Bill Carmody had 13 years to get Northwestern into the NCAA tournament for the first time, and it never quite worked out.
That was enough for athletic director Jim Phillips, who called the coach Saturday morning and let him go after a long tenure during which the Wildcats raised expectations but failed to reach their biggest goal.
"Look at 13 years. Athletic success does matter. It should matter," Phillips said. "We were here a year ago. One of the key differences was, we were down to one year on Bill's contract. I didn't feel an extension was warranted. It would have been really detrimental to the program, to Bill or his staff to try to recruit with less than a year on his contract.
"So the combination of those factors resulted in us making the decision to make a change."
Carmody ranks among the most successful coaches at Northwestern with a 192-210 record. With their Princeton offense and 1-3-1 zone defense, the Wildcats usually were able to hang with more talented teams even if they came up short. But the lack of an NCAA berth ultimately did him in.
The change comes on the heels of a particularly difficult season in which the Wildcats lost their final nine games to finish 13-19 and missed the postseason after four straight NIT appearances, an unprecedented run for Northwestern.
"It was really tough. It was a tough decision," Phillips said. "Bill's a terrific person, and he did a terrific job here. As I mentioned twice, he's elevated our basketball program. But you have to go back to their being a better destination. Certainly, there's some inherent risks in that, but it was time for a change."
Whoever replaces Carmody faces some big hurdles, between the high academic standards and facilities that lag behind the rest of the Big Ten, not to mention one big albatross.
That would be the lack of an NCAA tournament appearance for the school that hosted the first Final Four. The Wildcats came close under Carmody, but just couldn't get over that hump.
"Everyone's goal is to get in the NCAA tournament," Carmody said after the loss to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. "So we haven't been able to accomplish that. But in a hundred years we haven't been able to accomplish that."
Northwestern unveiled plans last fall for a complex that includes new lakefront facilities for the football team, a multipurpose indoor facility that seats 2,500, a diving well adjacent to the existing swimming pool and an outdoor practice field for varsity and club sports along with intramurals.
New locker rooms, weight rooms, sports medicine facilities, meeting rooms and offices are also part of the plan, along with a new parking structure.
But there are no concrete plans to renovate or rebuild Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"It's sort of like an arms race," Carmody said after the season-ending loss. "So the gap might be widening that way. But I feel like we have done a pretty good job of bringing in some pretty good players and getting better."
Northwestern posted its two winningest seasons under Carmody, going 20-14 in 2009-10 and 2010-11, and earned their first national ranking in 41 years when they cracked the AP poll at No. 25 in December 2009.
The dismissal came during the Big Ten tournament at nearby United Center, and Carmody's colleagues were quick to come to his defense.
"Bill Carmody maybe has the best offensive mind of any coach I've ever seen in my lifetime," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "He's been the most unlucky with injuries just in my time. It's amazing to see the things that have happened to his teams, and they've happened in such a timely fashion. Who can win and keep coaching those guys and stay competitive with what he lost this year? It's mind-boggling."
There was speculation that Carmody would be fired a year ago, but Phillips decided not to make a change. He finally made the call after a season in which the Wildcats were short-handed.
Guard JerShon Cobb was suspended for his junior season for violating team policy, a major blow considering he started 33 games his first two years, and the big hits kept coming.
Forward Drew Crawford had season-ending surgery in December to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, leaving the Wildcats without their second-leading scorer.
The Wildcats had another key player go down when Jared Swopshire (9.7 points per game) suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee in a loss at Iowa on Feb. 9 that started their losing streak.
Now Carmody is out of a job and Phillips is looking for his replacement.
"There's no predetermined timeline for how long this search will take," Phillips said. "I'll have a comprehensive review of who's available. I haven't ruled anybody in or our yet. The NCAA tournament will dictate when you can talk to some prospective coaches."