Coach Carmody back at Northwestern for 13th season
By RICK GANO
CHICAGO (AP) Bill Carmody's future as men's basketball coach at Northwestern has been the source of much passionate discussion and speculation after the Wildcats failed again to reach the NCAA tournament
So athletic director Jim Phillips went into hurry-up mode to clear it up, announcing Thursday that Carmody would be back for a 13th season.
Northwestern is one of a handful of schools to never have played in the NCAA tournament. Numerous close losses kept the Wildcats on the outside again this season, despite the presence of John Shurna. He led the Big Ten in scoring and became the all-time scorer in school history this season.
Northwestern finished 19-14 after its fourth straight trip to the NIT, where it beat Akron and lost to Washington last Friday.
Many critics thought Carmody should go, that he'd had more than enough opportunities to get the Wildcats into the NCAAs. Those in his favor cited four straight winning seasons - the most successful four-year run in school history - as why he should get stay
"We had another very solid season. If you look at the last four years nobody can differ with that," Phillips said on a conference call.
Phillips spoke with players, staff and Carmody over the last several days. That evaluation usually doesn't come until a few weeks after the season, but Phillips wanted it done quickly.
"I want to make it perfectly clear nobody is satisfied," Phillips said. "Bill is not satisfied, the kids are not satisfied, the staff is not satisfied, I'm not, the university leadership. But we're headed on the right track. I'm very optimistic where we are headed."
Carmody has a 179-191 record since coming to Northwestern after four successful seasons at Princeton. The Wildcats have never had a winning Big Ten record during his tenure, although they did go 8-8 in 2003-04. Before this season, his overall records the previous three years were 17-14, 20-14 and 20-14.
Northwestern beat LSU, Tulsa, Seton Hall and Georgia Tech as part of a non-conference schedule but couldn't win the close conference games that may have pushed them into the NCAA field. A staggering loss to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament pretty much eliminated the Wildcats from the field.
"No one has been more disappointed than our players, our staff and me the way the season ended," Carmody said. The Wildcats were blown out by Washington 76-55 in the second round of the NIT.
During the regular season, the Wildcats lost two overtime games to Michigan, fell by two points to Ohio State and Purdue at home and suffered a single-point setback to Illinois at Welsh-Ryan arena.
"I don't think it was the pressure of historically not being in the tournament. I think it was more of the depth we had. We had to play guys too many minutes," said Carmody, adding he needs to do a better job at the end of games.
Shurna has used up his eligibility, but the Wildcats do return forward/guard Drew Crawford, their second-leading scorer, and they have a rebounder in 6-foot-9 TCU transfer Nikola Cerina. Carmody said he expects to sign a center this spring after calling rebounding and depth major problems last season.
Northwestern's tough academic standards and the less-than-modern Welsh-Ryan Arena can be factors in recruiting. The school has a master renovation plan for facilities in the works. Phillips made it clear that the school will not deviate from demands of academic achievement and proper off-court behavior.
"We want to win and we want to win badly at Northwestern, but we're not going to win at all costs," he said.
Carmody said he expected all along to return. He did acknowledge that his contract allows him to stay beyond next season but refused to give specifics, along with Phillips.
"I feel comfortable telling our recruits I intend to be here for a long time," Carmody said.
But if the Wildcats don't make the NCAA field again next season, the firestorm could be even greater. Phillips is well aware of how allowing Carmody to stay will be received.
"I know there will be half the population disappointed or upset with my decision and maybe half the population will be excited," he said.
Updated March 22, 2012