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MORRISSEY: Northwestern likely to fire basketball coach Bill Carmody ... nicely

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody directs defense first half Northwestern's 66-59 loss Penn State Thursday March 7 2013. | Tom

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody directs the defense in the first half of Northwestern's 66-59 loss to Penn State Thursday March 7, 2013. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 13, 2013 6:28AM



If Northwestern fires men’s basketball coach Bill Carmody, it figures to be the gentlest, politest parting of ways on record.

‘‘Bill . . . ,’’ Wildcats athletic director Jim Phillips will begin.

‘‘I know,’’ Carmody will say.

‘‘It’s just that . . . ’’

‘‘I couldn’t agree more.’’

‘‘Wouldn’t it be perfect if I experienced the excruciating pain of firing you at the exact moment you nobly and selflessly resigned?’’

‘‘Would that make it easier for you?’’

OK, you get the idea. Phillips is a nice guy. So is Carmody.

Carmody stands for a lot of the things universities often say they want in a coach. His players go to class. They graduate. They play hard.

But they just don’t win enough. And until we’re otherwise notified, that’s Nos. 1-5 of the top-10 criteria for a coach. The other five have to do with not losing.

Carmody’s record at NU is 192 victories, 209 losses and maybe one tie in his wardrobe. That includes a Big Ten mark of 70-148 and, the elephant in the dorm room, no NCAA tournament appearances. If Phillips doesn’t dismiss him after the season, it will be an upset.

Carmody has been the Wildcats’ coach for 13 years. That’s 13, as in, really, that long? Out of 344 Division I programs, only 26 employ coaches who have been at their schools longer. You might have heard of some of them: Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo. Only Sacred Heart’s Dave Bike and Yale’s James Jones have a lower winning percentage.

You can look at it as proof that too many schools are impatient and that the best programs are smart enough to give coaches time. Or you can look at it as Carmody’s time should have been up long ago.

I fall into the latter camp but without a whole lot of passion either way, which might be the biggest indictment of the program. When was the last time you really cared about NU basketball, and do you really care whether it gets better? I know I don’t find myself daydreaming about an NCAA tournament bid, and I’m an alum. You get used to nothing when it’s served up so regularly.

Going 75 years without playing in the tournament is much harder to do than actually making the tournament. Anybody can get into the Big Dance these days, 20-loss Liberty being the latest example via the squeezably soft Big South tournament.

Why can’t NU hoops be like Duke hoops? How many times have you heard that question? I know I’ve asked it periodically through the years. Two excellent academic institutions but only one basketball power. Why is that? A Hall of Fame coach, obviously. But my guess is Krzyzewski can get players into his program NU’s admissions office wouldn’t allow in for Carmody.

But let’s lower our aim a bit and hope to avoid the shrapnel from Blue Devils fans. Why can’t NU hoops be like NU football, which has been to five consecutive bowl games? Based on sheer numbers, it would seem to be easier to recruit in basketball than in football and, further, that getting just one dominant player — just one! — would be enough to turn the tide for an average basketball program. What the last 13 years have shown is that nice players such as John Shurna will get you only so far.

Why isn’t NU basketball better? Sometimes the best answer is ‘‘because.’’ There’s no rational explanation for why the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, either.

Most of the names being bandied as possible replacements for Carmody are underwhelming, as you might expect. Duke assistant Chris Collins seems to be mentioned for every head-coaching opening. After 13 years as an assistant in Durham, N.C., you’d think he’d want to coach his own team. Why he would want to coach the Wildcats is better asked of NU’s philosophy department, which is used to life’s difficult questions.

Carmody took a program that was down and brought it to heights that wouldn’t bother an acrophobiac. The Wildcats’ media guide will tell you the team has been to a postseason tournament four consecutive years, a school record. But the National Invitation Tournament is not even a consolation prize. It’s a condemnation.

The Big Ten tournament ends Sunday, though it likely will end much earlier for NU. Then Phillips and Carmody will meet.

I anticipate dueling versions of, ‘‘It’s not you, it’s me.’’



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