Northwestern basketball doesn’t have many heroes. Rich Falk, Shon Morris, Jitim Young, Juice Thompson, and John Shurna are on the list, but overall the years have produced far more villains in purple and white than heroes. Guys who abandoned the program for what they thought were better places like Rex Walters, Kevin Nixon, Geno Carlisle, Kevin O’Neil, and Kevin Coble come to mind as do the various administrators who didn’t make any effort to improve the foundation of NU hoops throughout the years. Now NU’s current athletic administrator has made a move that he believes will improve NU basketball, but it is a move that will either make him the biggest hero in NU history or land him at the top of that list of villains.
After all, Carmody was NU’s most successful coach since 1950. He was the only NU coach to coach in multiple postseason tournaments (though all NITs) and the only NU coach to win 20 games. And he had assembled NU’s best potential tournament team ever to play next season. That doesn’t seem like a guy who should be fired, but he also was well under .500 overall and in the Big Ten and only beat conference rival Ohio State once in 13 seasons. Also, he failed to make the NCAA tournament in his 13 seasons.
It also seemed that the momentum of the program was going backwards this season, though, having three starters hurt probably was a big reason for that. Carmody also won some of NU’s best games ever pulling off multiple road wins over top-25 teams that NU had never beaten before. Of course, he also did things like drop multiple home games to UIC and never got past the second day of the Big Ten Tournament.
Overall, though, Carmody was a lot better than anyone who NU had ever brought in before him and I keep going back to the hopes which existed for next year’s team. You might say who cares about hope, but Phillips specifically cited the word “hope” as a reason to change coaches. He said he hoped NU basketball had a better “destination” than where Carmody had taken it. That might sound stupid, but Gary Barnett sold early-1990s NU football on the phrase “belief without evidence” and that’s the definition of hope so maybe at NU hope is a valid criteria to make a change if Phillips really thought Carmody’s tenure was bereft of that quality.
I don’t think it was, but I’m not sitting in Phillips’ chair. Regardless, he’s not staked his reputation on the “hope” that his chosen replacement for Carmody can work Barnett-like magic. Honestly, I’d say a sit down with Barnett should be required of whoever takes the job. After all, they might not have a lot to work with in year one. NU’s potentially strong roster for next year now might be rather thin. While they very likely maybe false rumors the fact is rumors have circulated from sources close to Sina (his dad), Taphorn (his AAU coach), and Sobolewski (his AAU coach) that all may leave NU. The Chicago Tribune has also reported that Drew Crawford and/or JerShon Cobb may consider leaving NU now that Carmody has been fired. Basically, NU might look like Indiana did four years ago and be forced to field a team of mostly walk-ons and late signings. The problem is that NU’s new coach won’t have the Indiana basketball history to build the program. If that happens it’ll make many fans angry at Phillips and put the new coach in a spot where he has to take a step backwards to go forwards.
But the new coach will have the “hope” they’ll do something nobody else has ever done. It’ll be a tremendous challenge and let’s be honest the odds suggest he will probably fail. But if they don’t they’ll be a hero and Phillips himself will be a hero as well for finding a true coaching gem in Bill’s replacement. A man who could take the Purple to the Big Dance!
I “hope” that’s what happens. If it goes the way history has gone, though, and Phillips pulled the plug on NU’s best team a year early then he can join a guy like former All-Big Ten guard Geno Carlisle who pulled the plug on NU’s tournament hopes and his NU career a year early by not waiting to play alongside All-American Evan Eschmeyer as a villain of NU basketball.