Northwestern basketball fans are in great need of some perspective.
Before Bill Carmody, the Wildcats basketball coach was Kevin O’Neill. In the early ’90s, O’Neil guided Marquette back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. His record at Northwestern: 49-120. Two coaches before O’Neill was Bill Foster. Foster ran basketball at Duke before that Coach K guy showed up. He had been Coach of the Year in 1978 and led the Blue Devils to within one win of the national championship in that same year. His record at Northwestern: 54-141. And before him, there was Tex Winter. This man was the architect the triangle offense. He helped Phil Jackson guide Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to unrivaled success in the NBA. He is one of the most respected minds in the history of the game. His record at Northwestern: 44-73. Hopefully you’re sensing the trend by now.
Many fine basketball coaches have come through Evanston over the years and the only thing they have been guaranteed in the past is a drastic reduction in their overall coaching winning percentage. Plenty of qualified men have tried and failed to bring Northwestern up from the depths of the Big Ten gutter. Each has been deserving of their chance, but each has fallen unceremoniously by the wayside, under a pile of 30-point losses and bruised egos.
Does this mean that Northwestern basketball should forever revel in mediocrity? That the school should accept being average because it is not as bad as it once was? Of course not. That the team currently owns a 11-4 record and recently came within seconds of upending a Top 25 team in Michigan State, yet still has fans calling for the coach’s head, is a testament to the job Bill Carmody has already done. On the surface, his overall record at Northwestern (150-167) would not warrant this two-year extension. But looking at the abyss from which this program has come, Carmody deserves the school’s confidence. He steadied the ship and now has an athletic director, Jim Phillips, and school president, Morty Schapiro, who are dedicated to creating a thriving sports program.
This is not a Tom Izzo-lifetime contract situation. This is a reward for the promise that the coach has given to a once lifeless program, whose games were once automatic W’s for every other Big Ten school. Say what you will about Northwestern basketball, but there is not one coach out there that will tell you they are an automatic W. There is still hope (as small as it may be) for the NCAA tournament this season and there is a solid core to build around in John Shurna, Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb in the coming years. If it does not work out in these next two years, the school will move on from Carmody and onto its next savior. But he will still have left Northwestern basketball in a far better place than he found it. And for that, he has been justly rewarded.
Editor’s note: The Wildcats’ record has been corrected from 10-4 to 11-4. Thanks to commenter Anna for pointing out the error.