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Three Issues Northwestern Must Address to Attract a Top Basketball Coaching Candidate

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

After 13 years, the Bill Carmody era comes to an end in Evanston. Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips was left with an extremely difficult, and controversial decision — fire Carmody, who was dealt an incredibly difficult hand this season, or retain him for one more year. Ultimately, he chose the latter, and now a new era will begin at NU.

While an aura of newness in Evanston certainly brings about hope, a new coach doesn’t necessarily mean more success. That’s especially true at Northwestern, where there are a lot of issues other than the head coach that are holding the program back. A new coach may help, but in order to get the best possible candidate to Evanston, the school must address these concerns.

1. Will NU pay up?

Northwestern is a private school, so it’s the only school in the Big Ten that doesn’t have to release coaches’ salaries or contracts. It chose not to do that with Carmody, and it probably won’t disclose many details about the salary of the new coach. However, regardless of whether salary is disclosed, NU must be willing to pay up.

The first thing we know is that the new coach won’t make more than Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s salary isn’t public, but according to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, he makes roughly $1.8 million per year on his 10-year contract. Here is the compensation for each Big Ten coach. That includes more than just salary, so the numbers are a little high, but it’s clear that NU’s old standards are much lower than most of the league’s. Can NU compete with the precedent Illinois set last year when it hired John Groce for a reported base salary of $1.2 million? We’ll see if NU will be willing to pay up, but ultimately, that’s the only way it can get one of its top candidates.

2. Hand candidates a facilities plan

Football comes first in NU’s facilities makeover, and while basketball will eventually get a facelift, it’s not enough to just say that the facilities changes are coming. NU must outline a clear plan to its candidates — they don’t need to make it public — to show them that there will be something in the future to sell recruits on. If the administration just sticks to vague statements, it’s not likely to attract a great candidate.

3. Will academic standards be lowered?

This is possibly the biggest issue surrounding Northwestern basketball, and it’s also the most controversial. Simply put, if NU wants to get more talent to Evanston, it must be willing to lower its academic standards, at least a little bit. If NU decides it wants to maintain its standards, that’s a perfectly admirable approach, but it has to realize the ceiling at that point is having a chance at making the NCAA Tournament every once in awhile.

The common refrain is, “Well Duke can do it, so why can’t NU?” Duke’s academics may be on par with NU’s overall, but just because it’s an “academic school” doesn’t mean its standards are the same. Obviously, you can’t point to a certain “line” that Duke has that is lower than NU’s. However, most people in the college basketball world believe it to be the case. This story tells it best.

Here’s how the story goes: Tommy Amaker — former Michigan and current Harvard coach, who is considered a possible candidate this time around — interviewed for the NU job before the 1993 season. He gave the administration two resumes without names and asked if those players would get into NU, and the administration said no. Those were the resumes of former Duke stars Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley.

Is that story true? Maybe, maybe not. But regardless, there’s a perception that NU won’t bend its standards enough to be a consistent NCAA Tournament team, and there’s probably some truth to that perception. If NU refuses to bend its standards a little bit, it’s not going to attract a top candidate.