Bill Carmody took Northwestern basketball from the depths of Division I to respectability. But given 13 chances, he could not take the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament. And ultimately that’s what led to a change Saturday, ending years of “should they or shouldn’t they” debate.
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips will address the coaching change at a 5:30 p.m. news conference in Evanston. NU officials have declined to say whether Carmody resigned or was fired.
If Carmody was dismissed, it would mark NU’s first firing of a football or men’s basketball coach since Ricky Byrdsong was jettisoned in 1997 after back-to-back 7-win seasons.
Carmody said after NU’s first-round loss in the Big Ten tournament to Iowa on Thursday night: “Everyone’s goal is to get to the NCAA tournament, and we haven’t been able to accomplish that. In 100 years (the Wildcats) haven’t been able to accomplish that.”
Duke associate head coach Chris Collins, Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew and Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson are among those expected to receive consideration from Phillips.
Some fans fear that NU basketball could go backward without Carmody, who went 13-19 in his final season and 192-210 overall.
He becomes the 11th consecutive NU coach to depart with a losing record, and that list includes offensive innovator Tex Winter; Bill Foster, who took Duke to the 1978 NCAA title game; and Kevin O’Neill, who reached a Sweet 16 with Marquette.
Northwestern easily has the worst basketball facilities in the Big Ten, and the administration has no concrete plans to rebuild or renovate Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Carmody never used NU’s facilities, its high academic admissions standards or its lack of tradition as a crutch. He got along with everyone, obeyed the rules, graduated his players and treated them with respect.
“You’re not going to find a better guy or a better coach,” Purdue’s Matt Painter said.
Carmody had two obvious flaws: He was an indifferent recruiter and could be awkward in meet-and-greets with alums.
One time a fan, unaware that Northwestern was the Big Ten’s third highest-scoring team in 2011, asked Carmody a long-winded question about whether the coach would speed up his offense to match the athleticism of JerShon Cobb and Drew Crawford.
Carmody’s response: “No.”
It also didn’t help recruiting that he was old-school, eschewing Facebook and Twitter.
But Carmody was a top-notch tactician, earning four straight NIT berths by using his Princeton offense to stymie teams with high school All-Americas.
After the depleted Wildcats played 10th-ranked Michigan State even for nearly 35 minutes March 10 in East Lansing, Spartans coach Tom Izzo told Carmody in the handshake line: “My God, I can’t believe how hard and well your guys played.”
Izzo added: “I love Bill Carmody. I think he is great for our league, a great coach in a tough basketball place. If his team could just stay injury-free …”
Yes, it was always something. Kevin Coble broke a bone in his foot before the 2009-10 season and quit a year later over an odd medical dispute. That 2010-11 team started 8-0 but got derailed by John Shurna’s severe ankle sprain. The 2011-12 team was two points away – two overtime losses to Michigan – from earning an NCAA berth by going 20-10 in the regular season, 10-8 in the Big Ten.
This year’s team was doomed after the season-long suspension of Cobb and season-ending injuries to Crawford, Sanjay Lumpkin and Jared Swopshire. The Wildcats were blown out at home on five occasions.
Crawford has enrolled in NU’s Sports Administration Graduate Program but could transfer without having to sit out a year. It’s expected that he will decide after meeting with NU’s new coach.
Top-100 signee Jaren Sina, a point guard from New Jersey, said he’d be “devastated” if Carmody and assistant Fred Hill were dismissed and would re-think his decision to attend Northwestern.
By Teddy Greenstein, Tribune reporter
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC