For a dorky academic, Morty sure knows his sports. Check out part one of our sit-down interview with him. In part two, he explains why we are in the “golden age of Northwestern sports.”
What would you tell the casual NU student who doesn’t attend games to go?
Well, I don’t think you have to make a choice. You can go to plays, concerts and shows. You can go see them all, but I think that if you’re going to be a student here, you should take in what you can. Welsh-Ryan is just so much fun and so are the football games; I just wish we could get them to come.
We’re trying to figure out how to bring people in, but I do enjoy the sellouts we’ve been having. And you know, I go to soccer, and there’s always big crowds. Women’s lacrosse is always a big deal. I haven’t gone to all the sports yet, but soon. I’m a very big baseball fan — I coached little league for 7 years – can’t wait for baseball and softball to start.
And women’s basketball has a great season going – Amy Jaeschke, she should play in the pros… and from New Trier! For someone to be that good in the post and to have a sweet shot like that… But you know what, they have 13 wins on the season so far, the first time we’ve had 13 wins since the 1997 season, and I think they can win 16, go 16-13 in the season. Nobody’ll want to play us in the season.
And oh my God, I remember the [a 61-60 win over Minnesota] game when she hit the back end of those free throws [Brittany Urban] – the first one barely hit the rim and the second one went in. I talked to her after the game and I asked if she was nervous and she said, ‘Nope.’ And Joe’s [Coach Joe McKeown] building a great team and we have great kids.
Those freshmen are unbelievable. And I think [athletic director] Jim Phillips said it best when we he said, ‘Is there a better time than now to be a Northwestern sports fan, when we’re on this upswing?’ And the women’s team will be the best we’ve ever had; they’ll shatter every record in the book.
The men’s team – they could’ve said, ‘Let wait ’til next season when they [Kevin] Coble and [John] Shurna together, and we have Drew [Crawford] another year, Jershon Cobb as a freshman, and Juice [Michael Thompson] as a senior; unfortunately we lose Jeremy Nash, but Luka will be better than ever and Alex will be a sophomore – and you look at that team and think, ‘That’s a top 15 team.’ And just when we were playing Michigan State, I was thinking, ‘Can you imagine next year when Coble and Shurna play together?’ But we’re not saying that! We’re saying, ‘We’re gonna be there this year!’ And God, I hope we go to the NCAA tournament. So we’re really on an upswing.
And for football: I think we have the best recruiting class in awhile. We got that great running back from California [Adonis Smith]. But we lost that kid from Washington to go to Colorado State. We get decommits, and it happens, but I guess that’s why you can’t sign until now. And that’s the thing; you can’t project how well these kids pan out.
Take Sherrick McManis — he was a two-star prospect; who gave him a scholarship, Eastern Illinois? — and he should be playing in the NFL. They have him projected in the sixth round — I think he should go fourth or fifth… maybe to the Patriots? And you know, even Corey [Wootton]; he wasn’t a four/five star prospect and he’s projected in the first/second round. You take kids like Zeke, those with one reception and he finishes with, what, 91? You look at that. You look at Brad Phillips; these are our kids.
I looked at the Auburn recruits and I looked at ours and I said, ‘You know, they’re all 4-stars and whatnot and we’re 83rd, 79th, 96th, and they’re in the top 20 over and over again. But these aren’t high school players now, they’re college players. And I don’t think they had a receiver as good as Zeke [Markshausen]. I said, ‘They got a good quarterback. But they don’t have Mike [Kafka].’ And they got great d-backs, but I’d take Sherrick over them. And I said, ‘They got good safeties… but they’re not Smitty [Brendan Smith] or Brad.’ That rusher was good, but not as good as Corey. I just said that it’s amazing to see how we have good taste and the joke is, I’ve heard that once you sign with Florida or USC, you automatically get a star.
If you sign with Northwestern, you lose a star. And you know, the truth is, all that stuff about Auburn being faster, maybe, but I thought we were faster if not just as fast. And I think we’re much better coached, personally. I think we were better prepared. So these kids are highly rated — I think 16 three-stars and 1 two-star. But you know what, watch us in the next 5 years, we’re going to get more out of these players on the field and the classroom.
So, you’re not worried about having to rebuild/reload next year?
Well, we have Dan Persa, and I like him, coming back. Obviously, we’re going to miss Andrew Brewer, but we have Sid [Stewart], he’s fantastic. Most of our lines are coming back. I think our running backs are going to be much better; I think Arby Fields showed true signs of greatness, and we have [Scott] Concannon and [Jacob] Schmidt and [Stephen] Simmons and now we have Adonis Smith and others who might immediately compete. I think we’re going to be ready. I’m not worried about anything: We’re NU, we’ll figure it out.
What are your thoughts on Big Ten expansion?
Well, if we had a 12th team, NCAA will allow us to have a championship game, as you know. Which would generate more revenue. I’m fine with it; it’d be nice to have another private school with us, since we’re the only ones. We’re also the smallest school at 8,100 undergraduates — the next smallest one is 21,000 at Iowa and then Penn State and Ohio State.
For me, if we had another private school, like Northwestern — academically and athletically sound — I like Missouri, and Pitt, especially as a research university. I think it’d be great to get Rutgers, from my neck of the woods. That’s always one of the teams that I root for, except that running back that killed the Patriots [Baltimore Ravens RB and Rutgers alum Ray Rice]. Syracuse, too, I love [men’s basketball head coach] Jim Boeheim but for me, I’m fond of Notre Dame. It’s in a different group; it’s not an enormous research university like the other ones, but it’s a spectacular academic institution. They might be a long shot, but I’d love to see Notre Dame. If I could pick one, it’d be Notre Dame, but I love Rutgers, Syracuse, and Pitt — my father went to Pitt — and Missouri. They’re great options; they’re all great options. But Notre Dame is Notre Dame.
What would be the ultimate prize for you?
Northwestern going to the Rose Bowl and beating SC [University of Southern California]. I was there for 11 years, I have friends there, I was at the Rose Bowl at ’96 but I wanna go back there and beat SC. I love SC, but I wanna beat them. I wanna go to a bowl game, win, but I wanna go to the Rose Bowl.
I want the men’s and women’s basketball teams to go to the tournament. And keep winning women’s lacrosse titles. I want women’s volleyball to keep winning, I wanna see field hockey improve – they turned it around this year. Softball is always good, men’s soccer had another great year — we beat Indiana this year. Women’s soccer is getting better. Baseball is my sport so I have a special love for baseball. We have a great swimming team and great golf team. We have great wrestling, women’s tennis is amazing — I think we’re ranked #2. Men’s tennis is getting better absolutely. We have 19 varsity sports; I don’t know how many I mentioned right there.
We’re continuing in a very different era. You talk to people, alumni who, back then, went through some very lean years. I was taken aback when Juice Thompson first told me that two years ago we were 1-17 in conference. Two years ago! And the women’s team was 7-23. I mean, it’s like, “WOO!” And we beat Indiana this year in soccer, and we’re going crazy and I’m like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ and someone goes, ‘Well, we’ve never beaten Indiana before.’ And I’m like, ‘We’ve never beaten Indiana before?’ We went to the Elite 8 like, 3 of the last 4 years; we never beat Indiana?
And we beat Indiana away in men’s basketball last season, first time in like, 30-40 years. It’s like we’re shattering the record books by beating up on Indiana. And we were down 28-3 this year in football and came back to win that — the greatest comeback in Northwestern history. Men’s basketball was ranked for the first time since 1969. Last time we beat a top 5 team, top 6 team, I remember back in 1979 against Magic Johnson and Michigan State. We’re shattering records about Northwestern. It’s like, every month, we’re doing something that Northwestern has never done before, in lifetimes, and I think students are really lucky to be here right now, in the golden age of Northwestern sports.