudvillain

    Our defense came up big in the second OT to preserve the tie against IU (as did one of our goalposts). Congrats to the Cats on a strong season. To get a second straight tourney win, though, we’re going to need some more offensive production.

  • CatInTheHat

    There’s nothing “seemingly” about it. Northwestern IS fighting–and losing, big-time–the perception battle, and I’m beginning to think that there is some delusion among a sector of our fan base that thinks we are playing with the same deck of cards as everyone else when it comes to perceived legitimacy. Dr. Phillips is a one-man army, and nothing has convinced me more of that fact than this season and the way that the sporting media have treated (or mistreated) the ‘Cats. On the one hand, you’ve got the Gator Bowl, which–ignoring the Moon Over Dallas Bowl, as my good friend calls it–is the least desirable New Year’s Day bowl. You’ve got the Gator Bowl saying in a not-so-subtle fashion that it will go to just about any length to avoid having even a two-loss NU play in its game. Meanwhile, you’ve got BCS bowls literally slobbering all over themselves for a hypothetically two-loss Notre Dame:



    Then, yesterday, Brian Bennett of had Fitz as one of his top three B1G Coach of the Year candidates, essentially saying, “Hey, it’s jNorthwestern, and they’re 7-2. That deserves a Coach of the Year nod, despite the two blown double digit fourth quarter leads!”

    If you do a blind test, identify us only as Team X, and show our six-year record, including this year’s 7-2 start, to any CFB beat writer in the country, they would not be recommending the team’s coach for CotY. But reveal that it’s NU, and suddenly, it’s a tremendous feat of improbability for Fitz to somehow will little Northwestern to a 7-2 start.

    I’m just sick of the double standard, and while I can’t stand the Rodney Dangerfield routine anymore, it is sadly still relevant and warranted. Makes me sick to my stomach. I hope Phillips makes a deal with the Outback or Cap One to keep us out of Jacksonville and the shameful Gator Bowl, and I hope Notre Dame gets laughed out of its BCS bowl in a 2000 Alamo Bowl-style drubbing. /rant

    • Nate

      Agree with your rant, CITH. Let’s see what the next 3 games tell us and more importantly, tell the doubters. I’ve been waiting for a long time to shake the “no respect” stigma…here’s their chance to do so.

    • DT

      Cat- Like always, I dig your passion… Phillips is fortunate to have such a loyal advocate ala yourself as well.. Be that as it may, wishing Notre Dame ill fortune does nothing for Northwestern or the proverbial cause so to speak… Notre Dame is what they are. For my nickel, the whole “Shake Down The Thunder” thing ended for them in 1995, when walking out of Notre Dame Stadium and under venerable Touchdown Jesus, I heard pissed off Domers asking each other how they might poach Gary Barnett in lieu of Lou Holtz… Truly, Northwestern did something to them (and college football et al…) that day that still reverberates… Fact of the matter, they have a national following and Northwestern never has nor never will… We do what we do, they do what they do.. So be it…

      Finally, let’s worry about our three remaining games… That should be more than enough for NU to handle, going into Michigan. Was only two years ago in Wrigley Field NU seemingly was poised to kick U of I’s ass as well.. Net/net, plenty of football to be played for everyone, NU and ND included… Let’s see where the W-L takes everybody and The Bowls render the invites… Let’s take a cue from the Barnett led win over ND as well.. “Act like we have been here before”.. We have..

      • CatInTheHat

        Can’t argue with any of your points, DT. You’re right–wishing ill on others is unbecoming in sports and in life and reflects poorly on us. We could end up 7-5 and hoping against hope that we make it to Phoenix or Houston (though I highly, highly doubt it). I agree that there was an earthquake in college football that day in 1995, and I believe that we laid the groundwork not only for our own program, but for the Stanfords of the world to do what they’ve done the past few years.
        On the one hand, perhaps we should just accept the fact that we’re not a brand name and so will always be viewed as a little brother and have to do twice as much as “big brand” programs like ND for just a little bit of the respect we deserve. Personally, I’m not ready to lay down like that yet, but you’re absolutely right that things need to shake out on the field. As for The Bowls–I’m not terribly satisfied with the Gator Bowl’s response and am about ready to say that, in a hypothetical situation where we’re in consideration for a New Year’s Day game, I’d prefer to take our chances with a South Carolina SEC type in the Cap One or Outback than give my $$ to the disrespectful Jacksonville operation and play an ever-so-slightly more forgiving opponent.

        • DT

          You are a good fan, Cat… NU is fortunate to have ya aboard…

        • KP

          I can’t figure out if boycotting the Gator Bowl would hurt the bowl organizers or NU more if we end up there. I don’t want to give them any support (financially or otherwise) but I DO want to cheer on the lads in purple.

          Ugh, the high road is probably cleaner, but sometimes I just want to fling mud…

          • CatInTheHat

            I’d begrudgingly go to the Gator Bowl…I just hope that we don’t have to.

    • cece

      it is up to all of us to hurt people where it counts. in the pocket book. then perhaps they will listen to us. example. there’s a kiosk in a N. Michigan Ave. Mall that has all sorts of cool wrist bands etc. of sports teams, colleges and pro. I approach. look. don’t see NU, don’t say anything. they ask what teams I follow, I say Chicago and College. and they say, Michigan? No, we hope to beat them in football, I am a Northwestern fan. I see you don’t have any NU merchandise. why don’t you have any? well we did but no one bought it on line. Well, you are blocks away from the Northwestern campus so why don’t you sell some here? and until you do, I will not buy any pro team merchandise from you.

      we have to ask for NU gear, hound ESPN NU grads to get us in the conversation, create new cool products that show our pride, in other words, start acting like other schools. this we’re smart act reads as arrogant. be fun, wear purple, act like we belong and make people include us. but do it without the arrogance.

      also, we need to make a bigger show when we go to the bowl games. yes, it’s about selling the ticket allotment, but creating more than just the silly alum bowl tour stuff would be good. find a way to let the bowl we go to know more about who goes. not just the stats.

      • CatInTheHat

        If we vote with our pocketbooks by not attending the bowl game, it’s counterintuitive. However, boycotting local sports shops that don’t sell NU gear (but sell Illinois, ND, etc.) and refuse to upon suggestion isn’t unreasonable. That said, I do think that we always make a minor splash with our bowl attendance. Every year, the pundits seem shocked–SHOCKED!–that we draw a respectable crowd and, in some cases, outdraw our bigger, badder B1G brethren (how’s that for alliteration??). I will say, though, that I am usually very happy with our turnout, last year being the one major exception that I can remember, and that was only because A&M was playing a home game in a 70,000-seat stadium. I remember the Sun Bowl vs. UCLA, when more than half of the stadium was purple, and many others where the NU diaspora came together and really represented well. It’s one of the reasons why Dr. Phillips is so effective in lobbying games to pick NU over more “desirable” alternatives.

  • Henry in CT

    Disrespect is part of the territory for NU and it is not helped by having a weak schedule and having the B1G be weaker than usual this year. We already know that NU is hard sell because of the lack of tradition and the lack of fan base but perception is mainly based on objective analysis that can’t be explained away. NU is not a top 25 team and is barely a top 40 team (#38) according to the objective Sagarin ranking system. Further, NU is just the 6th best team in the B1G according to Sagarin and the B1G is just the 4th best BCS conference according to Sagarin. Again this is based on a recognized long standing quantitative system that is as objective as these things can be. Just realize that our 7 hard-won, mostly close victories are against teams with a combined 11-33 record if only wins against BCS opposition are included. Based on this even though we may end up 9-3, any New Years day bowl that gets us might expect that NU will not be competitive against a top 20 opponent. Of couse if we were to go 3-0 the rest of the way and look good against UM and MSU this all would change. And Fitz would be a top choice for Coach of the Year as well.

  • Chasmo

    Carmody deserves to be on the hot seat but it’s unlikely he actually is because Phillips’s decision to retain him after last season has bought him at least two and maybe even three more years at the helm. So all of us who feel that Carmody is lacking the two most important skills required of a NU basketball coach — the ability to recruit a few Top 100 players and the ability to make his players believe in themselves — will have to hope Carmody’s kids exceed expectations in the coming seasons.
    Carmody is a great X’s and O’s coach. But players win more games than coaches ever do.
    The fact is the Cats can’t match up athletically with most Big Ten teams because Carmody has yet to sign that truly breakthrough recruit who sends the message to all other top rated recruits that it’s okay to play at NU.
    The fact is the Cats have been in position to earn a few “program-defining” wins against top rated teams but instead have choked down the stretch.
    It’s hard to believe that this former Princeton Tiger will be able to change his stripes and recruit and motivate any better than he has in the past. NU will most likely be an NIT team for as long as Carmody is there. He’ll leave NU with a winning record and as the winningest coach in the program’s history but it’s unlikely he will leave with an NCAA appearance.
    But, as always, let’s hope for the best for the coming season.