The Carmody Era And The Collins Era Are Starting To Look Pretty Similar

As our point guard-less Men’s Basketball team slogs through Big Ten play, the name “Bill Carmody” has started coming up.


Specifically, many Northwestern fans are muttering, “This reminds me of the Bill Carmody era.”  These statements may be accurate…but they may be even more accurate that most NU fans realize they are.


Few would say that Carmody had an amazing coaching career at NU.  Many would say he did a decent job given the constraints of the program at the time, still more would say that he was a good on-court coach and a bad recruiter, and just about everyone would agree that Carmody was ultimately done in by his failure to make the NCAA Tournament.  We all certainly also agree that we want to extend our thoughts and prayers to Carmody and his family as he takes a leave of absence from Holy Cross to support his wife in her fight against cancer.


Chris Collins, now in his 6th year at the helm of the program, has the NCAA berth that Carmody could never reach, and for many NU fans that will always leave him a rung above Carmody in the pecking order.  If we actually dig into the stats, however, we see two coaches who have had a very similar level of success.


As we examine the numbers, we’re going to go by Conference Record.  Feel free to prefer overall record yourself…as long as you can cite Northwestern’s non-conference record from any single season off the top of your head.  Let’s be honest: The Big Ten wins are the ones that matter.  (Ahem)


During his time at NU, Carmody had 5 unequivocal “stinker” years:  His 1st, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 13th(final) seasons.  Carmody’s Big Ten record in those 5 years was 13-71.

However, if you take out two of those 5 years, Carmody was as good, and arguably better, than Collins has been.


Now, we hear what you’re saying:  “That’s stupid, why would I ignore Carmody’s worst seasons?”  Consider this:  Carmody inherited a team that Kevin O’Neill had basically driven into a wall.  In the three years prior to Carmody’s arrival, Northwestern won 9 Big Ten games, including an 0-16 record in O’Neill’s final year.   Carmody started at ground zero.  He can be forgiven for winning 13 conference games in his first 3 years.  As for the other 3 seasons:  Well, one of them got him fired, so it’s not like no one held it against him.  The other two are squarely on Carmody.  We were there for them.  They stunk.


Still, if we ask Northwestern fans to name the thing that ticked them off so much about Carmody, they’re not going to say “He had five god-awful seasons.”  They’re probably going to say “He recruited poorly and never made the Dance, and we still kept him around for 13 years.”  So let’s not act like tons of Big Ten losses are what everyone remembers about the Carmody era.


Chris Collins’ worst conference record in a season thus far is 6-12, a mark he has achieved in three of his five full seasons at NU.  This after inheriting a program that had won 38% of its Big Ten Games, made four postseason appearances, and won three postseason games in the five years prior to his arrival.  Let’s just say that Collins had a little more to work with at the start than Carmody did.


That 38% Big Ten win percentage is important.  First of all, it includes one of Carmody’s five worst seasons at NU.  Second, it’s almost identical to Collins’ current career Big Ten win percentage of 39%.


Let’s circle back to the fact that, in 8 of Carmody’s 13 seasons, he won a bunch of games.  Let’s compare the best Big Ten seasons of the Carmody era with the best Big Ten seasons of the Collins era (with the better season in bold):


Season     Carmody        Collins

Best:        8-8 (’03-04)     10-8 (’16-17)

2nd Best   8-10 (’08-09)  8-10 (’15-16)

3rd Best    8-10 (’11-12)  6-12 (’17-18)

4th Best    7-9 (’01-02)    6-12 (’14-15)

5th Best    7-11 (’10-11)  6-12 (”13-14)


If your reaction to this data is “Yeah, but Collins would have to seriously stink for the next decade to produce a low end to his tenure that is on-par with Carmody’s low end”, you’re right.  Understand, however, that the OPPOSITE is also true.  Consider this set of data:


Yrs W/Big Ten Record      Carmody                Collins

–.500/Better                            1                        1     

–.400/Better                            4                        2

–.350/Better                            6                        2

Postseason Trips                       4                        1


There’s a good possibility that Collins’ 6th season isn’t going to improve his stats in any of the groups listed above.  If we then suppose that the second half of Collins’s tenure matches the first, Collins would enter year 13 of his Northwestern Career (Carmody’s final year) with 2 NCAA tournament appearances, two winning seasons in the Big Ten, and almost certainly more career Big Ten wins than Carmody.  Collins would also have several less seasons above .350 in-conference than Carmody had.  Collins’ time at NU would mainly be comprised of low-mediocre years just like the one we’re experiencing right now, seasons that match or actually dip below a standard year from the Carmody era.


Were all of this to come to pass, of course Collins would still be remembered much more favorably.  A hypothetical second tourney trip would bring Collins’ total to two, and two NCAA trips beats zero by a mile.  But let’s not pretend that the Collins era has produced a level of overall success that stands above the Carmody era.  It hasn’t.


Thus far, there has been another unfortunate similarity between the eras: Both Carmody and Collins have been dogged by high profile transfers, departures, and questions, from THIS to THIS to THIS to THIS to several others.   (It’s worth noting that this guard-starved 2018-2019 Wildcats team has three guards who once signed or played with the Wildcats sitting on the rosters of other teams RIGHT NOW.)  The players Collins has brought in to Northwestern may have more stars next to their recruiting profiles, but the results–on and off the court–have been pretty much the same.


Carmody didn’t win as much in the Big Ten as we wanted him to, he played an objectively unattractive brand of basketball, and he didn’t recruit players who could have pushed NU over the top.  But that certainly doesn’t mean  that the Carmody era stands in stark contrast to the Collins era.


Carmody has three NCAA appearances on his coaching resume, but he never did it at Northwestern.  Collins will always have that leg up on his predecessor.  Beyond that, Chris Collins has a ways to go if he wants to differentiate himself from Bill Carmody.


Posted on February 7, 2019, in Podcast. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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