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Chris Collins ready ‘to build a winner’ at Northwestern

Updated: April 2, 2013 9:10PM

Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips wasn’t looking for a replacement for Bill Carmody so much as a basketball version of 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 nation’s least distinguished programs but also somebody who would generate excitement, extend the brand and help sell “Chicago’s Big Ten team” to the masses.

Whether Chris 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 press conference at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday.

“It’s not about getting to one NCAA Tournament,” Collins said. “It’s about doing more than that, and hopefully one day building a championshp program here at Northwestern.”

Although Collins was viewed as the front-runner since Carmody was fired on March 16, Phillips said that wasn’t the case. He said the long-time Duke assistant had to do more to earn a seven-year, $10 million deal because he lacked the head coaching experienced Phillips preferred.

In the end, his energy, his pedigree, his affection for the university and his desire to commit long-term were key factors.

“We have to get this basketball program going,” Phillips said during an emotional press conference that left both the athletic director and the new coach teary-eyed. “There are too many of our other programs that have had success for us not to be good in basketball.

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

That was important to Phillips, who met with players as a group and individually before starting his search. He even had binders with information on virtually every college coach assembled so players could sift through them and make recommendations.

“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 has always believed that Chicago is the best basketball city in the world and he is convinced he can keep local players from going out-of-state, although he said he won’t limit himself to Chicago or 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,” he said. “Throw in being in a great city like Chicago, being in the best sports city in the world, a great energy, a beautiful campus [and] hopefully the opportunity to play for an energetic coach. There are people out there that will want to be a part of it, people who want to believe in place like Northwestern. It’s up to me to go out and find those guys.”

Joining Collins at the press conference were his parents, Sixers coach Doug Collins and wife Kathy.

Doug Collins called serving as Chris’ assistant his “dream job” last month but said joining the Northwestern staff at some time in the future is a “ticklish” situation because he doesn’t want to overshadow Chris as he starts to build his program.

Neither Chris nor Doug ruled the possibility out, however.

“Whether or not he’s on the staff he’s going to be a part of it,” Chris said of Doug. “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.”

Phillips said it was hard to compare Collins to Fitzgerald because Fitzgerald has the one thing Collins doesn’t — head coaching experience. But he did admit there were a lot of similarities.

Collins said he looked forward to getting to know Fitzgerald but is determined to develop his own coaching style.

“We’re going to build a winner,” Collins said. “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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