Monday, March 18, 2013

About Bill Carmody

Somewhere in TigerBlog's closet is the mini-cassette from the 1998 Rainbow Classic press conference in Honolulu.

Of course, nowhere in TigerBlog's universe is anything to play a mini-cassette on anymore, so you'll just have to take his word for it.

Anyway, the tape is of Bill Carmody's press conference at the University of Hawaii, after Princeton defeated Charlotte to win the tournament. Carmody was asked by one of the Hawaiian sportswriters about how everyone on the team seemed comfortable shooting three-pointers, even the big men.

Carmody's response:

"Everyone here can make a three. Our center can make a three. Our SID can make a three."

For the record, TigerBlog was a much better low-post player than outside shooter during his 12 years of playing lunchtime basketball at Princeton. Carmody was correct, though, in that TB could step out and knock down a shot every now and then.

Carmody was fired Saturday after 13 seasons as the head coach at Northwestern. During his time at Evanston, Carmody never took the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament, which probably makes him unique in that coaches in power conferences rarely last that long without at least one NCAA bid.

In fact, TB's second thought when he heard Carmody was fired was to wonder how many other coaches in similar circumstances had lasted 13 seasons.

Coaching men's basketball at Northwestern is not easy. The school is playing in what is year-in, year-out either the best basketball league in the country, or at least in the top two or three, and doing so without the facilities or resources that the rest of the Big Ten has.

This year was no exception. Where are the easy wins? There aren't any.

And Northwestern seemed to have the worst luck, whether it was losing its best players to injuries (something that seemed to happen all the time) or letting signature wins get away in the last minute because the other team's NBA players made ridiculous plays to break the Wildcats' collective hearts.

That was TB's second thought.

His first thought was back to the four years when Carmody was Princeton's head coach and TB was the men's basketball SID.

Carmody went 92-25 in his four years at Princeton, and TigerBlog was at every one of those 117 games, in the locker room after each one, on the walk to the interview room after each one.

He ran the press conference in Indianapolis, hastily called, when Carmody officially took over for Pete Carril. Somewhat famously, Carril had announced his retirement after 29 seasons at Princeton after the Tigers had defeated Penn in the Ivy playoff at Lehigh in 1996 a few days earlier, when he went up to the podium in Bethlehem and basically said this:

"I'm retiring at the end of this year ... and Billy Carmody will be the new coach."

TB remembers vividly walking Carmody from the locker room into the media room in the RCA Dome (a building that no longer exists) and to a small circular table like it was yesterday, as opposed to 17 years ago.

He remembers Carmody's first game as head coach, in the 1996 preseason NIT at Indiana. After the Tigers had played hard and lost, Carmody was asked about his team's performance. He said this:

"We run the shoot and run. One guy shoots, everyone else runs back on defense."

Princeton would go 24-4 his first year and then 27-2 his second with an Ivy League record of 28-0 those two years combined. Princeton lost to Cal, with future NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez, in the 1997 NCAA tournament and then defeated UNLV before losing to Michigan State in the 1998 tournament. Princeton and Michigan State were tied in the final minute; the Spartans would start four of the same players two years later when they won the NCAA title.

The Tigers reached the NIT the next two years, but even those years had silver linings.

Princeton won that Rainbow Classic by beating Florida State, Texas and Charlotte on consecutive nights. The 1999 season featured the amazing comeback win over Penn at the Palestra, when the Tigers trailed 27-3 and 40-13 with 15 minutes left, only to rally for a 50-49 victory.

And there was the 1999 NIT, when Princeton beat Georgetown at home (playing the same five guys the entire game) and North Carolina State in Raleigh (last game in Reynolds Coliseum) before falling at Xavier, who could come back to Jadwin the next year and see future NBA player David West shoot 1 for 11.

Added up, it came to four seasons, two NCAAs, two NITs, a Top 25 national ranking in 1997, a Top 10 national ranking in 1998, 13 wins over teams currently in BCS conferences, in-season tournament wins as far away as Hawaii and as close as Madison Square Garden (where he famously called timout and when, asked by the players how to attack the zone that they didn't expect, said "you're smart guys; you'll figure it out) and perhaps the best game in any sport TigerBlog was ever at (the comeback at the Palestra).

As TB has said so many times to people since, no Ivy League basketball SID can ever ask for more than Bill Carmody provided during his time here, starting with the day Carril retired and lasting for Carmody's four years as head coach. TB was the one lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Beyond just the winning, Carmody was hilarious, especially during the walks to the postgame interview rooms and his interactions with the media once he got there.

TB can't remember ever having one problem with Carmody during the entire time he worked with him. He respected what TB did and, like the best coaches TB has worked with, made him feel like what he did was important to the program without being a phony or condescending about it.

Carmody is among the most competitive people TB has ever met, something that came out every time he'd play lunchtime basketball, let alone coach the Tigers.

TigerBlog wonders what's next for Carmody. Maybe the NBA? TB thinks he'd be awesome on television, for that matter.

He hasn't spoken to him about anything; in fact, he's only spoken to him once in the 13 years since Carmody left here.

But he's rooted for him the entire time he's been at Northwestern, a place where it's impossible to win big at and a place where he won more than the school was used to winning.

TB has two stories that completely encapsulate what Bill Carmody is all about.

The first was in practice at Jadwin one day, when a backup got beat for a layup and yelled a curse really loudly in the empty gym.

"Hey," Carmody snapped at him. TB assumed he was going to tell the kid not to use that language anymore.

"The idea of the game," Carmody said, "is to get the other guy to curse."

Then there was the lockerroom in 1999, after Princeton had defeated the Bison in Lewisburg 50-48 on Mason Rocca's hook shot with two seconds left. It was a Tuesday night, TB believes, and he's pretty sure it was raining.

He stood in the back of the locker room, sort of in an adjoining room, so he couldn't see anyone, could only hear what was being said.

Carmody told his team that night that yes they had won but no they hadn't given their best effort. He told them that they only get four years worth of opportunities to give their best effort, and to let one of them get away was something they'd regret later on.

It was such a great speech, so passionate, so insightful. It was the last thing TB expected to hear. He thought it would be "great job, let's get out of here." Instead, it's something that TB has never forgotten, something that he has referred back to in his own experiences since.

And he wasn't even a player.

One of TB's all-time favorites was fired Saturday. His time at Princeton was a glorious one, and TB laughs and smiles every time he thinks back to those days.

TB was just lucky to have a front row seat for the Bill Carmody era here.


Glenn Adams '63 said...

What a terrific personal account of a coach that did spectacular things for Princeton basketball! Glenn Adams '63

George Clark said...

Once again, TB, "priceless" reflections. I followed the Tigers to Honolulu for that tournament, accompanied by my son, a 1996 graduate. As I recall the season opener was a loss at Lafayette, a distressing start for the freshmen Chris Young and Chris Krug. The turnaround in Hawaii was remarkable the next month. In addition to Charlotte, the Tigers defeated Florida State and Texas in just a few days. Young was instrumental in beating his home state Longhorns and their center, future pro Chris Mihm. Carmody's 4 seasons must be considered the best period of sustained excellence in Tiger history. Thanks, Bill, you are the epitome of class.

macarthur31 said...

Great post. I'm a Northwestern alum ('96) and die-hard fan of the hoops squad who was very disappointed with the decision to let Carmody go. Dude is a helluva coach and a standup guy. Your blogpost just reaffirmed that, and I really worry that the 'Cats are gonna take a big step backwards.

Barbara Carmody said...

This not only made my day (7 am here), but maybe my entire year! Thanks so much.

macarthur31 said...

Great post!

I contribute over at, and have been a die-hard 'Cats hoops fan since graduating in '96. I'm in the camp the believes that the NU admin made a mistake in firing Carmody, given that any facilities improvements to help hoops are 6-8 years away, and that they're not lowering standards.

They may get some hotshot young thing to check it out, but I doubt they'll get a guy who knows his X's and O's and is a standup dude like Coach Carmody. Thanks for a post that reaffirms that.

George Clark said...

Tigerblog: I hope you will post this and Mrs. C checks the comments. I had the good fortune to sit between Mrs. Carmody and Red Trani at the UCLA game. Late in the second half Sydney J committed what I thought was a bad foul. I jumped up yelling, "Stupid foul!!!" Two bricks, a Tiger rebound and the perfect smiling aside from Mrs. C: "Doesn't look like a stupid foul now, does it?"
Will never forget it...

Elizabeth O said...

I am a dedicated Wildcat Basketball fan because of Coach Carmody. While he will be successful whereever he is, I am sad to see the NU program moving backwards. Thank you for the insight, your post was wonderful.

Chelle Cain NU '64 said...

Thank you for a wonderful article about a great coach. Our family, Princeton '63 and '01 and Northwestern '64 are long-time Bill Carmody fans. We are sad his contract was not renewed and fear this is a first step in yet another downturn in NU basketball fortunes.