Yesterday, in oh-so-quiet fashion, Bill Carmody inked a contract extension with the Northwestern Wildcats.
If you're a teensy bit confused by that proposition, well, you're not the only one. Northwestern fans aren't exactly thrilled, either.
First, the skinny. The Wildcats didn't reveal the terms of Carmody's deal -- Northwestern can do that, being a private institution and all -- but Carmody stressed the prefix "multi-" in describing the multiyear deal to reporters Monday. This is currently Carmody's 11th season at Northwestern, a tenure that has been marked by constant, if slight, improvement, quirky Princeton offense and 1-3-1 zone defense and, above all, a continuation of the Wildcats' eternal NCAA tournament drought. Carmody has gotten Northwestern competitive in recent years; the Wildcats have spent the past three offseasons surrounded by "Is this the year?" rumblings, and that's an improvement on the program's historical ineptitude. But he's yet to lead his team to the tourney.
For Northwestern fans, apparently, therein lies the rub. Sippin' On Purple's Rodger Sherman sums up the Wildcat hoops fan's feelings thusly:
I really like Bill Carmody: I think he's a good coach willing to try intriguing, new things, he understands his personnel for the most part, and with a few notable issues, he generally handles a very difficult situation - coaching a Big Ten team with no NCAA tournament experience - well.
I just can't shake thinking this is an awful decision though. People say they want to keep him under contract for recruiting, but, if I'm a recruit, and NU doesn't make the tournament this year, I'd rather see they're committed to finding somebody new, exciting, and capable than sticking with the guy who is 0-11 in tourney appearances. That the school, despite the bad history, cares, and that I could help out and be that player on that first NCAA team. I guess we'll have to hope those players want to instead commit to being players for Carmody years 12-16. The season isn't over, and great things could still happen. For Carmody's sake and NU's, I hope they do.
Judging by Twitter and message board chatter, Rodger's opinion seems to be the consensus among Northwestern fans. They like Carmody -- he's one of the smartest coaches in the Big Ten, after all -- and they like the signs of improvement in recent years. But they can't help feeling like it's time to move on.
They might be right. The easy view here is to say, well, hey, it's Northwestern, a team that has the words "4 NIT APPEARANCES" on a banner in Welsh-Ryan Arena. (Yes, this is true, and yes, it might be the saddest banner in college sports.) Is it really going to get much better than Carmody? The problem with that theory is, well, football. As Pat Fitzgerald (and other coaches before him) have showed, Northwestern athletics can be a winning enterprise at the highest levels of college athletics. It isn't doomed, whether by high academic standards or athletics expenditures, to fail forever. Carmody has frequently instilled that feeling among hoops fans, only to disappoint when his teams annually fail to notch tourney bids. Barring a major turnaround, this season is headed in that direction, too.
Is it the worst extension ever? Of course not. Is it poorly timed? Sure. Is it the best Northwestern can do? At the very least, you have to wonder.