By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) With no games scheduled until Monday, the Northwestern basketball team is taking a break this week. But here in the meantime, what I’m wondering is if the Northwestern basketball program will ever decide to break away from coach Bill Carmody.
Or if the school will just let it remain perpetually broken.
Now in his 13th season with the Wildcats, Carmody has been in the Big Ten since Y2K was a thing and around the league longer than any coach not named Tom Izzo. So long, in fact, that first-year Illini coach John Groce was still in his 20s when Carmody made his debut.
Probably had hair, too.
Yet, in all those years, Carmody has compiled just a 186-192 record (.492), lost two out of every three conference games he’s coached (he’s 66-136), and still never made an NCAA Tournament (not even in this era of an expanded 68-team field).
Last season, Carmody & The Cats thought they might finally get their first invite to the Big Dance in school history. But then they went and lost their Big Ten Tourney opener, and found themselves relegated to the NIT – for the fourth straight year.
Back in March, I thought that Northwestern’s 19-14 record, which included an 8-10 conference mark, would likely spell the end of Carmody’s lengthy tenure in Evanston. But clearly, I thought wrong.
Shortly after the end of the season, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips announced that Carmody would be back for 2012-13, telling the media, “The program is going to be better. Bill has assured me of that.”
And I’m sure he did. After all, what else is he going to say?
Phillips’ behavior toward his basketball coach has long struck me as odd. Back in January 2011 when Carmody’s contract was extended through 2013 (the coach said in March that his deal runs longer than that), Phillips told the media, “I don’t want to brush off wins and losses,” but then proceeded to do just that.
“You can also appreciate integrity and graduation rates and NCAA compliance,” Phillips continued. “Wins and losses are important, but only part of an overall evaluation process.”
Now, certainly, compliance is crucial. And, yes, graduation rates are indeed important (especially at an institution such as NU). But while all of that’s great, the fact is when you’re in a Big Boy conference, as Northwestern is with the Big Ten, the only question determining coaching decisions really should be: “Do you win?”
Carmody doesn’t. Not enough, at least.
This season, Northwestern is off to a ho-hum 7-3 start that doesn’t exactly portend greatness. While the Wildcats did pull off a stunning upset at Baylor on Dec. 4, they sandwiched it with troubling home losses to Maryland, UIC and Butler that exposed the team’s shortcomings.
With the Big Ten currently featuring four Top 10 teams and six of the nation’s Top 20, the odds against this year being the one where NU finally kicks down the NCAA Tourney’s door are long. Even longer considering that John Shurna, the school’s all-time leading scorer, is no longer on the court, having graduated last spring.
I give Carmody credit for elevating Northwestern basketball from abysmal to respectable. But I don’t think he’s the coach to also take the program to the next level. After all, if he was, I believe he would have done so by now. And it’s high time for Phillips to not only hold Carmody accountable for compliance and graduation rates, but to also start holding him accountable for producing wins, as well.
Because over 13 seasons, those really should add up.
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.