By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Woe is Bill Carmody.
He coaches in the smallest basketball arena in the Big Ten (I’m aware). He has to deal with rigid academic standards (I understand that). And, heck, he’s even been forced to love the color purple, of all things (poor fella).
Yes, I get all of that and the many other challenges that come with coaching at Northwestern. But the way some people have been writing and talking this week about Bill Carmody – excuse me, the great Bill Carmody – you’d think that if only he had more help from his school’s stingy administration then he surely would have led Wildcats to a national championship by now.
Or, wait …
Reality is, of course, no one is expecting Bill Carmody to coach Northwestern to an NCAA title. Or a Big Ten title, for that matter. But as a head basketball coach of a major-conference school, you know what they absolutely should be expecting of him?
To make an NCAA Tournament.
Because, really, that’s not asking very much. At all.
Nevertheless, Carmody has been unable to punch the Wildcats ticket to The Dance despite his 12 cracks at it. All this in spite of the fact that every other school in the nation’s six BCS conferences has reached the NCAA Tournament at least once.
Again, that’s every other major-conference school.
However, when it comes to Carmody this week many a pundit have curiously rushed to his defense merely because he’s managed to take a horribly underachieving basketball program and turn it into, well, a run-of-the-mill underachieving one.
And, hey, it’s only taken him a dozen years to do it!
Consider this: In his 12 years in Evanston, Carmody is lackluster 179-189 overall (.486 winning percentage) and an abysmal 66-136 (.327) in the Big Ten. I can’t imagine that any other major-conference school in the country would have a coach with those kinds of results still on its payroll.
But the fact that Northwestern does says something about the school’s overall mindset. Oddly, it seems to be one that celebrates athletic mediocrity just as much as it demands academic excellence. And I see no reason why Northwestern cannot – and does not – expect more from its major sports programs. It’s almost as if it’s scared to really strive for big success.
For example, earlier this month, NU football coach Pat Fitzgerald spoke out against the NCAA proposal to limit bowl games to teams with at least seven wins.
“I’m not for limiting it,” Fitzgerald told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m all for letting guys have the opportunity to play. A .500 record in our league is pretty darn good. Is it great? No, it’s not great. But you can still have a great bowl game like we did this year with two 6-6 teams.”
He then went on to add: “I’m not for five-win teams even being able to receive a waiver. That’s tough noogies. If you have a losing record, you are out. A .500 record should be the benchmark.”
Now, is that really what Northwestern football strives for each year? To reach a .500 “benchmark”? If so, that’s below the expectations that any Big Ten football program should be setting for itself.
Same goes for basketball. In a conference like the Big Ten, reaching the NCAA Tournament – not the NIT – should be the expectation every year at every school. Some years, you might not make it. But that should still be the goal and the expectation.
For Northwestern and Carmody, though, it is not. Never has been. Not once in a dozen years. But it’s high time for Northwestern to stop simply participating in the Big Ten and for the Wildcats to actually join it – and its expectations.
Northwestern could take a step toward that goal by dismissing Carmody and hiring a new coach with new (and not at all unreasonable) expectations. After 12 years, you can’t say that Carmody hasn’t had his chance in Evanston. He has.
And it’s time for Jim Phillips to finally give somebody else one.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.