Position Group: Coaching Staff
Personnel Evaluated: Bill Carmody, Mitch Henderson, Tavaras Hardy, and Ivan Vujic
Whenever one tries to evaluate a coaching staff they take on something of a challenge. As a fan or member of the media you are really only exposed to the work of a coaching staff during games. However, the majority of the work done by a coaching staff is actually done in practice and on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately, without having seen practices or sat in one recruiting visits evaluating those aspects are something of a projection. You look at game performance, apparent preparation from opponents, and player improvement to evaluate practice habits and you look at the players who are signed as recruits in order to evaluate recruiting. As far as recruiting goes, I am very pleased with the results of the work done by Bill Carmody and his staff, lead by Tavaras Hardy, this past year. NU’s two recruits for next season, Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio, seem to fit NU’s needs and seem to continue the recent trend of bringing in players who have been offered by other high level schools. They may not be top-100 recruits, but the fact Crawford was offered by Wake Forest and Marcotullio received interest from a number of schools even after an early commit to NU makes me fell good about the future. My major criticism in recruiting is the lack of recruiting news for the class of 2010. Last year at this time we already knew about Marcotullio’s commitment. Hopefully, Coach Hardy is out working hard and we will be getting news about a couple feature Wildcats soon. The class of 2010 is a very important one for NU’s future.
As far as on the court performance, including practice habits, many have said this was Bill Carmody’s best job at Northwestern. I certainly think he did a nice job this year, I find myself uncertain if I want to call this his best year. Certainly the record this year was better, but Carmody had a lot more to work with in achieving the record. The 2003-04 team which recovered from a rough non-conference season to go 8-8 in the Big Ten was a squad who won as many Big Ten games as year’s group with very limited means. Most notably, that team basically played six players. Carmody tried to by some time via starting Ivan Tolic until he knees locked up, but basically the Wildcat lineup featured five starters and Evan Seacat. Yes the 5-6 non-conference record that year was a disappointment, but part of the sign of good coaching is you can pull your team together and recover from adversity. Carmody did that impressively with limited means in 03-04 and again this year. The only time I thought NU didn’t recover well this season was when they lost to Michigan after the Illinois debacle. I am still at a loss to explain that loss and the other big blown leads. Those games were so well-planned and played for so long, yet they went south so quickly. NU did do a better job holding the lead at the end of the Iowa and Purdue games near the year’s conclusion, but staying aggressive with big leads will be an area of improvement to focus on next year.
I must say, I was very impressed with how they came back from those two losses with the victory over Ohio State. Considering the number of tough losses NU came back from this season, I can conclude the ‘Cats coaches got a lot of good work done in practice. NU’s game plan for the big wins against Michigan State and Purdue also speak well to the practice habits of the players and coaches. NU came out with a plan that seemed fully confuse the Spartans and Boilermakers on those days. Carmody should also get high marks for several other solid game plans. I was also very impressed with the adjustments made for the second game against Wisconsin.
One area where I was less impressed was how NU ended the season. While I understand the coaching staff probably deservers some blame for loss of the big leads in the Illinois and Purdue game, I think it was pretty clear that those losses were more a result of players folding under pressure. After all, NU had clearly showed before the Purdue game that they could make free throws, and they clearly showed before the Illinois game they could handle the press. Therefore, I have to assume they had been coached to do those things. However, under the pressure of those games, for reasons I will never understand, veteran players buckled and folded. I am not certain what the coaching staff could have done. They used timeouts like crazy in the Illinois game, but the team didn’t settled down. On the other hand, I think the coaching staff could have done more at the end of the season. It wasn’t just the fact NU lost the season’s 3 most important games, it was the seemingly lack of urgency from the players. How NU could come out so flat in those games is beyond me. Without having been in NU’s locker room I can’t say why the ‘Cats seemed so uninspired at the start of the year’s largest games. I just know that despite being close at the end, those games were lost early. Whether it was poor planning or nervous players, the problem should have been corrected. It will be critical next year that NU’s coaches get their guys up ready to play and confident in themselves every time. The Big Ten will be much improved and their might not be as much chance for NU to fall down by double-digits and comeback to win games. Overall, though, this was a great step forward for NU’s program the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit. If they can continue to bring in solid players, I think it is realistic to say NU could have four straight postseason appearances on the record when this year’s freshmen class graduates.