Athletics needs to continue Compher’s legacy as new director is hired

As local leaders bow out, NIU Athletics has the opportunity to make changes.

Follow the Northern Star’s three-part editorial series over the next few days as the Editorial Board examines the university, city and athletics department. The Editorial Board wants better from all of them for the good of NIU students.

It’s time to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

The Stepping Stone

There is no doubt that when it comes to sports, NIU is viewed as a stepping stone for coaches.

Let’s face it, the MAC isn’t the biggest or best conference, NIU doesn’t play the biggest or best teams, and NIU doesn’t have the financial resources to keep big-name coaches. A prime example is the recent exit of Athletics Director Jeff Compher.

Compher will move to Eastern Carolina University, and while they may not be one of the biggest programs in the nation they can surely pay Compher more than NIU can. ECU will pay Compher an annual salary of $415,000, which is more than $100,000 what he was paid at NIU. With his personal connection to North Carolina, it was a no-brainer for Compher to accept the position.

The fact of the matter is this “stepping stone” trait of NIU athletics will not change. We will lose players and coaches merely to the fact NIU is not a big school. NIU needs to get past this fact and work with what it has. Just like Compher leaving, just like former football coach Dave Doeren leaving, coaches don’t believe NIU is a final destination.

The next coach who could leave is men’s soccer’s Eric Luzzi.

The 2012 Huskies didn’t have their best year under Luzzi with a record of 7-10-3, the first losing record under Luzzi, but going into his fifth season Luzzi still retains an overall record of 40-30-6. He plays a possession style of soccer that can catch the eyes of big programs, and his system can succeed with big-name players.

With coaches on the move, it will be up to the new athletic director—who NIU’s new president will be in charge of hiring—to realize what type of school NIU is.

The new A.D. will need to focus on smart short-term decisions that hopefully can pan out so bigger, money-making NIU athletic programs, like football and basketball, have a better chance at long-term success.

Keeping an Eye on Basketball

As the Editorial Board looks in-house at some of NIU’s struggling programs, we can’t look past both basketball teams.

The men’s basketball program has no doubt struggled these past years, and to Compher’s credit, he made a change that most thought would be best for NIU in the hiring of head coach Mark Montgomery. Montgomery just finished up his second season and the second year of a five-year $1.5 million contract, according to a March 24, 2011, Northern Star article. Coming from Michigan State, most thought there would be improvement in the program. There wasn’t.

In the two seasons under Montgomery, NIU has posted an overall record of 10-51 and a conference record of 6-26. There haven’t been any improvements from the 2011/2012 season to the 2012/2013 season and the Board believes that’s due to Montgomery’s inability to adapt to this program.

He may bring the same kinds of tactics he had at MSU, but he doesn’t have those kinds of players to execute plays. This past season, Montgomery had six freshmen who saw a good amount of minutes on the court, players he recruited and players he should know inside and out, but it was clear they didn’t have the ability to compete in his system. The Northern Star Editorial Board pegs this upcoming season as a make-it-or-break-it one for Montgomery. With a new athletic director coming in, we wouldn’t doubt the coach will be on a short leash.

On the women’s side of the ball, head coach Kathi Bennett may be in a bit of a hot seat. Despite having her initial contract extended to 2017, Bennett has yet to put a winning record on the board for NIU. In 2011, the Huskies had a 13-17 overall record and in 2012 NIU went 14-17, 6-10 in the MAC and got their first conference tournament victory. However, in 2013 the Huskies struggled and came up with a 7-23 overall record, going 2-11 in the MAC.

There were some aspects Bennett couldn’t control this season, though. Injuries hurt the Huskies down the stretch with key contributors like senior Satavia Taylor and red shirt sophomores Jada Buggs and Danny Pulliam all on the bench in the final weeks of the season. Nonetheless, this isn’t the direction the program should be going, and Bennett will need a strong 2013/2014 season to show the new A.D. she is the right person for the job.

Future Installments

This is the second of three parts of the Editorial Board’s Clean Slate series. See Part Three: City on Wednesday. Read Part One: University here.