Jim Phillips' three-plus-year tenure in Evanston has been filled with prosperity. Northwestern's football and basketball programs have reached four-year record win totals; attendance numbers are on the rise; upgraded facilities are on the way.
Since arriving at Northwestern from Northern Illinois, Phillips has been embraced, both by fans and the university itself, which extended his contract through 2020 last August.
This season's Wildcat basketball team came closer to reaching the NCAA tournament than any of its predecessors. The end result, however, left purple-bleeding Northwestern fans disappointed again.
Head coach Bill Carmody was put on the hot seat; speculation spread through Evanston. Heartbroken fans sought an answer. Phillips found himself in a hot seat, too.
Phillips met with Carmody as well as NU players and assistant coaches, surveying whether the head coach deserves a 13th season. On Thursday, he gave Carmody a vote of confidence.
“Bill Carmody is under contract to be our men’s basketball coach, and has the full support of the athletic department and University," Phillips said in a statement. "We had another solid season competitively, but let me be perfectly clear: we are not satisfied."
The latter is something all Northwestern fans agree on. As for the former?
"I know that half the population will be disappointed or upset," Phillips said. "And maybe half will be excited. I know what the outside world was saying."
Phillips was forced to make his first unpopular decision. No matter what the determination was, he lacked majority support.
Since taking the athletic director position, Phillips has built a wide-ranging marketing department, brought the Wildcat football team to Wrigley Field, and fought for highly-coveted football coach Pat Fitzgerald to stay at Northwestern. Each decision has helped NU athletics flourish, drawing universal praise.
Phillips entrusted Bill Carmody to take Northwestern where its never been before. He understands what die-hard fans want and made that goal clear.
"I don’t think (fans) fully appreciate what we’re trying to do here," said Phillips. "This isn’t the final destination of our basketball program."
Many fans join Phillips in his support of Carmody; others are left to question the decision, frustrated with the head coach.
Next season, Carmody will need to guide the Wildcats to the Big Dance. If he fails to do so in his 13th chance, Phillips will be forced to make the same determination again.