Welcoming Chris Collins, Northwestern’s New Head Coach

I’m fired up and I hope you are too. Northwestern made it official Wednesday night, naming Chris Collins, the former Duke associate head coach, as the 24th men’s head basketball coach in school history.  NU VP of Athletics &  Recreation (AD is so much easier), Jim Phillips moved quickly to fill the coaching void created by firing Bill Carmody (March 16) and has bet the future on the former Glenbrook North High School star and Illinois Mr. Basketball who spent the past 13 seasons under the tutelage of possibly the most respected coach in America, Mike Krzysewski.  Collins, is of course very well known by Northwestern fans for many reasons. First, his name surfaced more than a year ago as a likely successor to Bill Carmody.  He of course made his name nationally at Duke, as a feisty guard who could drain threes and seemed part of the never-ending-stream of Duke guards who stepped up when it mattered most. Collins is also the son of well-respected NBA head coach, Doug Collins, who first made his coaching name in this town by leading the early Jordan-era Bulls, and for now, is the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

There has been a lot of speculation about Chris’ ability to bring Northwestern to the next level based on his lack of head coaching experience and the lack of consistent success from previous Coach K. assistants. That talk stops today from me.  Collins believes this is the exact type of program that could be the next Duke.  That’s what so many of us have wanted for so very long.  He’s a noted recruiter, a high energy guy and a very marketable face of the program.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t going to be easy.  Collins inherits a program that is stocked with players recruited in to a Princeton offense system.  That being said, if Collins can retain Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb he’s not starting with a blank slate.  However, transitioning to his system will likely put a lot of burden on incoming freshmen, hopefully of the talent level that can start and compete at the B1G level right away.  I look at Indiana and how Tom Crean invoked immediate playing time as a lure to top talent and the Hoosiers took their lumps for several years before this year’s leap to the top-ranked team in the land. Obviously, Northwestern is about as far away from Indiana when it concerns basketball history, but the larger point is I expect instant uptick in the level of recruits in Evanston, and for said recruits to play early and often.

From everything I’ve heard, Collins wanted this job, badly.  He seems to be of the Fitz mold when it comes to turning perceived obstacles (academic restrictions, lagging facilities, apathetic fan base) and turning them in to advantages.  Granted, on the court success is the ultimate gamechanger in the chicken-egg process of increasing talent.  You can bet that Collins will be working the Chicagoland area to do his best to try and keep at least one guy a year that usually bolts for greener hoops pastures.  He’s wired in to the this area as well as anyone in the country.

The fact NU is 0-for-75 in making the NCAA Tournament is something none of us can deny.  However, for us to break through, it is going to take a tremendous amount of work. From Collins, his staff, and yes, the fan base.  I’m excited the program isn’t starting from ground zero.  If Crawford and Cobb return, you’ve got to believe this is a .500 level team next year, far from a complete rebuild project.  The 2014-2015 season will be one to really watch as it will include his first full year of recruits and you can bet several of them will likely either start or see major minutes as the program transitions.

Collins’ name alone injects interest in Northwestern from national media, for now.  His energy and passion inject the much needed shot in the arm this program needs. You can bet there are plans in the works for improving facilities, if they’re not already hatched, and you know that Collins will become the face of the campaign to pay for them when that day comes.

Today, after 13 years of the Bill Carmody era, it is time to once again reboot. For the old-timers who have been through this before, with Falk, with Foster, with Byrdsong and O’Neill, your emphasis on cautious before optimism is understood. Let’s shed that mentality. Let’s come together and see what we as fans can do to help Collins’ and his to be named assistants.

Cynicism, pessimism and speculation about how we’ll be is really not going to do any of us any good. I have no idea if Chris Collins’ will be the guy to get the program to the next level, but I know that those in power at Northwestern firmly believe it. I’ll believe what they believe.  I’m ready to be chief online cheerleader.  Fitz has built up armour trying to thwart negative perception of the program and has us as a contender for the B1G title this year, despite the fact we still play in front of relatively small crowds. The comparisons to Fitz will come, if for no other reason then the youthful exuberance and high energy.  The one major difference between the two is that Fitz was thrust in to the position in the worst of circumstances and admittedly by him, way too early.  For Chris, he has been groomed for this chance and he is doing it on his terms, his way, in conjunction with the shared philosophy of Jim Phillips, Morty Schapiro and Northwestern.

Collins won’t be making the formal press conference appearance until Duke (plays Friday vs Michigan State in Indy) ends its season.  In the coming days we’ll learn about his staff, the status of Jaren Sina and whether or not Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb will return. But, that is for another day.  Today is about celebrating the start of something new, the start of a potential seismic shift in Northwestern basketball. Having been one of the veterans of NU coaching changes, I’m going to go ahead and reiterate the fact that I’m here to do my part by channeling the positive vibes and hopefully connect with you in a way that we collectively roll out the purple welcome wagon.

In a social media era, coaching searches have become ticking time bombs (see: Illinois, 2012). It was no secret that Chris Collins was a target from day one for Jim Phillips and crew. That said, kudos to Northwestern for getting the guy they wanted while conducting a search that resulted in five formal interviews and no egg on the program’s face by missteps in the process that took 11 days from the firing of Bill Carmody to having a new coach in place.

This move represents hope. It represents a potential turning point and a fresh start.  It’s really hard to not be excited about this moment and what it could mean for the future of Northwestern basketball. Let’s step up and do our part by being supportive in every way possible.  We’re thrilled to have you Chris Collins.  Your purple wardrobe awaits. Now go leverage the NCAA platform and get us some great exposure!

  • Andy Katz’s coverage here including his statement that Collins has coveted this job for a long time.
  • Teddy Greenstein’s coverage here
  • Neil Hayes’ coverage here
  • The Daily Northwestern coverage here
  • Duke Chronicle coverage here




  • HMW ’90

    This is an exciting hire.

    And, FWIW, the meme that Coach K’s former assistants have not done well is overstated. True, none has won a national title. But Mike Brey (not a former player, but a long-time assistant) has created a great program at Notre Dame, that consistently competes in the Big East and in the Big Dance. Johnny Dawkins has 3 20-win seasons and an NIT title at Stanford (I know, we’re sick of the NIT–but winning a championship is still nice). Tommy Amaker flamed out at Michigan, but has done well at Harvard. And Quin Snyder won at Mizzou, he just ran into some NCAA problems.

    • PDXCat

      Hmmmm . . .

      Brey–I’ll give you Mike Brey.

      Dawkins–no NCAA tourney. At a school that at least has some hoops history. Isn’t that what got BC fired?

      Amaker–Harvard. Great. Michigan? Yeah.

      Snyder–“just ran into some problems” at Mizzou. OK

      Lest we forget Jeff Capel–“just ran into some problems” at OU. OK.

      Definitely overstated.

      Hey, he’s our coach now (well, when Duke is done with him). No apologies, no fluffing. He’s our guy. Looking forward to late November and a new NU.

      GO CATS!

      • Mark

        I’m just wondering what college basketball coaches have the best coaching tree. And I would include their players or assistant coaches. I know in pro basketball it would be Auerbach – Russell, K.C. Jones, Heinsohn, Nelson, Cousy. But the ones that spring to mind in college basketball – Rick Majerus from Al McGuire; Roy Williams from Dean Smith from Phog Allen from James Naismith; Mike Krzysewski, Steve Alford, Jim Crews (when he went to Evansville) from Knight; Denny Crum from John Wooden; Eddie Sutton from Hank Iba; Nolan Richardson from Don Haskins – seem to show that no one coach has produced a whole slew of NCAA powerhouses. Am I missing something? There are the pro and college combos: Pat Riley and Adolph Rupp. I’m not sure if Pete Newell has a coaching tree. Anyway, just saying that given the history I don’t think the history is a good predictor of future success. Go Cats!

        • PB Cat

          Actually Chris Collins’ tree would be through Coach K, Bobby Knight, and then to Fred Taylor, who was Knight’s coach at Ohio State and a man Knight revered.
          Now Collins has another tree going through his dad and that would take a little time to reference. Also, who was Doug’s coach at Illinois State. I have a feeling it was a Hank Iba guy.

          I want to add this is a great moment in Northwestern basketball. I know all the naysayers and pessimists on all these NU boards have had a field day for the last 10 days. I for one think Chris Collins will be a great coach and bring a whole new vibe to NU Basketball

          • Mark

            Right, I forgot about Fred Taylor who coached the Lucas/Havilcek/Nowles/Siegfried (Knight) teams at OSU. Re Knight and Coach K the latest book by John Feinstein has a great story about Coach K’s reaction – at the time he was an IU Assistant – to Feinstein’s request to Knight to spend a whole season with Knight and IU.

            Also, Ray Meyer, “Moose” Krause, and George Ireland (Loyola Chicago’s NCAA champion coach) all played together at Notre Dame. And Ireland may have been offered a high school ass’t job by John Wooden when Wooden was at South Bend Central.

          • Alum Dad

            Doug’s coach at ISU was Will Robinson.

        • I’m partial to Rick Pitino who mentored Billy Donovan (player/coach), Stu Jackson, Herb Sendek, Jeff Van Gundy and others…oh yeah, that was just at Providence.

  • bandcat

    one thing we know for sure….he did not come here for the weather! Welcome aboard and welcome home Chris..Go Cats!

  • CliffG

    It’s nice to be excited about BBall again. Welcome, Coach Collins!
    (And, from where I sit anyway, I love the way the search was handled. Another gold star for Dr. P.)

  • Go Cats!

    Who knows how it plays out years from now, but THIS is the exact sentiment that we need: “Collins said in a press release Wednesday night. “Northwestern University is a special place that strives for excellence in every regard, and our program will be no different.”

  • Mark

    Welcome Coach and Family!! Best wishes as you build on Coach Carmody’s accomplishments. Go Cats!

  • Let’s not be mistaken. He may be able to do a lot for the program, but as was pointed out in the Trib story, “ya gotta start someplace” and NU will only be a starting point as a head coach for Collins.

    • CliffG

      You may be right. After all, he doesn’t have purple in his blood, like Fitz. But in order for NU to be a stepping stone for Collins, he’ll have to do well. And doing well is now defined as making the tournament. If he does that, then he’ll have succeeded and we’ll be happy. For about a minute.

  • PurpleHayes

    As a critic of Candidate Collins, I’m totally ready to support Coach Collins. While I had preferred the youth/experience combination, we have arrived and I trust Dr. Phillips got the right man. Thanks for the shout-out to we who go back far enough (Brad Snyder in my case–ouch) to stress caution over optimism. Yes, we will shed that attitude, but indulge us if it takes a little while. The wild optimists making comparisons to Fitz, to Tom Crean/Indiana–these are absurd. This is nothing like those situations. But after what will probably be a slow start, I do expect significant improvement over time, and I think Collins can make it happen. Meanwhile, he will convert me much more quickly if he attacks his two biggest weaknesses right away. First, get an experienced assistant, someone with head coaching experience. (If Dad or K need to call in a favor, so be it.) Second, embrace the role of the underdog. That won’t happen smiling in front of the cameras, but rather on endless recruiting trips and tireless days in the video room. I’m confident Collins can make that transition, because I trust Phillips went behind the hype, the aura, and looked more at the man, the character. So it’s “cautious optimism” at first, but ready to be converted quickly–by wins, of course, but first by actions. Welcome, Coach Collins. Go Cats!

    • I’m right at the post Falk/start of Foster NU coaching fault line. It’s just much easier to go in to this positive. My Crean reference was only for the point that Collins will have immediate B1G starting lineup time and the notion of being the guy(s) that finally got us over the hump as selling tools. Crean used this tactic, that was my only point. Obviously completely different circumstances.

  • Outsider

    No question that this is a good hire for Northwestern. Young, visible and energetic coach in a place where change was sorely needed.

    But “the next Duke”? Really??? An immediate uptick in recruits? While Duke is certainly an academic institution of the highest order, they have been willing to make exceptions to their admission standards much more significantly and repeatedly than Northwestern has. And according to TG, Collins doesn’t believe that exceptions (or improved facilities) are necessary. From the posts here over the past month or so, I do not think most of you agree.

    Good luck to coach Collins and NU. While I question the Duke comparison, I do believe he can make this program respectable and competitive.

  • cece

    It’s really great reading about all of the basketball history that Coach Collins (our Coach Collins) has experienced and made. Makes you realize that he’s capable of putting NU right in the mix. Glad you here, Coach!

  • Richard

    Collins certainly should be able to recruit just as well as Amaker at Harvard without reducing NU admission standards one bit.

    Oh, and for all of you who are hung up on head coaching experience, neither Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens had any head coaching experience before getting their current jobs. Surely those guys can’t succeed, right? In contrast, the last 4 NU head coaches all had head coaching experience. Doubtlessly, you all would pick Foster, O’Neill, or Carmody over Stevens or Smart in a heartbeat, right?


    I am excited about this hire and feel strongly it is a game changer. The difference between Bill Foster and this hire is the youth and energy and the competitive nature/”Let’s go do this” attitude Collins brings to Northwestern. We will make the tournament soon and I suspect Collins will stay put given his local ties. My main point is regarding facilities, though. As an alum, Northwestern lacks a suitable indoor convocation facility. A renovated McGaw Hall/ Welsh-Ryan could serve that purpose AND add updated basketball arena as well. The answer–turn the court ( or ‘stage’ ) 90 degrees in the same direction as the football field. In addition, drop the floor 10 foot. By doing so, you will be able to have “pull out” bench style seating along both lengths & behind each basket of the court at “ground level”. At the “arena level” (starting 10′ above court) you would have individual seats that wrap around the entire court in a symmetrical hexagon shape. With this renovation, you could have increase capacity to 10-12K range, improve overall site lines and put the most number of fans closest to the court. In addition, if weather does not permit for an outdoor, school-wide convocation, you could hold the event inside McGaw. If you google Cameron Indoor Stadium and look at the images, you will see a similiar steel skeleton with a court turned 90deg as compared with Welsh-Ryan. By keeping within the footprint and using the existing exterior structure, this would be a cost-effective renovation that could be ‘sold’ to academic-minded alums as a convocation center with uses outside of sports. The entire project should be no more that $30Million and when taking into consideration the extra revenue from increasing the overall capacity–a wise investment. I hope the administration is looking into this.