Bell tolls for Coach Carmody

Andrew Simon

There are many good things about Bill Carmody.

He’s a nice guy whose players stay out of trouble and graduate. He’s an excellent tactical coach who is praised by his peers for his ingenuity. He’s generally affable with the media.

As he proved at Princeton, he can be a successful coach in the Ivy League. Or he probably could excel at a bigger school as an assistant, focusing on the Xs and Os.

But there is one bad thing about Bill Carmody: He is a poor recruiter.

And that is why, after eight seasons at Northwestern, it’s time for him to go.

This isn’t about NU’s loss to Purdue on Saturday. It isn’t even about this dreadful season. It’s about Carmody’s whole body of work here, which is only impressive in the context of the program’s sorry history.

In his NU career, Carmody has compiled a 102-129 record, including a 35-89 mark in the Big Ten.

The team has never finished better than fifth in the conference or made the postseason under his watch.

And why have the Wildcats been so inept? It’s because on-the-court coaching savvy only makes up for so much when you’re constantly dealing with a huge talent deficit.

There is no doubt NU consistently has fielded teams of a lower caliber than its Big Ten counterparts.

So what accounts for this talent gap?

In college basketball, recruiting is more than half the battle. And the recruiting battle is one Carmody has consistently lost.

Many believe this isn’t Carmody’s fault, citing the serious obstacles he faces.

I agree that recruiting top players to come to NU isn’t easy, considering the school’s stringent academic standards and history of losing, among other factors. But I disagree that it’s an impossible task and that Carmody should not be held accountable for failing to complete it.

Take a look at Stanford. The Cardinal are ranked seventh in the nation as of Sunday with a 21-4 record, despite an academic reputation at least as prestigious as NU’s.

Yet things were not always so great. When Stanford hired Mike Montgomery as coach in 1986, the Cardinal were coming off an 18-year period in which it finished an average of seventh in the Pac-10 and never better than fourth. Stanford hadn’t made the postseason since 1942.

But Montgomery quickly made the Cardinal winners. In his 18 seasons at Stanford, he made 12 NCAA tournament appearances, getting his team as far as the Final Four.

If Montgomery could do it at Stanford, somebody could do it at NU.

In fact, somebody already has turned around a major sports program here. His name is Gary Barnett.

Barnett inherited a moribund football program in 1992 but by his fourth season had taken the Purple to Pasadena. Since 1995 NU has won three Big Ten titles and gone to five bowl games.

This success has occurred in spite of all of the restrictions that come with recruiting athletes to play a big-time sport at NU.

Despite these precedents and his team’s lack of success, Carmody has gotten an incredible amount of leeway. Of the 19 coaches in the six BCS conferences who have held their jobs since 2000 or before, Carmody is the only one who hasn’t led his team to at least four postseason berths.

NU has already shown too much patience with Carmody. The school seems to buy into the idea that he does the best job possible with the players he has, ignoring the fact that he’s the one who has failed to bring in better players.

Some would be tempted to give Carmody more chances, pointing to his improved recruiting over the past couple of years.

But after eight seasons, it simply isn’t enough. NU fans – the few who are left at this point – should not have to wait any longer.

They deserve a winner, and there is no reason they should not get one.

The program just needs a shot in the arm, one that only a new coach could bring. The Cats need someone young and enthusiastic who is going to aggressively sell the school while upholding its academic and character standards.

What we don’t need is more of the same.

Sports Editor Andrew Simon is a Medill junior. Reach him at [email protected]