Rodger invited me to weigh in on the "Carmody Saga." By the time I got to writing this, it had been already announced that he wouldn't not be returning. Even before the announcement, I wasn't interested in writing the "keep/fire?" angle which has dominated every NU hoops thread. Instead, I'm offering a bunch of Bill Carmody quotes aggregated at an obscure quotes site, and a stream-of-consciousness ramble.
``Half of them were older than me,'' he said with a laugh. ``All the stories you hear about junior college coaching is true. I was taping ankles, I was a guidance counselor, I had two guys come down with venereal disease. It was unbelievable.
That's from one of the first interviews with new Princeton Head Coach Bill Carmody (conducted by the Philadelphia Inquirer) reflecting on his first gig coaching junior-college at Fulton-Montgomery, a community college outside of Schenectady, NY. It was a fill-in job, and after a season he ended up assistant coaching at his alma-mater Union College and then assisting his former head coach Gary Walters at Providence College. That lasted a year, but his mentor Walters left coaching, leaving Carmody out of a gig. So he went back to laying bricks in construction, trying to figure out his next move.
He found a spot assisting Pete Carrill on the Tigers' bench, and then ended up succeeding the grouchy guru and nabbing a win in the NCAA tourney.
``Every coach that gets a new job says, `This is my dream job. I'm running, I'm pressing,' '' Carmody said. ``They say all the things a recruit wants to hear. Then they get the job and play games in the 50s.
There was a time where they thought he'd abandon Carrill's system. While Carmody is virtually synonymous for that style, he's always been a pragmatist. The Juice/Shurna high eFG teams took shots early in the clock. The team ran "The Burn" when they needed to slow it down. They ran the ameoba early on, and then lived off of the 1-3-1 (with Mohamed Hachad or Jeremy Nash living off of steals at the point). Finally in the past two years, they moved towards man-to-man defense. Overall, his teams were able to compete even though they were undersized and underskilled against their conference brethren.
"I should have called a timeout. I'm upset with myself. I take full responsibility. I have to make that call."
Coach Carmody seemed to prefer to let his charges figure it out. Which would make sense given that the offense needed to wear down its opponent to find the breach for a backdoor cut, or a shooting window opened by a dribble handoff/pick.
Perhaps to a fault, he took responsibility for his program's shortcomings. His final interview sort of betrayed perhaps his true feelings as he acknowledged that football to basketball was "apples to oranges." Outside of that, I rarely heard him complain about his situation - and if anything took more of the brunt for the mistakes.
"At Northwestern I have to continue to do it. If there's a kid in the Midwest, for instance, and other schools in the Big Ten want him, I might be the third or fourth guy on the list. I'm not getting kids, so I have to go elsewhere. That's true in the other conferences. If you're not the top dog then it's tough to recruit the same area, so I have to go elsewhere."
"Sometimes you get a lot of European guys who go over to Canada and play in prep schools there. Toronto has been good for long time, and people are discovering it little bit more. Montreal's not as good, but there are some very good teams."
These two quotes were from different interviews, but they capture the essence of the biggest obstacle Carmody has faced in his term at Northwestern. If he only had the extroversion like Rick Majerus, or even a product compelling to push (shall we insert the notorious "they're painting the lockerroom today" story?), he may have had better luck. Instead, he has traveled far and wide (Split, Croatia to get Vedran Vukusic) or looked where others ignored (Arizona Christian schools to get Kevin Coble). And had costly misses (Jean Marc-Melchior, Nick Fruendt, Mike Capocci, Kyle Rowley). To his credit, Tavaras Hardy, Ivan Vujic and Fred Hill demonstrated great advances in building pipelines - but they could never get the critical mass of talent and depth.
Carmody tended to get guys who were skilled but physically slight for the rough and tumble B1G. Perhaps John Shurna was the Carmodian ideal. Again, it's not like he had a bias against physical, skilled players - we've offered Robbie Hummel, Jack Cooley, and Lenzelle Smith to name a few. It's just we were never able to get 'em to commit here. Is that because Carmody isn't a sweet talker? Or is it because the program's high academics, poor facilities and lack of tradition scared them away? Probably a little of both. Either way, we needed more Jeremy Nashes, Reggie Hearns and Jitim Youngs to provide teeth to our precision offense.
"They were the aggressive team. They have some guys that like to bang in there and we have guys that like wide open spaces - the prairie guys."
Another factor that didn't help Carmody's case - the increased physical brutality in college hoops. Jay Bilas is one of the more outspoken critics of how defenses get away with too much and are spoiling the overall product, a la the 90s NBA. If refs don't call "bumping the cutter," then our offense is severely handicapped - and that has been the increasing trend over the past several seasons. The B1G is laden with squads that just keep pushing the physicality on the defensive end knowing that refs won't call everything - even if Carmody was retained, I wondered how'd they endure this trend that doesn't seem to be reversible.
``When a guy misses a layup or an easy jumper, that wrenches Pete's gut out,'' Carmody said. ``My feeling is, over 40 minutes, that stuff happens. It just doesn't wipe me out as much. Maybe as a head coach it will wipe me out a little more.''
I found Carmody's sideline demeanor to be like his public persona - refreshingly candid and authentic. It would end up "wiping him out" a little more. Still photos never did Carmody justice as he was rarely still on the sidelines. Perhaps his biggest flaw was that he revealed too much - especially when he sat taciturn and dour.
The good press conferences were few and far between before the Age of Shurna. And even when things were going well, Carmody didn't want to bask too long in the precarious positive. Meanwhile, Tom Izzo had apparently said something similar in their final post-game handshake/bro-hug, "I don't know how you guys do it."
"When you don't have an inside presence, you have to rely on your (outside) shooting, and we just weren't able to do it."
For all of his term, the 'Cats lacked a formidable inside presence. In the final stretch of 2013, we started to see the potential of Alex Olah, as his teammates were finding him on the block and pick and roll much better. And when they had snipers like Shurna, Juice and Crawford, you can actually thrive - the 2011 and 2012 'Cats were elite in Effective Field Goal percentage, ranking 20th and 21st respectively. However, their 3 point shooting this year was their worst since 2007 - and those 'Cats went 13-18 (2-14 in B1G). Again, with an emerging Olah, the team may have been able to attain an unprecedented balance of inside/outside, but that'll be left to conjecture and fan fiction.
"At the start of the game we simplified (the offense), just went with a couple things. But when they weren't working, we probably went to some pipe-dream things."
"I thought the guys hung in there in a tough situation. Don't get me wrong I'm not happy. But I thought the effort was pretty good."
Again, those quotes were from the mid-2000s, but both applied to the 2013 campaign. With newcomers like Swopshire, Abrahamson and Olah playing key roles, they had to simplify the offense. As the team became a M*A*S*H unit, moral victories were all that the 'Cats could muster.
"I think the lack of success hurts in a lot of ways. Somehow, you have to win and see if that can help (the program) I don't know if 'snowball' (is the right word) but incrementally get better."
This was the case for the "Keep Carm and Carry On" contingent. That things had gotten incrementally better, and that next year the team would be primed to break through. Dan Dakich had said on the B1G tourney telecast that if a coach has lost momentum, then it can be very hard to get back. It's true - after nabbing a B1G COY in '03-'04 as the 'Cats finished 5th in the B1G, Carmody would lose that momentum back in '06- '07. However, he turned it around for '08-'12, perhaps the 'Cats best run ever. If we had all of our players, I don't think it would've been as bad as '06-'07, which means we really are incrementally better. But like a hot shooter at the craps table, the Admin preferred to take the risk and move forward while the overall mojo at Northwestern was positive.
"Yeah, we didn't get killed this game."
Chuck Klosterman has a term for the sports fan with no rooting interest, "Sports Agnostic." It speaks for him, as he grew up in Fargo, ND -with no local teams to pledge allegiance to. Given the mercenary state of pro sports, he sees it as rooting for laundry. And he's right. I'd offer that there's no way to be a sports agnostic about Northwestern hoops. You'd have to endure too many leaps of logic -- the cognitive dissonance would just destroy you. Unless you attended Northwestern, or had family affiliated with the school, or perhaps some sort of masochistic streak - there are so many better choices to be emotionally tied to. You could pick a blue blood program (Kentucky), or you could pick an exciting style of ball (VCU's Havoc) - but to roll with the Afghanistan of Division 1 Programs?
And to step back and think of it, yeah, if we're a big time program, 13 years is a ludicrous amount of time. But, I'd counter that Northwestern is a ludicrous program. It's kind of like being a fan of Dan Harmon's Community on NBC - it was embodied by it's showrunner and his mad vision, for better or worse. And while, it would kick out brilliant episodes like "Remedial Chaos Theory" or "Paradigms of Human Memory," and earning the adoring praise of jaded television critics and tv nerds like myself - the reality is that it was getting slaughtered in the ratings. This past year rooting for the 'Cats was like Season 3 of Community. The mass audiences tuning out, and the hardcore fanboys saying, "You just don't get it." And even if NBC's overall lineup was structurally terrible (much like the hoops infrastructure at NU), they made a move and kicked him out. Now, I totally understand where NBC is coming from, because they need ad money instead of Peabody awards, but speaking as one of those who wanted to see this guy succeed and for his vision to happen - I'm a bit bummed by it.
Now that quote was from that '06 season, not from this year. And all this to say, there was a time where that above quote was acceptable. Not anymore. Even with the injuries this year. Not under President Schapiro and AD Jim Phillips, perhaps the most pro-athletics tandem in NU leadership ever. And this is where we're at - this is the Brave NU World, where it acts like a big time program. Let's hope it resembles more like Iowa instead of DePaul.
This was in reference to his days doing construction, laying bricks. However, pardon the hamfisted analogy, this applies to his yeoman's work over the past 13 years. Now, I'm not going to make him a saint or messiah, because he was paid well and he got to compete at the top of his profession. I don't think he harbored these illusions of "Building a Program to Build a Brand" a la Coach K. He's really just a damn good basketball coach who wanted to win alot of games. And when I heard the accolades from his fellow B1G coaches today, that rung loud and clear. If anything, Carmody walks away with the respect of his profession.