By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) Since 1920, Northwestern has had just one basketball coach who actually was able to leave Evanston with a winning record – and probably his sanity – intact.
Between 1927 and 1950, Arthur “Dutch” Lonborg went 236-203-1 (and 1?) for the Wildcats, capturing two conference titles along the way. But even old Dutch, with all his roundball success, wasn’t able to skip town with an overall winning record in the Big Ten.
He went just 138-141 in conference during his 23 seasons.
Such is life at Northwestern, where finding true basketball success is about as easy as finding sunbathers along the lake in February.
Earlier this month, when NU coach Bill Carmody was fired after spending 13 years at Welsh-Ryan Arena without qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the Associated Press reported in a telling line that, “Carmody ranks among the most successful coaches at Northwestern with a 192-210 record.”
Hey, I’m surprised he didn’t get a parade.
In all seriousness, though, Northwestern basketball – a program that still has never reached the Big Dance – clearly is a tall task for any coach. And I can tell you one man who is not up for it, no matter how impressive of a feat he pulled off in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.
Harvard basketball coach Tommy Amaker simply isn’t the answer for Northwestern. Never mind that he’s familiar with dealing with high academic standards similar to those at Northwestern. Never mind that he already knows the Big Ten. And never mind that his 14th-seeded Crimson just pulled off a stunning upset of third-seeded New Mexico in the NCAA Tourney – an achievement that NU hoops can only dream about.
After finally firing Carmody – a good guy who just wasn’t a good enough coach to put the Wildcats over the top – Northwestern would be incredibly foolish to go back to same Ivy League well that brought the former Princeton head coach to Evanston.
Been there, done that, got the NIT T-shirt.
Beyond that, it would be absolutely nonsensical for NU to attempt to break their NCAA Tournament curse by hiring a guy in Amaker who was unable to get fellow Big Ten member Michigan into the tourney even once during his six seasons in Ann Arbor from 2001 to 2007.
Why would Amaker suddenly find better success in the conference that already chewed him up and spit him out (a 43-53 Big Ten record) at a school with poorer facilities, more rigid recruiting standards and a much smaller fan base than what he had at Michigan?
Well, he wouldn’t, of course.
And I suspect that Amaker himself knows that. After all, since being fired by the Wolverines, he has found Cambridge to be a perfect spot for him. Over the past six seasons at Harvard, Amaker has gone 111-64, won three consecutive regular-season Ivy League titles and now has enjoyed an epic NCAA Tourney win, to boot.
At NU, he likely wouldn’t even be able to get to the Dance.
And the Wildcats would be wise to ask another coach to bring them and to leave the Ivy for the Cubs.
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.