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Top people with Northwestern ties who could make a difference in NU athletics

With Bryant McIntosh back in Evanston, we wondered which other former stars could help their old programs.

Northwestern v Gonzaga Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week’s announcement that Northwestern’s basketball program brought in Bryant McIntosh to serve as assistant director of basketball operations is certainly welcome news to NU fans. Recently, the school has done a good job in bringing back past student-athletes to the athletic department, Pat Fitzgerald still, of course, serving as the highest-profile example.

Here are five other strong candidates with Northwestern connections who could also help enhance their respective athletic program and the university.

Anucha Browne Sanders

Browne Sanders is, without a doubt, the greatest women’s basketball player in Northwestern history. She finished her NU career in 1985 as the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history with 2,307 points and was twice named conference Player of The Year. In her senior season, she led the nation with 30.5 points per game. After her collegiate career, Sanders played on the USWNT before being inducted into the NU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.

Once she retired from playing basketball, Sanders worked for IBM before joining the New York Knicks in 2000 as a marketing executive. Two years later, the Knicks promoted Sanders, and she became the senior vice president of marketing and business operations. In what is considered a landmark case in the pre #MeToo movement, she sued the Knicks and Isiah Thomas in a sexual harassment case and settled with the franchise for a $11.5 million payment.

Browne later worked for the NCAA as the vice president of women’s basketball championships. Her LinkedIn profile states she is now the Chief Engagement, Advocacy, and Global Programs Officer for UNICEF. If Browne ever left UNICEF, her history as an impressive player and executive would clearly make her and asset for both the athletic department and the university overall.

Jeff Bzdelik

At the same time that Sanders was playing for the women’s basketball team, Jeff Bzdelik was serving as an assistant coach to the men’s basketball team, working from 1980-1986 in total. During his tenure with NU, the team reached its first ever NIT and even won a game in the tournament. After coaching at NU, Bzdelik became the head coach at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and then later at the Air Force Academy, the University of Colorado and Wake Forest University.

Bzdelik is best known, though, for his coaching career in the NBA. He was the head coach of the Denver Nuggets for two seasons and most recently served as the associate head coach for the Houston Rockets, where he was responsible for defense. The Rockets let Bzdelik go at the end of this past season. Coincidentally, Bzdelik worked for Northwestern alum and Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. The impressive basketball mind could certainly be of some help as a more senior voice in the ear of Chris Collins and co.

Joe Girardi

After graduating from Northwestern in 1986, Joe Girardi became one of the most accomplished Wildcat alumni in the sports world. The Chicago Cubs drafted Girardi in the fifth round of the 1986 major league baseball draft immediately following his graduation from NU. Girardi reached the majors in 1989 and played with the Cubs until 1992 when he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft. Girardi remained on the Rockies until 1995, when he was traded to the New York Yankees.

He won the World Series three times as the Yankees’ starting catcher. After his playing career, Girardi became the Miami Marlins manager in 2006. The Marlins finished 78-84 in 2006, and he was voted manager of the year, largely thanks to recognition of the constraints he worked under as the Marlins had the lowest payroll in baseball. Girardi had a contentious relationship with the team owner, which led to him being fired immediately following that first year.

Girardi waited to manage again until 2008, when he became the manager of the Yankees. The Yankees won the World Series in 2009 and Girardi managed the club until he was fired in 2017. The impressive coach is an oft-rumored candidate for managerial jobs given his success and reputation. If Girardi ever returned to Northwestern, he would bring a phenomenal baseball mind along with tremendous national attention to the program.

Patrick Baldwin

Similar to Bryant McIntosh, Patrick Baldwin Sr. is another former Northwestern point guard who eventually returned to the program after his playing days ended. Baldwin graduated from Northwestern in 1994 and returned in 2013 as an assistant coach. During his phenomenal playing career, the flashy two-way guard finished as the school’s all-time steals leader, second in career assists and 20th in career points.

As an assistant coach at Northwestern, Baldwin was admired by his players and received credit for grooming Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps, eventually hanging around long enough to serve as a member of the first ever NU coaching staff to reach the NCAA tournament. Baldwin left NU after the magical tournament season to become the head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

In his first season at Milwaukee, he finished 16-17 overall with an 8-10 conference record. His second season suffered a slight decline to 9-22 (4-14), but regardless, Baldwin seems to have plenty left to give as an assistant of some kind.

In addition to his coaching resume, Baldwin’s return to Evanston could perhaps result in other bonuses. His son, Patrick Baldwin Jr, is currently the number one recruit in the ESPN top 60 for the 2021 recruiting class, and has already visited Northwestern thanks to his significant familial ties (his mom, Shawn, was a Wildcat volleyball player, and he served as a ballboy while his dad coached in Evanston).

Mike Kafka

Kafka has had two different stints with Northwestern -- one as a player and the other as a member of the coaching staff. A decade ago, the fast-rising coaching star was the starting quarterback in Evanston for his senior season, leading the Wildcats offense with 3,430 passing yards and nearly 300 rushing yards. NU finished the season 8-5 with an overtime loss to Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Kafka was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, but was released by Philadelphia following the 2011 season. After bouncing on and off of a few separate rosters, in 2016, Kafka returned to Northwestern as an offensive graduate assistant. He stayed with the program for one year before his former Eagles coach, Andy Reid, hired Kafka to join the Kansas City Chiefs staff as an offensive quality control coach.

At the time, current Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator. Kafka was named the Chiefs’ QB coach in 2018 when Nagy left for the Bears, and is viewed by many as one of the next potentially great offensive coaches in the Andy Reid tree. Last year, he was considered one of the primary influences on Patrick Mahomes’ development. While it is safe to say Kafka will not be returning to NU given his bright prospects in the NFL, Wildcat fans can still salivate over the potential Northwestern offenses that he could have designed with Hunter Johnson under center.