Men’s Basketball: Athletic director Jim Phillips talks decision to fire Bill Carmody

Bill Carmody talks with senior guard Reggie Hearn (11) and sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski (3). Carmody was fired Saturday after 13 years as Northwesterns head coach.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Bill Carmody talks with senior guard Reggie Hearn (11) and sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski (3). Carmody was fired Saturday after 13 years as Northwestern’s head coach.

Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

It didn’t take long after Northwestern’s loss in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament for athletic director Jim Phillips to make his decision on coach Bill Carmody’s future.

Less than two days after the Wildcats ended their season with a 73-59 loss to Iowa in the conference tournament, Phillips announced Carmody will not return for a 14th season at the helm of the men’s basketball program. At a news conference Saturday evening, Phillips said he made up his mind Friday and informed Carmody at an 8 a.m. meeting Saturday.

“Bill Carmody elevated the Northwestern basketball program during his 13-year tenure,” Phillips told reporters. “Make no bones about it, he did it with class, integrity and the best interests of our student athletes in mind … we challenge and expect our program’s coaches, from field hockey to football to fencing, to compete for conference and national championships, and we expect the same from our men’s basketball program.”

Phillips said he didn’t feel Carmody had earned a extension on his contract, which was set to expire after the 2013-14 season. Phillips said he took this season’s unlucky multitude of injured players into account, but recruiting would have been difficult with continuing uncertainty about Carmody’s future.

Phillips repeatedly told reporters his decision was based on looking at Carmody’s 13 years in Evanston and not just this season.

“This is not just about one year,” Phillips said. “The final decision was based upon my belief that we needed a different voice, a new leader, a change in order to ultimately accomplish our goals.”

Phillips met with the rest of the coaching staff and players in separate meetings Saturday morning. He called the meeting with the players “emotional,” and freshman forward Kale Abrahamson said in a tweet that Phillips shed some tears while addressing the team.

NU struggled with injuries and finished 13-19 for the 2012-13 season, including a measly 4-14 in Big Ten games. Carmody ended with a record of 192-210 in his 13-year tenure, which included 20-win seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11 and four appearances in the National Invitation Tournament. He ranks second in NU history in games won and his winning percentage of .478 is third-best all-time at NU since the NCAA Tournament was created in 1939.

Carmody was also responsible for the best years in the history of the program. Despite not making the NCAA Tournament during his tenure, Carmody’s team had solid chances of making it into the tournament over the past five seasons. He brought in two of the best players ever to play for NU, guard Michael “Juice” Thompson and forward John Shurna.

Phillips said there was no specific timeline for finding a new coach and will let the job hunt take as much time as it needs.

NU has hired Parker Executive Search to help with the search for Carmody’s replacement. The firm has helped hire college basketball coaches across the Midwest, including Minnesota’s Tubby Smith and Indiana’s Tom Crean.

One of the main things holding back the search is the upcoming NCAA Tournament, during which Phillips cannot talk with anyone involved in the championship. Although Phillips said there is “no particular timeline” for the search and he “hasn’t ruled anybody in or out,” three of the most talked-about candidates to succeed Carmody — Duke assistant Chris Collins, Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew and Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen — will all be involved in March Madness.

Phillips said he is looking for four main qualities in his next basketball coach. He is seeking someone who understands NU’s unique culture, will enjoy being on the road recruiting, act in an ethical manner with a desire to graduate his student athletes and has the tools to raise the program to “a new level.” Phillips said previous experience as a head coach is important but will not be a deal-breaker.

“I indicated Bill has elevated our program from when he came to where it is now,” Phillips said. “But there is a better destination for this basketball program. I believe it intellectually and I believe it emotionally and that’s what we’re going to work towards.”