Ryan: Bill Carmody’s uncertain future

Dan Ryan, Reporter

Northwestern’s 28-point shredding at the hands of Michigan was more significant than an 0-1 start in Big Ten play. It could be the beginning of a big change in the direction of the program.

As I listened to coach Bill Carmody’s post-game press conference Thursday, it was hard not to come away with the impression of a man defeated. He knew exactly what had gone wrong against the Wolverines: His team simply wasn’t on the same level as its opponent. And in the stacked Big Ten, it’s unlikely that situation will change.

Before we go further, allow me a disclaimer: I am a big Carmody supporter, defender and whatever else you want to call it. He’s a good coach, a nice guy, and his players like him. He does more with less than any other coach in the conference, and many of his recent teams, on paper, had no business competing in the Big Ten.

But after the injuries to Drew Crawford and Reggie Hearn, the loss of John Shurna to graduation and the suspension of JerShon Cobb, the Wildcats are not going to win many games in the Big Ten this season. Not with this gauntlet of a schedule. We’ll start the over/under at three. And if the athletic department decides at the end of the season that Carmody can no longer get it done, it will be very easy for them to justify cutting ties with him.

What was most telling was Carmody’s admission that his team simply cannot play the style of basketball he’s employed the last few seasons. He knows what he’s working with, and he knows it’s not much.

“We might have to change the way we play,” Carmody said. “Just slow it down a little bit because the last four or five years we’ve been going up and down the court, scoring a lot. We had a lot of drills where that’s what we did: shot the ball quickly. I thought we had the team to do that, but right now, I don’t think that’s the case. In fact I know it probably is not the case.”

That doesn’t instill a lot of confidence.

It’s also important to remember that at the end of last year, the calls for Carmody’s firing among the student body and the media were growing, and this was after what amounted to the most successful season in program history. Finishing far down the ladder in the Big Ten will only add fuel to that fire, even though all the coaching in the world won’t change the fact that the Cats are at a severe disadvantage. The pressure will be on athletic director Jim Phillips to make a decision that helps NU take the next step toward attaining that elusive NCAA Tournament berth.

That’s not necessarily the right call, as Carmody has served the Cats well in the past few years. I believe the program can be great under its longtime coach. But the Michigan loss was not one bad game for a young team. It was the beginning of what will be a long, tiring season for NU, and consistent losing — much less consistent blowouts — gets old really quickly in Division I.

And the Cats are going to lose, regardless of what Carmody does or says. That seems to be the only certainty as the media, fans and likely even Carmody, can only wait and see if it comes at a price.

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