by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
If Bill Carmody has coached his last game at Northwestern, Alex Marcotullio will wonder why he wasn’t afforded another opportunity.
A disappointing 13-19 campaign came to a close at the United Center Thursday night when the Wildcats fell, 73-59, to Iowa, the last game of Marcotullio’s career. Earlier this season, in advance of a February home game against Purdue, he reflected on his final days as a Wildcat.
“It’s been a really special place for me,” he said. “I just want to go out on top.”
A convincing loss in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament wasn’t the ceremonious finale Marcotullio had in mind. His goal – a common strain among Northwestern fans – was to reach the NCAA Tournament. “That’s what I came here for,” he said. Thursday night’s loss assured his aspirations would not be met – not this season.
It’s one of the main reasons, despite a host of crippling injuries, that Carmody finds himself in perhaps the most precarious state of his Northwestern coaching tenure. Indeed, over the next few weeks – days, even – the Wildcats could choose to (euphemism ahoy!) move in another direction with their head coaching position.
If a switch is made, Marcotullio won’t recommend it. “In terms of preparing us to win, he’s done an unbelievable job,” he said after the Wildcats’ final regular season game, a home loss to Penn State. “In my opinion, and I feel like a lot of our guys feel the same way, coach Carmody and the coaching staff have put us in good situations to win, and in the right spots. We just have to make plays.”
On Thursday night, he drove home his message one last time. Marcotullio is clear: he believes Carmody is the man for the job. “I think he’s done a terrific job with the cards that have been dealt,” he said. “He’s put us in situations to win. We just haven’t been able to execute as well as we should have.”
The broad consensus among the Northwestern fan base is that Carmody should and will be dismissed within the next few days. They point to Northwestern’s lack of NCAA Tournament appearances, the athletic and talent disparities relative to other Big Ten schools, the general feeling that the program has plateaud under Carmody’s watch.
He can’t recruit like other Big Ten schools! We don’t have any talent! This program has no direction! Why don’t we have any size! The tropes that always seem to crop up around this time of year are stronger than ever before. And in the end, those demands may be satisfied.
It is easy to make a case for Carmody’s firing. The optics – no NCAA Tournament appearances, 13 seasons without a winning record in conference play, programmatic apathy – do not look good. By this time next season, I (nor any one else) will be surprised if the Wildcats have a new head coach bossing the sidelines.
Before anything is conclusive, while we wait this uncertain coaching limbo, it is important to remember one thing: the players have stronger relationships with Carmody than anyone else who purports to own deep knowledge on his coaching tactics, his oft-maligned Princeton offense and his ability to employ the limited talented at hand. Those players are as “insider” as any Northwestern source available, and those players believe he belongs.
One prominent Wildcat, senior Reggie Hearn, admitted he was unaware of any speculation surrounding Carmody’s job security. “I wasn’t aware of it,” Hearn said Thursday night. Marcotullio’s opinion on the topic is likewise well-noted. Neither believes a coaching change is the right way to go about resolving an unfortunate, injury-stricken, cursed season. One of them hadn’t even considered the prospect of a new Wildcats coach. “I don’t know about the other guys, but I didn’t even know until about a week ago.”
Players won’t usually speak out against a coach, irrespective of whether or not they believe a change is needed, but it’s just as easy to posit the opposite. You don’t hear Appraisals as strong and as sincere as Marcotullio’s every time a coach is about to get fired. If a coach’s message has fallen flat, or he simply can’t reach his players anymore, those same players are at the very least privy to the concept that their coach might be seeing his final days.
For Marcotullio and Hearn, the idea of Carmody being fired doesn’t register. They believe he belongs, and they're willing to end their college careers relaying that message on record. No, their opinions don’t drive the ship in Northwestern’s athletic department, but they should not be thrown aside as meaningless or biased personal recommendations. Hearn and Marcotullio’s words are genuine, enough so to warrant consideration before any conclusion on Carmody’s status is reached.
If Bill Carmody’s career in Evanston is over, his firing won’t be unanimous. In fact, the people he influences most directly and frequently, the players, will be staunchly opposed.