GOULD: Collins could be the coach to turn around Northwestern basketball
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com March 27, 2013 11:41PM
CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 20: Associate head coach Chris Collins of the Duke Blue Devils reacts while taking on the Michigan Wolverines during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Chris Collins
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Let’s give athletic director Jim Phillips credit. Chris Collins is a really interesting hire from several standpoints. He’s a good face for the Northwestern program, and he’s paid his dues.
Chicago roots. Duke pedigree. If the acorn hasn’t fallen far from the Doug Collins tree, this could be just what the Wildcats need.
This is a young man who should be able to recruit nearby turf, particularly the Chicago suburbs. He also will know how to find players wherever they are after being a part of Duke’s broad-reach approach. Having learned from Mike Krzyzewski, he’ll know all the facets and details of major-college coaching.
And simply by taking the job, Collins has signaled that he’s ambitious and a risk-taker. He’ll need to be. Big time.
Coaching NU basketball is a job that tries men’s souls.
The Wildcats don’t merely have a Cub-like monkey on their back. While the Cubs haven’t been to the World Series since 1945, NU has never been to the NCAA tournament. The first NCAA championship was won by Oregon in Evanston in 1939. That’s the closest the Cats have gotten to seeing the Big Dance.
With the Cubs, you shake your head and wonder why. With Northwestern, you tick off the myriad reasons why the drought is understandable: The least attractive arena in the Big Ten, bottom-feeder practice facilities, tough academic standards, no tradition to sell. And that’s for starters.
Can you name the last NU basketball coach who got it done? There might not be one since the game stopped having a center jump after made baskets.
Bill Carmody gave it a good go. His clever Princeton offense made players who would have had a hard time getting off the bench at any other Big Ten school competitive.
A mind-boggling series of injuries kept Carmody from making a serious stab at the NCAA tournament. As good a coach as he was, as good a person as he was, it’s understandable that NU wanted to make a change.
NU needs to get people excited about hoops again, and that wasn’t going to happen on Carmody’s watch.
But after the initial excitement fades, Collins will be in the same boat. It will be about winning, which is a tall order in the Big Ten these days. Every school has a top-notch coach who’s right for his program. At most, only two or three others don’t have a big facilities gap on NU.
When Carmody and Tubby Smith, who are both accomplished veterans who know their stuff, get cashiered, the Big Ten is a supreme test these days.
If I were Phillips, I would have gone for someone who already had been successful as a head coach. Because turning around NU is such a stern test.
On the other hand, that kind of coach wouldn’t be easy to lure to Evanston. And Collins is a really strong choice. It’s surprising he didn’t prefer other choices.
This is a risk for him, too. If he struggles in Evanston, his career options will be limited.
On the other hand, coaches never think that way. And if he turns around Northwestern, he really will have accomplished something.