Chris Collins: “It’s Time for Me to Blaze My Own Trail”
Chris Collins has had the opportunity to learn from some very good basketball minds. He is the son of NBA coach Doug Collins. And he spent a number of years as Mike Krzyzewski’s assistant at Duke. Now Collins will be on his own. The longtime Duke assistant was introduced as the new head coach at Northwestern. The Wildcats basketball team hasn’t been relevant for quite a while. Collins, an Illinois native, does not have head coaching experience. And the list of former Duke assistants that have gone on as head coaches on their own is long but it’s also lacking a lot of success stories. Collins’ challenge will be changing that and the Wildcats basketball program that has never been to the NCAA tournament.Chris Collins joined WSCR in Chicago with McNeil and Spiegel to talk about whether Northwestern is as committed to basketball as they are to football, whether his lack of experience as a head coach is a detriment to them, on other former Duke assistants failing in college basketball when leaving Duke, whether he feels he can stay at Northwestern for the rest of his life and if the academic standards will remain the same at Northwestern.
If Northwestern is as committed to basketball as they are football:
“That’s why I’m here. I wouldn’t come here if I I didn’t feel that was the case. You guys know me enough. I’m accustomed to winning and no one wants to win more than I do. But I also want to win the right way. This is why this is such a good fit for me at Northwestern because I can really recruit the kind of guys I believe that I would really enjoy coaching and that will represent the school. There are guys out there that fit this niche. You are in the city of Chicago, you’re playing in the best conference in the country, beautiful campus and hopefully guys will be excited about playing for a young and energetic coach that is working to make it happen.”
Whether his lack of experience as a head coach is a detriment to him:
“I will be the first one to tell you, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything. I have a lot to learn in this business, but what I will tell you is that I’m confident that I can do the job. I’ve been in a position now the last 10 or 12 years where I’ve had a lot of head coaching responsibilities. It hasn’t been the guy calling timeout or making the big decision in the heat of the moment but at some point everybody has to get a start. Every coach in the Big Ten at some point was an assistant coach. I’m just fortunate and thankful that this university has given me the opportunity to be a head coach, be the leader and face of the program. I’m excited to get to work and see what we can do.”
On other assistants from Duke failing when taking over as head coach:
“I think it’s a Catch 22 because if we’re going to be measured by Coach K’s success then everybody in the country is a failure because nobody can do what that guy does. I’ve had great mentors along the way. With my dad growing up and obviously Coach K, played for Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker, those guys have been great influences on my life and that being said, it’s time for me to blaze my own trail. It’s not about what anybody hasn’t done. It’s about what can I do? And what can I do at Northwestern as we begin to build this program? In terms of the basketball thing I’m a big believer in coaching your personnel and finding out the way to win with what you’ve got. What I want to do the next couple of months and into the summer and into the fall is spend time with these guys and see their games, see what I’m working with, see what kind of talent we have and then base the system offensively and defensively that is going to be based around being competitive and trying to win with the guys we have. To me that is what coaching is. It’s using what you’ve got and trying to figure out a way to win. That’s the way I’m going to coach.”
Can you envision yourself being a Northwestern lifer?
“I sure hope so because that is my thought coming to Northwestern. When I had an opportunity to leave a place like Duke that has been so special to me for so long, if I were to leave and get an opportunity to be a head coach, I always wanted to go to a place where I felt it could be a destination. I feel that about this school. I believe in what this school stands for on all levels. And I believe I can build a program here. Is it going to take a lot of work? There is no question we are going to have to work and it’s going to take time and little by little hopefully we can get it to be a program that is respected nationally. For me, this isn’t about just taking a team to one NCAA tournament. Now is that going to feel good and are people going to be happy about it? Absolutely we will but to me this is about building a program that is going to around for the long haul. I hope I’m the guy that can see it through.”
Have you been told the academic standards will remain the same?
“Well, all I will say on that is in sitting down with President Shapiro and Dr. Phillips, these guys are committed to having a basketball program that can compete at top notch in the Big Ten. I believe they are putting a huge, beautiful lakefront facility for all the athletic teams. I believe as we go forward and as we push on with our program, I know I will be given everything I need and all the resources I need to build the kind of program that we want to have.”