Bill Carmody to keep coaching

Bill Carmody will remain Northwestern's coach after athletic director Jim Phillips gave him a vote of confidence on Thursday.

There had been speculation Phillips was considering firing Carmody after the Wildcats failed to reach the NCAA tournament this season. The program has never been to the NCAA tournament, and Carmody has been there 12 seasons.

"Relative to who we have coming back, relative to who's sitting out, relative to who's coming in, the program is getting better," Phillips said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. "Bill has assured me that. The staff has assured me of that. I see it. This was the first year that we were really, really close in the conversation of the NCAA tournament. Now for some people, hey, that's not enough progress, and you got your expectations and all the rest. I don't think they then would truly appreciate what we're trying to do here and (what) kind of place we've tried to be here."

Carmody has compiled a 179-191 overall record and gone 66-136 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats had one winning season in his first eight years, but they've since had four consecutive winning seasons and been to a school-record four consecutive NITs.

"There are challenges here," Carmody said. "I don't think (there) are any barriers, but I think every school has challenges, and we have them. I think there are enough good players out there. The pool of good players who are also good students that like Northwestern and that we like is large enough for us to recruit well, to compete for Big Ten championships and compete nationally."

Northwestern was considered a NCAA tournament bubble team after an 8-10 Big Ten season, which included a win over Michigan State. Close losses did Northwestern in this season, with it losing seven Big Ten games by five points or fewer, or in overtime.

"I'm very optimistic where we're headed," Phillips said. "We continue to get better on the court, always maintain our standards of excellence relative to academics, NCAA compliance, social behavior, the development of young men. It is not about winning at all costs. I just think that's important."

The Wildcats finished 19-14 and lost in the NIT second round to Washington last week. They'll graduate all-time leading scorer John Shurna, but will return four other starters.

Carmody signed a contract extension for an undisclosed amount of years in 2011.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.