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New Northwestern coach Chris Collins eyes ‘championship program’

Northwestern University Athletic Director Jim Phillips left listens Chris Collins  after Phillips named Collins as new men's head basketball

Northwestern University Athletic Director Jim Phillips, left, listens to Chris Collins after Phillips named Collins as the new men's head basketball coach during a news conference Tuesday, April 2, 2013 in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: April 2, 2013 9:59PM

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips wasn’t looking for a replacement for Bill Carmody so much as a basketball version of football coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has become the standard-bearer for excellence at the university, even if other coaches have been more successful.

Phillips wanted someone capable of turning around one of the least distinguished basketball programs in the country, but he also wanted someone who would generate
excitement and help sell ‘‘Chicago’s Big Ten team’’ to the masses.

Whether Collins can succeed where so many before him failed remains to be seen, but he fulfilled expectations as the shining new face of a program with little identity during his introductory news conference Tuesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

‘‘It’s not about getting to one NCAA tournament,’’ Collins said. ‘‘It’s about doing more than that and hopefully one day building a championship program here at Northwestern.’’

Although Collins had been seen as the front-runner for the job since Carmody was fired March 16, Phillips said that wasn’t the case. He said the longtime Duke assistant had to do more to earn a seven-year, $10 million deal because he lacked the head-coaching experience Phillips preferred.

In the end, Collins’ energy, pedigree, affection for the university and desire to commit to the Wildcats for the long term were key factors in Phillips’ decision.

‘‘We have to get this basketball program going,’’ Phillips said during an emotional news conference that left him and Collins teary-eyed. ‘‘There are too many of our other programs that have had success for us not to be good in basketball.’’

Collins, a former McDonald’s All-American from Glenbrook North, his wife and their two children shared a meal with NU players Monday, and his message was clear: Not only does he not want to turn over the roster, but he thinks there’s enough talent in the program for it to be successful next season.

‘‘When we realize who our team is going to be, I will create a system that I feel is going to benefit the pieces that we have,’’ Collins said. ‘‘I don’t believe in having a strict system where we’re going to plug guys in from year to year. That’s just not how I coach.’’

Collins said he always has thought Chicago is the best basket-
ball city in the world and is convinced he can keep local players from going out of state, although he said he won’t limit himself to the Chicago area or to the Midwest while recruiting.

‘‘There are plenty of players and young men out there that want to be a part of a situation like this . . . people who want to believe in a place like Northwestern,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s up to me to go out and find those guys.’’

Joining Collins at the news conference were his parents, Doug and Kathy Collins. Doug Collins, who used to coach the Bulls and now coaches the Philadelphia 76ers, last month called serving as his son’s assistant his ‘‘dream job.’’ He said joining NU’s staff in the near future
would be a ‘‘ticklish’’ situation
because he doesn’t want to overshadow his son as he starts to build his program, but neither ruled out the possibility.

‘‘Whether or not he’s on the staff, he’s going to be a part of it,’’ Chris Collins said of his father. ‘‘That’s who he is. He’s definitely going to have input into how we’re doing things. I’m sure he will be around plenty.

‘‘We’re going to build a winner. I’m confident. I’m excited, but I know it’s going to take a lot of work. I’m not afraid of it, and I’m in it for the long haul.’’

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