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