Dienhart: Collins hiring 'makes so much sense'

Moments after Bill Carmody was fired as Northwestern coach on March 16, speculation began to swirl about Duke associate head coach Chris Collins being a top target. That speculation became reality today when Collins was named Wildcats coach.

It makes so much sense, doesn’t it? Collins is a native of the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, earning Illinois Mr. Basketball and McDonald’s All-America honors at Glenbrook North before matriculating to Duke.

And, Collins is practically basketball royalty, as the son of Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins, who also coached the Bulls and starred at Illinois State and in the NBA.

But the sweetest part of Collins’ resume is the fact he sat next to Mike Krzyzewski for the past 13 seasons at Duke, where Collins has been an assistant since 2000 and was a player from 1993-96.

“He has a tremendous pedigree as a basketball coach and will be an outstanding leader for Chicago’s Big Ten Team, and mentor for our student-athletes,” Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said in a school release.

In most every way, Collins is the opposite of Carmody, which almost always is the case when a coach is fired and another is hired. Different is good. No, different is demanded.

Collins is 38 years old; Carmody is 61.

Collins never has been a head coach; Carmody had coached Princeton four seasons and earned two NCAA bids and two NIT invites before taking over NU.

But maybe most vital: Collins brings name cachet to the dreary, dead-end NU job, where coaches like Rich Falk, Bill Foster, Ricky Byrdsong and Kevin O’Neill all failed fabulously over the past 30 years.

“I’m so grateful to President Schapiro, Chairman Osborn and Dr. Phillips for the opportunity to lead the men’s basketball program at one of the premier universities in the world, to compete in the Big Ten Conference, and to do so in my hometown,” Collins said in the release.

The youthful Collins–who interviewed on Monday, according to reports–also brings instant credibility because of his Duke background. (See these national title rings, kid?) A Wildcats program that’s still searching for its first NCAA berth needs all the help it can get—and then some. To reach that maddeningly elusive NCAA tourney, Northwestern needs players—and Collins’ name and background certainly will open more doors to blue-chip talent—more so than some of the other names that had been kicked around for this daunting post: Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew, South Dakota State’s Scott Nagy, Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson, LaSalle’s John Giannini and Bucknell’s Dave Paulsen, among others.

Mark Dolejs-US PRESSWIRE

Mark Dolejs-US PRESSWIRE

Now, if Collins could get improved facilities—How about razing dinky and antiquated Welsh-Ryan Arena and building a real Big Ten venue?—his cause will be helped even more. But let’s take this one massive step at a time.

The Collins’ hire comes with risk. Duke assistants have been a mixed bag upon leaving Krzyzewski’s cozy, gold-lined nest. Quin Snyder was a train wreck at Missouri, and Tommy Amaker crashed hard at Michigan before rebounding at Harvard. Johnny Dawkins has been mostly average—at best–at Stanford. Mike Brey has been the best Coach K disciple, making Notre Dame consistently relevant nationally. Where will Collins fit among this continuum?

Collins also will be cutting hit teeth as a head coach against some of the best in the business. Is he ready to match Xs and Os with the likes of Thad Matta, Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, Tom Crean and John Beilein? Building a good staff will be key for Collins. Will he have the resources to do so?

Fail? Succeed? No one can say for sure. But this much is true: Hiring Collins is a gamble Northwestern A.D. Jim Phillips had to take. Carmody had 13 seasons to get it done—and never did. He went 192-220 overall and 70-150 in the Big Ten (no finish higher than fifth) with four NIT appearances. NU was 13-19 (4-14) this season, with injuries crippling the roster. Yes, Carmody was a nice guy who got the program on solid ground. But it was time to turn the page. His backdoor-cutting, precision “Princeton” system didn’t get it done.

Collins will inherit a roster with potential, assuming there are no transfers. Drew Crawford (shoulder injury) and JerShon Cobb (academics) will be back as the centerpieces. Also back will be point guard Dave Sobolewski, center Alex Olah, forward Kale Abrahamson, guard Tre Demps, among others.

Collins also must begin recruiting even as he works the NCAA tourney with No. 2 seed Duke, which is in the Sweet 16 and plays No. 3 Michigan State on Friday in Indianapolis. His first order of business: reaffirm the commitment of touted point guard Jaren Sina, a top-100 recruit by most who pledged to Carmody in July.

Now, the future belongs to Collins, who hopes to duplicate the wild success similarly youthful NU football coach Pat Fitzgerald, 38, has engineered in Evanston.

And, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities. Northwestern likely never will be Duke. But why can’t it be like similar peer schools Vanderbilt and Stanford?

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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