Rewriting an Opinion of Bill Carmody

Rewriting an Opinion of Bill Carmody

At some point in the last month, I've realized that I was wrong.

On Friday, I messaged Michael Carmody and told him that I was wrong.

I said that I felt poorly about my treatment of Bill Carmody and my site's treatment of Bill Carmody—even 14 months after his firing.

His son said: "Thanks! What happened?"

A lot of things.

I began my job here in March 2013. Around then, Chris Collins was hired, and months later, my job was to cover basketball recruiting.

It was easy to get swept away by the Chris Collins madness—especially in my position. I don't regret that part. He dominated pretty early, getting every prospect he wanted. He's an excellent hire, by all accounts, and carried himself as one.

The problem is that I viewed belief in Collins and proper respect for Carmody as mutually exclusive. I, and so many others, used Carmody as the punchline whenever Collins hype wavered. We laughed at 13 years of NU basketball history, and couldn't run away quickly enough.

It's also an insult to Chris Collins to reduce his predecessor. Collins is more than "the guy who can recruit," or "Duke Pedigree." He's someone entrusted with coaching this team—and is more than qualified to do so.

I said that Carmody had enough chances to make the NCAA Tournament. I'm not sure that's fair.

I said Collins saved the direction of the program, which, as this year pointed out, was going up regardless.

And even as a recruiting writer, I fell into the rhetoric about "Collins and Chicago," while missing the basic reality of what I was covering.

Heading into my second season covering Northwestern recruiting on the AAU basketball trail, I'm done with the old narrative—of Collins saving NU from its troubled past. There, no one wins.

So I'm compelled to give a long overdue apology.

The Carmody era became comprised of myths, which are listed below. Let's, finally, rewrite some history.

Myth: Thirteen years was clearly enough.

Disclaimer: I'm only judging Carmody over his last three seasons. There's no reason to base any opinion off of how the program looked eight or nine years before.

First, who cares?

Second, wouldn't it have been ridiculous for Jim Phillips to criticize Carmody in 2013 because of Carmody in 2006? It's illogical, and one of the major arguments from the Bill Carmody circle. The "13 seasons" comment was rhetoric.

So in the summer of 2010, Bill Carmody carried a roster primed for an NCAA Tournament run—at long last. Kevin Coble had led Northwestern in scoring and rebounding during his first three years on campus. After redshirting his true senior season, he returned to a roster that complemented his skillset.

The anticipated team then included Coble, John Shurna, school career assists leader Michael "Juice" Thompson, Drew Crawford and Jershon Cobb. Even without a center, hundreds of coaches in America—including Carmody—would have danced with this five.

I wasn't even on campus then. And see, when so much of the student body (even at Northwestern) loudly praises or crushes this coach or that coach, there's a recency effect. By 2013, the majority only remembered the crushing losses—certainly not the crushing bad luck.

That season, Kevin Coble decided to quit after a reported medical dispute with Carmody. Worse, as Teddy Greenstein wrote in the Chicago Tribune, Shurna chose to compete in spite of a severely sprained ankle. He struggled to play to form, and the Wildcats made a deep NIT run instead.

About a year later, on Feb. 28, 2012, Bill Carmody allowed Cobb to guard Jared Sullinger on an inbounds pass as time expired. Aside from that, very little about his penultimate season was blameworthy.

The majority only remembered the crushing losses—certainly not the crushing bad luck.

Due to outcomes that seemed more attributed to "luck" and "small sample size" than "bad coaching," Northwestern lost every conceivable close and important game.

The Wildcats lost to Michigan in overtime. They lost to Ohio State on Sullinger's last second shot. They traveled to the Big Ten Tournament and lost to Minnesota—their tourney résumé shot up enough for it to not matter. (They were a middle seed in the NIT.)

It was more appalling to note that in his last year, Carmody lost Cobb, Drew Crawford, Jared Swopshire and Sanjay Lumpkin to season-ending injuries or suspensions. The team, predictably, sucked. His contract expired. He was out.

Chris Collins should, and in all likelihood will, be a more effective coach at Northwestern than Carmody. But to suggest that he "deserved" his ouster is tough to argue, unless you complain about his relationships with alumni.

When you're talking about the future, though, everything gets sort of blurry.

Myth: The program was headed in the wrong direction.

Days after Chris Collins took the helm, Jaren Sina called me and I said: "They've got him."

They didn't.

Sina committed to Northwestern in July 2012, with then-assistant coach Fred Hill the main recruiter. Hill, the former Rutgers head, built strong New Jersey connections and landed NU's undisputed future point guard.

Sina and Nathan Taphorn were the only pieces in limbo, as both committed to Carmody and then had to re-evaluate upon his firing. Taphorn was pretty obviously staying. Sina re-opened his recruitment and waited for the next hire. That's when he reached Collins.

By all means, Collins tried. I don't think he was against a complete rebuild, either, but Sina was the No. 22 point guard in his class and a clear improvement.

Hill, a good recruiter (and that means something in context), landed Sina when he was hired at Seton Hall. Kevin Willard adopted the bold habit of picking up coaches with ties to crucial recruits. And it worked.

Collins instead recruited Bryant McIntosh in the class of 2014, and Sina averaged 6.0 points and 2.4 assists while shooting 38 percent from three-point range. It should be noted that Sina and McIntosh could probably have played together, but that isn't relevant here.

It's hard to argue that Collins arrived to an impossible situation.

We saw a lot from NU this year, namely that the team was close to competing. Collins did a good job with players that Carmody recruited and won seven total conference games. (Collins is pretty open about wanting to recruit better players, and he will, but he inherited a team with some talent.)

Consider a team with Jaren Sina—who would have played a larger scoring role—alongside Crawford, Alex Olah, JerShon Cobb and an improved Tre Demps. The 2013-14 squad got almost nothing from the point guard position, with Sina an automatic upgrade over Dave Sobolewski. Is that a tournament team? No. Would it have outperformed the Collins team? Yes, but that's an unfair measure.

(Also, it's hard to argue that Collins arrived to an impossible situation.)

More important, could you honestly say the program was going in the wrong direction? No way. Every team undergoes some cycling, but with Sina, Cobb, Olah and another elite guard, NU would have soon been in tournament contention.

That one could be debated, but I'm of the opinion that Northwestern had an outstanding shot at another New Jersey recruit, Wade Baldwin. Baldwin and Sina could have manned the two guard positions, with Baldwin a phenomenal on-ball defender who was perfect for the roster.

Does Carmody land Vic Law? No, and more on that later. But there are many more recruits than the one attainable local top-75 player. Still, it's impossible to doubt the future—especially considering he was one player away.

Myth: Carmody never recruited.

If you ask any of his players, Bill Carmody recruited well. No one who played at Northwestern signed on to compete for a coach he disliked—except for, eventually, Kevin Coble.

Carmody probably knew he could never be the star recruiter, so he worked with Tavaras Hardy, the well-respected alum with local ties. That doesn't exclude you from coaching. It just means you need to work around your weakness, which he did.

Without the charisma, he did a respectable job in Illinois and on the trail throughout his career. In the back half of his time at NU, he signed John Shurna, Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson. All were elite in-state talents.

Here's what gets me, and it was the thing I didn't understand. Recruiting wasn't necessarily the problem for Bill Carmody. Collins is a superior upgrade, yes, but Carmody landed enough elite talent. Any school would have wanted guys like Shurna, Crawford, Thompson and Coble. Bad recruiters can't find stars—sleeper or not.

Recruiting wasn't necessarily the problem for Bill Carmody. He landed enough elite talent.

The staff just made one giant miscalculation. They failed in getting bigs. Their centers were too slow and couldn't rebound. Whenever they played well, like Davide Curletti did against Michigan State on Jan. 14, 2012, you saw the Wildcats' potential. That still didn't happen often.

There were the misses (since 2006): Kyle Rowley, Luka Mirkovic (debatable), Nick Fruendt, Mike Turner, Kale Abrahamson and Mike Capocci among others.

Local analyst Scott Phillips recently told Steven Goldstein of our site that Carmody had trouble "delivering" top recruits. You could make an argument for that, and I stand by that article—one of the best on our site.

But if you read that piece, in which Collins' recruits trash Carmody and question his commitment, you hardly get a proper idea of how Carmody recruiting worked.

The point Goldstein made is that Collins' recruits were guys who had been "off the radar." He really had no intention of crushing Carmody for no reason.

Carmody could have conceivably been fine without Vic Law (who went from a top-65 player to outside of the top 100, ahem red flag) because coaches can succeed with different groups. Obviously.

Collins is a better natural recruiter than Bill Carmody. He did about as well as he possibly could in recruiting Year One.

The staff picked up a five-member class with huge upside, and it's a pretty good foundation in terms of star ratings and "program fit." I'm not sold on all of them—especially not Johnnie Vassar—but this, again, is a great start for Collins.

That's not really the point. We can't compare Collins to Carmody in terms of recruiting, at least not yet, because they've never played a game together. He did as well as possible for the 2014 recruiting class, but look at the above misses. It's no guarantee.

Collins is focused on recruiting better players than Carmody did, and in year one, he pretty much accomplished that. But until we know and assess how well he and his staff can evaluate college talent, let's hold off on judgment. (Sorry.)

Carmody wasn't an exciting face. He never broke down the doors in Chicago to land the perfect players. The recruits were always there, but the results were inconsistent, and Collins will have to overcome that to succeed in Evanston.

--

Bill Carmody was let go in March 2013, after the Wildcats—demolished by injuries—lost in the Big Ten Tournament.

Then, writers and fans gushed about his impact and said the program could do more. There's nothing wrong with that. I was of that group.

After, when Chris Collins was hired, writers and fans gushed about the decision and thought it was the perfect fit. There's nothing wrong with that. I was of that group.

Then everything devolved. Bill Carmody became the embodiment of everything old and wrong. As Collins picked up recruit after recruit, I covered the process as though he was trying to save a failed basketball program.

Many of the above points came up in discussion: It was Carmody's fault that Northwestern never made the NCAA Tournament (despite winning records in five of six seasons). The program had been headed for failure until Collins arrived. Worse, Collins could recruit, and Carmody couldn't. And I offered many of them.

During the season, some even wondered how Collins did so much with a "terrible" roster. He taught them defense on the fly, which was incredible, but this was clearly misguided. It represented a positive start; he arrived to a team with some talent. (There was an incredibly stupid argument called: "Who would win more games with the 2013-14 roster: Carmody or Collins? I bring that up only because it was so incredibly stupid.)

Chris Collins was always the proverbial "home run" hire. He showed his maturity by hiring a former NBA assistant (Brian James), a smart and experienced alum (Patrick Baldwin) and a savvy young recruiter (Armon Gates). He's experienced winning and was long overdue for a coaching job. His first year in Evanston was strong once the team meshed.

I think he'll succeed and make the NCAA Tournament by 2016. But that's beside the point for now.

When all was said and done, no one stuck up for Bill Carmody, who in 13 seasons put Northwestern basketball on a stable path.

So he came up just short. And haven't we all.

Sorry, Bill Carmody. Now, finally, I can move on.

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