On Jan. 11, Northwestern was 10-4 overall and 1-3 in the Big Ten. It wasn't yet clear where this Northwestern season -- which, after last year's 20-win campaign, began with unusually high hopes -- was headed. Could the Wildcats finally, mercifully make their way to an NCAA tournament?
The answer, as we know now, was a resounding "no." Barring a miracle run through the Big Ten tournament, this Northwestern season is likely to end the way all Northwestern seasons end: without an NCAA tournament appearance. In fact, after Sunday's grotesque 65-41 loss at Penn State, NU is 14-10 and 4-9 in the Big Ten, and is a plausible risk to miss the NIT.
But on Jan. 11, Northwestern gave coach Bill Carmody a contract extension. Not only did the decision seem oddly timed -- why not wait until the season was over? -- it tweaked some Northwestern fans, who, after 11 years of marginal progress under Carmody, have begun rumbling about a change.
It's probably no surprise, then, that a month later many Northwestern fans haven't changed their minds. The most notable post to this effect '' titled "Time For A Change" -- came from popular Northwestern blog Lake The Posts Monday:
So much for holding out until the end of the season. After numbly watching the NU hoops version of Groundhog Day in another loss at Penn State yesterday I’m only printing what nearly every one of you now realizes – it is time to replace Bill Carmody. This plea is not full of venom or disdain, but rather objective and calculated. One that says now is the time. [...]
It is challenging at NU. But, in our lifetime someone will get us over the hump. I refuse to buy in to the fact it can’t be done in Evanston. I will continue to point 30 yards south of Welsh-Ryan as the proof point. But, the key is to kick-start our coach to be and leverage the level that Carmody has gotten our program to. To start over by waiting another year will make it that much more challenging and as my age continues to go up, my patience and tolerance for accepting NU hoops’ streak to continue goes down.
I respect Coach Carmody’s basketball knowledge. He’s the kind of guy I’d love having a beer with to go over chalk talk. I think he has done many good things at NU as our players graduate, they’ve got good character and he’s made us competitive night in and night out. After 11 seasons that simply isn’t enough. It’s time for a change. Let the discourse begin.
If you're interested in a look at the mind of a Northwestern fan, the whole post is worth a read. Just as in January, Northwestern fans aren't angrily mobbing together. They're not carrying pitchforks. They like Bill Carmody. They like his style, they think he's smart and they appreciate that he runs a clean program. They're reasonable and intelligent themselves, and they give credit where credit is due. (Smart fan bases are the best, aren't they?)
But they are tired of losing. Any fan base would be. Fans see NU's football success under Pat Fitzgerald, and the planned improvements to Northwestern's athletics facilities, and they argue that Northwestern doesn't have to be a loser. It doesn't have to celebrate NIT appearances. It doesn't have to accept its traditional status.
So is Carmody feeling the heat? Do the rumblings of fans reach the inner recesses of Welsh-Ryan Arena? Do NU administrators agree? Lake The Posts', um, post inspired Chicago Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein to assess the situation at close range, and the results were inconclusive.
Asked by the Tribune whether he believes he's on solid footing with [NU athletic director Jim] Phillips and school president Morton Schapiro, Carmody said: "You get evaluated at the end of each year. That's the standard line, and it's certainly true here." Phillips, who coached basketball at Arizona State while earning a master's degree, spoke glowingly of Carmody last season. But he takes losses terribly and can't be satisfied with the team's slide — five losses in six games, the one win coming on their home court against Illinois.
It's never fun to debate whether a coach should be fired. It's especially not fun when that coach is Carmody, a smart, intelligent, hard-working guy who has had some success in his tenure, especially when viewed in relation to Northwestern's inept history. And a pro-Carmody supporter could argue that John Shurna's injury, and not Carmody's incompetence or lack of talent, is what really derailed this season.
But if Northwestern basketball has reached a ceiling -- and that ceiling is just below the words "NCAA tournament" -- then, yes, it might be time for a change. We'll see if NU officials agree. They didn't seem to in January, but it's not January in Evanston any more.