Forman: Carmody should use bad break to prove himself

Matt Forman

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This was supposed to be the most exciting season in Northwestern basketball history. In the matter of a week, the hype turned to pessimism.

When senior star Kevin Coble suffered a season-ending foot injury in practice last Tuesday and senior backup point guard Jeff Ryan tore his ACL against Northern Illinois, the Wildcats lost two players who were supposed to burst the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Instead, the hopes have deflated.

And watching Wednesday’s game, only one thought ran through my head: Man, I would hate to be in coach Bill Carmody’s shoes. In the matter of a week, Carmody has turned from the guy who would lead NU to the promised land to the guy who is in a 10-foot hole without a shovel.

As Butler coach Brad Stevens said: “I feel for these guys.” He might as well have been directly referring to Carmody.

The Cats’ 10th-year coach is in the final year of his contract, looking to prove himself and earn an extension. But Carmody has been dealt a bad hand.

In the past, fans and media members alike have called for Carmody’s job. In fact, there’s even a blog titled firebillcarmody.com.

No one ever questioned Carmody’s offensive mastermind: Sports Illustrated named him the second-most innovative coach in the nation earlier this decade. No one ever questioned his ability to discipline players, either – the team graduates all of its seniors and stays out of trouble.

But Carmody’s critics nailed him on recruiting. His 8-22 record in 2007-08 was a byproduct of not bringing in talented players, outside of then-sophomore Kevin Coble. And when Coble didn’t play during the nonconference season, the struggles were even more evident.

Luckily for Carmody, that has changed over the last few years, thanks largely to assistant coach Tavaras Hardy. The former NU forward helped bring an influx of talent to Evanston, including junior Michael Thompson, sophomore Kyle Rowley, and freshmen Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio.

Still, NU and its athletic department have been extremely patient with Carmody. They have given him time to bring in players. They have given him time to implement his system.

They have even given him time to get lucky. They have given him a lot of leeway.Cats’ fans want and deserve a winner, and Carmody coached teams haven’t done enough of that. I’m not going to make any excuses for Carmody – he should have taken NU to the NCAA Tournament by now, if he still expects to have a job.

But in this case, Carmody deserves another chance.

And that chance comes right now.

Carmody’s back is against the wall. All expectations have been pushed aside. Wait ‘til next year syndrome has returned. No one thinks the Cats can make a magical run to March Madness.

Now, Carmody can prove himself by doing his best coaching job yet. He knows it, and showed it in the post-game press conference.

“(The players) should be disappointed, there’s a bottom line to this,” Carmody said. “Every press conference we can’t be talking about how it could have been. Pretty soon, that has to end. As a team, as a coaching staff, we’ve got to get going.”

Carmody proved his players still respond to him Wednesday. After Butler went on a 12-0 run in the second half, a heated Carmody called a timeout. For the remaining 14 minutes, the Cats outscored the Bulldogs 28-23.

Sure, Butler took its time offensively and didn’t pressure the ball defensively, but NU didn’t roll over and die. It answered Carmody’s calling, and that says a lot about a coach.

When media members probed Carmody about the silver lining surrounding Coble’s injury last weekend, he dismissed it by referencing Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” Carmody tried making the point that focusing on the potential positives is fake; there’s no reason to smile.

Now, Carmody is forced to break his and Ehrenreich’s rule. He has to make the best of a bad situation. Either he showcases his coaching ability with a depleted roster and develops the young talent, or else he’ll be shown the door.

The best sign of a good coach is getting more out of less.

I wouldn’t want to be in Carmody’s position. But he can’t avoid it, and now he has to thrive under circumstances he didn’t have anything to do with.Sports editor Matt Forman is a Medill junior. He can be reached at matthewforman2007@u.northwestern.edu.

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