Ex-Duke aide Chris Collins vows to build winner at Northwestern

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 06:28 PM

Chris Collins recalled playing in a packed arena at Northwestern when he was in high school and all the electricity in the building.

That’s something he hopes to see on a regular basis.

The former Duke aide and son of an NBA coach was formally introduced as the new coach of the Wildcats on Tuesday and he promised to do what no Northwestern coach has done: lead the team to the NCAA tournament.

He insisted the potential to succeed is there despite outdated facilities and high academic standards.

“I’m not afraid of the work that needs to be done,” Collins said as his dad, Doug, watched from the front row. “I know it’s going to take time. I’m ultra-competitive. I’m passionate about what I do. To me, in life if you love doing something, you want people to know about it.”

And he was adamant about one thing.

“We’re going to build a winner,” he said. “I’m confident. I’m excited. But I also know it’s going to take work.”

Northwestern hired Collins last week to replace the fired Bill Carmody, hoping he can lead the Wildcats into the top echelon of the Big Ten and back to the NCAA tournament.

Collins seems like a logical fit given his ties to the area, the academic similarities between Duke and Northwestern and his basketball pedigree. He grew up near campus in suburban Northbrook, Ill., and saw up close just how competitive Michael Jordan was while his dad was coaching the Chicago Bulls.

After completing his four-year Duke playing career in 1996, Collins played overseas before starting a coaching career that included stints with the WNBA’s Detroit Shock and with Tommy Amaker’s staff at Seton Hall.

Collins joined Mike Krzyzewski’s staff in 2000 and was promoted to associate head coach in 2008.

He’s taking over a program at Northwestern that has never made the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats made four straight NIT appearances, an unprecedented run for the program, before stumbling to a 13-19 record this past season.

Now, it’s Collins’ turn.

Eleven straight coaches have left Northwestern with losing records. That includes Bill Foster, a coach who led Duke to the NCAA Tournament championship game in 1978. Foster moved on to South Carolina and wound up his career at Northwestern.

If Collins turns out to be the basketball version of Wildcat football’s Pat Fitzgerald — a young, energetic coach overseeing a competitive program — that would suit Northwestern just fine. The academic standards limit the pool of recruits and the facilities don’t make things any easier. But where some see obstacles, Collins sees opportunity.

While Welsh-Ryan Arena is by far the smallest in the Big Ten with a capacity of just over 8,100, Collins noted that Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke is far from a modern marvel.

As for Northwestern’s academic standards? Collins insisted they’re a plus.

“There are plenty of young men in this country — and some in other countries, as we see with the roster — that fit the profile and fit what this university is all about,” he said. “Play in the Big Ten. Be in Chicago. A great academic school. Hopefully, with a new, energetic staff, there are a lot of positives here and I view the academic requirements as a positive because I think it adds to the value of the young men that I want to bring in.”

If he needs a sounding board, he has two good ones in Krzyzewski and his father.