Conflict with coach spurred Kevin Coble to quit Northwestern men’s basketball team

Ben Geier

The Northwestern men’s basketball team is off to a 3-0 start, with players such as John Shurna, Drew Crawford and Michael “Juice” Thompson playing well. For many fans, though, the focus remains on someone who isn’t suiting up: would-be fifth-year senior forward Kevin Coble.

After much speculation, Coble said in a recent interview with The Daily that his decision not to play was the result of a disagreement with coach Bill Carmody.

Coble shocked NU sports fans in July when he announced he would not be returning this season. He gained this year of eligibility after missing all of last season with a foot injury. The forward, who is the only player in NU men’s basketball history to lead the team in both points and rebounds in his first three years, released the following statement, which he asked The Daily print in full:

Since leaving the team I have not addressed any speculation regarding my departure. However, a comment made by Coach Carmody in an online Sports Illustrated article was not speculative. He was quoted as saying, “(Coble) came into my office and said he wasn’t going to play. So I said, ‘OK.’ What was I supposed to do?”

Given those particular comments, I will respond to them.

My leaving the team was in response to repeated ultimatums by Coach Carmody stating, “You either go on the Italy trip, or you can’t be a part of this program.” The fact was my surgeon was not releasing me to begin playing with the team until September 15th. With that, I was not comfortable being in Europe during my last stages of rehabilitation. The medical treatment plan had me working with my physical therapists until that September 15th release date. Coach Carmody and I met multiple times in July in order to reach a resolution that wouldn’t be so drastic, but unfortunately we were unable to come to an agreement. I had to choose what was in the long term best interest of my foot.

I will obviously miss playing at Northwestern this year, and everything that comes with that ­- my team, the fans and all our supporters. I’m sorry this issue resurfaced but I feel it is important to explain the circumstances and put Coach Carmody’s remarks into context as they could affect my future plans.

The Long and Winding Road

Though Coble’s decision not to play may have shocked many students and college basketball fans, it was hardly the first time the 6-feet-8-inch player has made an unorthodox decision.

Just coming to NU was a bit off the map, considering Coble had interest from more-established programs like Stanford and Arizona, both closer to his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

A lot weighed into the decision to join the Wildcats, Coble said. He wanted to go to a school with “good academics,” and he liked the fact that such a solid academic institution was part of a competitive conference like the Big Ten.

A more serious turn in Coble’s NU career came near the beginning of his sophomore season, when he skipped all of the Cats non-conference schedule to be at home with his mother Carlys, who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Carlys Coble has been cancer-free for more than three years, Coble said.

Though many of his teammates were surprised by his decision, current fifth-year senior Jeff Ryan said it was not much of a distraction.

“We focused on business at hand back here,” Ryan said. “We had a non-conference season to go through, so we felt for him and his situation, but we were focused on what we had to do.”

Coble eventually returned for the Big Ten portion of the season, where he averaged 15.2 points per game.

After leading NU to the National Invitational Tournament in his junior year, Coble came into his senior season with very high expectations – between him, then-junior point guard Thompson and then-freshman guard Crawford, NU seemed poised to make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. This wouldn’t come to pass, though, as Coble’s season ended before it began when he injured his left foot.

‘I’m coaching these guys’

After the Coble-less Cats made another trip to the NIT last year and posted a program-record 20 victories, expectations were again high entering the summer of 2010.

After the news broke that Coble would not be with the team this year, Carmody said, “We wish Kevin nothing but the best in his future endeavors. We want to thank him for his contributions to the program over the past four years.”

When asked about Coble’s recent statements after Friday’s 71-45 home opener victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Carmody declined to elaborate on his feelings about Coble or the circumstances surrounding his departure.

“It was my statement in August, the same thing,” he said. “He came into my office and said he decided he wasn’t going to play … so I said ‘fine,’ and I’m coaching these guys.”

Athletic director Jim Phillips declined to comment on the situation.

No current NU players commented on Coble’s decision not to play or his reasons – including Ryan, who was also nursing an injury last summer but still decided to go to Italy with the team.

Ryan said though he was somewhat limited in his ability to rehab while overseas, the trip didn’t set him back too far.

“I was kind of limited in what I could do overseas,” he said. “But I still was rehabbing before and after our games over there, just trying to learn like I have for the last year.”

Coble said his rehab was different than Ryan’s in that it was “more specialized.”

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Coble said a planned family vacation to Hawaii did not play into his decision not to go on the Italy trip. He said the vacation, which was to be a celebration of his mother being cancer-free for three years, did not conflict with the trip to Italy. He said the family even offered to cancel the trip to accommodate NU’s practice schedule.

Carlys Coble declined to comment on her son’s decision other than to say the choice was “very complicated” and the family is “totally supportive of his decision given the circumstances of his injury.”

Moving forward

Coble does not have any specific plans for his future, though he said he had not ruled out trying to play professionally, either in the NBA or a European professional league. If that doesn’t work out, he said he’d be interested in working in sports management or broadcasting, focusing on basketball.

He did say that he looks back fondly on his time at NU and that he is on track to graduate in December with a degree in political science. He even told the Chicago Tribune he still watches the team and would consider going to Welsh-Ryan Arena to check out a home game.

Carlys Coble, for her part, said she misses watching her son play basketball but that she too has mainly positive memories of his time in purple and white.

“He was blessed with playing with an incredible group of young men each year,” she said. “And for that we’ll always be thankful.”

Andrew Scoggin and Brian Rosenthal contributed reporting.

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