Following weeks of speculation, Northwestern basketball coach Bill Carmody finally heard the ‘it’s not you, it’s me,’ speech from athletic director Jim Phillips.
And for once that speech might have been sincere.
After all, Carmody didn’t become one of the longest-tenured coaches in collegiate basketball history -- trailing the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo and Jim Boeheim -- by being a bad coach.
By all accounts, Carmody possessed the traits most Division I athletic departments look for in their coaches -- a focus on playing as hard as possible, getting players to go to class and producing results the right way.
[Related: Wildcat players stand behind coach Carmody]
Unfortunately, they just weren’t the sort of winning results that Carmody -- and the university -- have been looking for.
The media frenzy surrounding Carmody’s anticipated removal peaked within the last week, but rumors of his release have been swirling around for much longer. In fact, many were surprised that Carmody made it to this season.
Perhaps, in a cruel twist of irony, Carmody’s 13th season at Northwestern was meant to be his last.
The Early Years
Carmody arrived on the North Shore in 2000, riding a wave of success from his tenure at Princeton. There, he had spent 14 years as an assistant to legendary coach Pete Carril and assumed the head coaching position for four years after Carril’s retirement.
Under Carmody’s leadership, the Tigers rose as high as a No. 7 national ranking and the 1997-98 squad received a No. 5 seed to the NCAA Tournament.
By the time of his arrival in Evanston, Carmody was a master of, and firm believer in, the “Princeton Offense.”
It appeared that Carmody would need every bit of that expertise when he took over the reins at NU. The 1999-2000 Wildcats had just wrapped up an abysmal 5-25 season and his new point guard, Collier Drayton, was legally blind in one eye.
But by the end Carmody’s first year, the Wildcats had already improved and finished 11-19 on the season. In his second year, they took things a step further by breaking .500, going 16-13 overall and earning a No. 7 ranking in the Big Ten Conference (they had been dead last the prior two years).
Over the next few years, however, the Wildcats continued to fall short of spectacular.
With a 12-17 record in the 2002-03 season, Northwestern returned to the bottom of the Big Ten barrel. And although their overall record came in just shy of .500 the next year (14-15), the Wildcats managed to break even in conference play. With an 8-8 record, they tied for fifth place -- the highest ranking Northwestern earned under Carmody.
But this relative success was short-lived.
Starting the next season, the Wildcats began a downward slide -- going 15-16, 14-15, 13-18 and -- worst of all -- 8-22 -- in their next four seasons.
It seemed the Princeton Offense would never find success on a Northwestern court.
That was before a 6-foot-9 power forward, Glen Ellyn native John Shurna, showed up on campus.
The Game Changer?
ESPN.com had ranked Shurna as the 53rd best high school power forward in the country and that talent was put to the test beginning with his freshman year.
Shurna started in each of the Wildcats’ 31 games that 2008-09 season, and the team improved to an admirable 17-14 record overall. Although this performance wasn’t enough for the team to earn an elusive bid to the NCAA Tournament, they did manage an invite to the NIT.
Things only went up for Carmody and Shurna from there.
For the next two years, the Wildcats had back-to-back 20-14 seasons, with identical 7-11 records in the Big Ten. The team also made two more NIT and, in the latter season, reached the quarterfinals.
For Carmody’s 12th season, and Shurna’s senior year, the Wildcats came as close to an NCAA Tournament bid as they ever had, with a 19-14 record.
But the opportunity to reach new heights was cut short when Northwestern fell to Minnesota in overtime in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The abrupt end to the 2011-12 season marked the 74th consecutive year without an NCAA Tournament bid for the Wildcats.
It also kicked off speculation that Carmody’s time in Evanston was up.
The Final Stretch
With the graduation of Shurna, the basketball program at Northwestern University appeared to deflate.
And although the 2012-13 season featured huge wins over Minnesota at home and Illinois on the road, the Wildcats were a disappointing 13-18 going in to the Big Ten Tournament, having dropped their last eight games.
Northwestern’s presence at the tournament was short-lived, as they fell to Iowa 79-53 in the first round.
[Related: Wildcats' season ends after opening-round loss to Iowa]
Those looking to write off Carmody’s less-than-stellar 13th season, point to the Wildcats’ injury-plagued year, which often had their best players relegated to the bench.
But for Wildcat fans, 75 straight years without an appearance in the Big Dance speaks for itself.
And, unfortunately for Carmody, the quickest way for Northwestern to enact change in the program’s performance is to inject a new style of leadership.
Following Carmody’s brief showing in the Big Ten Tournament, he made just one more appearance as Northwestern’s head coach: walking into Phillips’ office.
As Carmody leaves Evanston for good, you can be sure that his 13 years of Princeton Offense, his development of Shurna and getting the Wildcats as close as they’ve ever been to the Big Dance will leave a long shadow behind.
It may not be a legacy of illustrious NCAA berths, but it’s a legacy nonetheless.
Now it’s time for Carmody to establish another legacy somewhere else.