It is time to turn over editorial boards. After a year in charge, Eli and Lia will step down from their posts as editors-in-chief (look out for their farewell posts later today). Before they’re done, though, they give their thoughts in one last mailbag.
@Daniel_Rapaport: What is the current temperature of Chris Collins’ seat, and what would it take for him to get fired?
Lia: Not as hot as it should be, in my opinion, but I think Miller Kopp transferring was a huge blow to what Collins has attempted to create over the past few years. I think the new athletic director, once one is chosen, will likely part ways with him in a year or two unless we see a drastic change, but I also think that could happen sooner if we see other top players like Pete Nance decide to transfer too.
Eli: With a permanent athletic director and without three-game win streak to end the regular season, maybe a move would’ve been made right after the season. As Lia said, unless there’s a push from the boosters to oust him in which case the interim AD goes ahead and does it, it’s unlikely any move happens before a new AD is hired, which may not be until the end of spring or summer. By that time, it may be too late to can Collins before the season. If there’s a real mass exodus of transfers, though, maybe the timeline is accelerated. Otherwise I’d say next year is his last if it’s a refrain of the past three seasons.
Mike Deneen: Any news on the AD search?
Lia: Seems to still be up in the air. Janna Blais, the deputy director of athletics for administration and policy, is serving as the interim AD in the meantime, but unfortunately, I don’t have any more info than you do on this.
Eli: The search committee may not have a hire for another few months, but I’d expect there to be movement by early summer.
@datinthehatt: If you could only add one thing to the Northwestern men’s basketball team next year to help them make the leap what would it be?
Lia: I know Collins has been under fire for a while, and I’m not disagreeing with that, but I also think this team could make a significant leap if it adds a star player who can be reliable down the stretch. Watching the Big Ten Tournament game against Minnesota, the thing that separated the Gophers from the ‘Cats was Marcus Carr. Having someone who is consistently reliable and can lead with their play is what this team really needs and has been lacking in recent years.
Eli: Addition by subtraction, and we all know who we’d subtract!
@TotallyREALSpo1: Is there any reason to be optimistic about the men’s basketball team?
Lia: It’s hard to tell, especially with Miller Kopp planning to transfer and the uncertainty of who may follow in his footsteps, but the class coming in is very strong and one of the best in program history, so if it lives up to its potential, this team could be something in a few years.
Eli: Objectively, not really? Solid talent has come into the program, but that talent hasn’t panned out in the past three years. So having good recruits is nice and all, but it’s hard to get excited about them when player development has been lacking.
Tom Nissen: What advice would you give the Athletic Department on how to improve the Ryan Field gameday experience for Students specifically? And overall?
Lia: That’s a great question and one I haven’t really thought much about before. I think the first step would be allowing fans to return, hopefully by the fall. The Big Ten is allowing spectators at all of its events now, but Northwestern said it cannot yet open its stadiums to fans, but hopefully by football season that will change. Also, bring Cheesie’s to Ryan Field — that’ll improve the gameday experience for everyone.
Eli: The athletic department has tried several different initiatives to get students to Ryan Field, but at a certain point you reach a limit of who you can get with incentives. If people’s friends are going then they’ll go with them. I think having a good team that people are excited to see helps a ton, as does a name brand opponent. I’m sure the hope is that after an exciting season in which fans couldn’t attend games that there will be hunger to get to Ryan Field this fall. Overall, I’d say when the renovations come along (which you’d think would be in the cards?), embrace the small size of both the University and the stadium. Move the South End Zone seats closer. Ryan Field hardly ever feels loud. But similar to the idea with the new Welsh-Ryan, make the place nice, modern and clean, but also use the smaller footprint to engage a more intimate, raucous atmosphere.
@Johnathan_Wood1: What is the next NU sports team to win a national title? Will it happen within the next three years?
Lia: No question it’ll be lacrosse or field hockey. Both teams rank top three nationally and are well on their way to make deep postseason runs. While they’ve dominated their conference-only seasons, the postseason is a different story, as they will have to face national powerhouses like North Carolina in both sports. They both certainly have a shot at the national title this year and in the coming years, but they’ll have to overcome some big hurdles to get there.
Eli: Agreed with Lia. Northwestern has THREE active teams in the top five of their respective rankings (lacrosse, field hockey, women’t tennis). So they’ve got to be the frontrunners, especially lax. I don’t know if it’ll happen within the next three years, but lacrosse is pretty well set to win right now.
@Andy_Paden: What are your predictions for the football team next season? Will we be back in Indy?
Lia: It’s so tough to know just based on how many players are transferring or graduating and the loss of Mike Hankwitz. It’s tough for me to see Northwestern back in the Big Ten Championship game with all those losses, unless Ryan Hilinski exceeds all expectations. I anticipate a rebuilding year — nothing as bad as 2019 but a year that would leave NU in the middle of the pack making an average bowl come December.
Eli: I think there’s enough stability to make another run at the West, but I expect Wisconsin and Minnesota to be better than they were this past season, and Iowa should be a very solid Iowa team again. The crossover schedule with the East Division looks manageable, so I don’t look at the schedule and say an immediate no. But 8-4 seems like a reasonable starting point?
@CBB_Central: Have some friends who might be in Indianapolis this weekend. Any food recommendations?
Lia: I heard this place called The Taxman is pretty good. Ask for Niky.
Eli: Taxman. Belgian inspired, American crafted.
@joeweinberg_: Who was your favorite Northwestern student-athlete that you interviewed/covered during your time at Inside NU and why?
Lia: Gosh, there are so many great personalities at this school, so this is tough. I think I’d have to say it’s a tie between Greg Newsome II and Lindsey Pulliam. Their energy and character are unmatched, and they both always tell it like it is, which I really respect. It’s been a lot of fun to watch them play and get to know them, and I hope to keep watching them at the next level.
Eli: I have to say Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. He talked to me for nearly an hour last spring about how he became the football team barber and then gave me tips on how to cut hair at home. And it wasn’t the first time Inside NU wrote about his interests outside of football. RCB is such an eclectic character, and then to see him develop into the team’s leading receiver this season and talk to the media nearly every week was fun.
@dan_olinger: What do you think is the best piece you’ve ever written for Inside NU, and what is your favorite piece you’ve ever written for Inside NU?
Lia: I think the best piece I’ve written for the site was the feature I wrote this summer about the 1980 Northwestern football team and how the players fought for racial equality. It definitely was a turning point for me, and I learned so much from talking to those players — both about journalism and just life in general. My favorite piece I’ve written would probably be the story I wrote on Joe McKeown and his experience having a son with autism. Since that topic is so close to my heart, it was a very rewarding experience getting to relate to him and learn about his life outside of basketball.
Eli: My best one has to be a football feature. I got to talk to some very cool current and former players and coaches for those stories. I’ll go with the one that ran the week ahead of the 2019 season about how much Northwestern football had changed in the four years after it played Stanford in the 2015 season-opener. Though the 2019 season was a major disappointment, writing that story put into words the growth of Pat Fitzgerald’s program and made clear to me what a turning point the 2015 season was. I’d say the RCB barber story was my favorite piece, since I got to write about something cool off the field that gave me a perspective into who the players are as people, and it was unlike any other sports story I’d done to that point.
@MacStone00: How has working for Inside NU changed your view on sports journalism/has it changed what you may want to do in the future?
Lia: For me, it just confirmed that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s shown me how cutthroat and challenging this industry is but also how rewarding it is to tell meaningful stories and build relationships with people like we’ve been able to do over the past year. Covering football this fall, as exhausting as it was, really showed me that no two days will be the same in this field and that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a career.
Eli: I’d say over the past two-and-a-half years Inside NU shown me glimpses of what the future of sports media is. It’s not just hard news and game stories, which is exciting since writing those over and over can get a little stale. The past year has been a wild ride, and there were times during the summer when I wasn’t sure how much I missed sports. I was writing about them, but the prospect of them returning in the fall seemed so abstract that I never internalized a season actually happening. When football came back, though, I realized just how much I missed them and how I’ve spent a sizable portion of my college experience covering and following them. The pandemic has definitely made me more accepting of a non-linear career path, which is something that probably scared me 14 months ago.
@BenChasenINU: Favorite moment on the job this past year?
Lia: After the Citrus Bowl win getting to walk on the field at Camping World and just take in the moment was an awesome experience and reminded me how lucky I am how have been able to do this job and be a part of such a historic year in Northwestern sports. It was a special year.
Eli: Football season was a blast, and each game had its own feel. Even though it was just Week 2, NU at Iowa was super cool. Kinnick Stadium is awesome (I’d love to experience it with fans), and that game very much gave off a “Cardiac ‘Cats are back” feeling. One of my favorite parts of covering a game is going down to the field in an empty stadium well after the game is over and just taking it all in. We didn’t get to do that everywhere this year due to COVID, but we did at Kinnick and it was great.
A close second is getting yelled off the field in the driving rain at Purdue during the On The Turf postgame show on Facebook Live.
@jakizzo01: What’s next?
Lia: That’s the million-dollar question. For starters, a break will be nice, as I finish up my last two quarters of college. Then, hopefully, someone will hire me to do this for the rest of my life, and maybe I’ll get to work alongside you amazing people again one day.
Eli: Hopefully a warm Evanston spring and a little time to just relax. I’ll resume more broadcasting duties for WNUR Sports as I attempt to pursue a career in broadcasting, so I’m not out of the Northwestern sports journalist community just yet. Then during senior year I’ll be on the job hunt, right?