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Northwestern Hires Chris Collins: Instant Analysis

The moment Northwestern brought notice that former coach Bill Carmody had been dismissed after 13 seasons, potential replacement candidates popped up in droves. In fact, one prominent local reporter came up with a thorough list before the Wildcats ever made it official.

The names were diverse, coming from different leagues and different areas of the country, some more realistic (Lehigh’s Brett Reed, Bucknell’s Dave Paulsen) than others (Indianapolis radio personality Dan Dakich, ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg). One name kept cropping up all along, and when his interest in Northwestern’s coaching vacancy was confirmed, there was a sense of inevitability that longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins was on his way to taking over the stalled-out program Carmody left behind.

Today brings the totally expected news we’ve all been waiting for: Collins has indeed been hired as Northwestern’s next basketball coach. There will be more angles to delve into as the media horde digs into Collins’ background over the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are some of the biggest implications of the Collins hire as Northwestern passes along the highest position in its hoops leadership structure:

Recruiting

Maybe the biggest knock on Carmody during the final years of his tenure was that he failed to recruit a level of talent capable of competing with the rest of the Big Ten. Collins has been instrumental in landing several top prospects at Duke, including Glenbrook North (Illinois) product John Scheyer, one of the leaders on the Blue Devils’ 2010 national championship team.

Collins himself attended and thrived as a highschool player at Glenbrook North and has ties with AAU coaches in the area. More importantly, he is particularly adept at massaging the academic and athletic imperatives that have, at times, hindered Carmody’s efforts to bring top talents to Evanston (see: Mislav Brzoja). And in case you’re clinging to the idea that Duke and Northwestern hold scholarship athletes (especially basketball players) to different academic standards, you’re mostly right, but Collins left the impression just this week that making “exceptions” for academically underperforming recruits would not be a prominent aspect of his recruiting agenda.

There is good reason to expect Collins can uplift Northwestern’s recruiting prowess – his track record under Coach Mike Krzyzewski validates his prospect-hunting tact as much as anything else. Throw in the Team USA experience – Collins worked on Coach K’s 2008 and 2012 Olympic staffs, as well as the 2010 FIBA World Championship – and Collins has both the coaching credentials and the locational expertise to elevate Northwestern’s quality of talent shortly upon arrival.

Jaren Sina and Drew Crawford 

As soon as Carmody was let go, questions surfaced about whether 2013 point guard Jaren Sina, widely regarded as the most promising recruit of Carmody’s tenure, would stay true to his verbal commitment. Sina asked for his release and has temporarily reopened his recruitment. Alabama, Seton Hall and others have jumped at the opportunity to snatch Sina while the Wildcats sort out their head-coaching situation, but the possibility remains Sina could rejoin Northwestern if the qualities that initially endeared him to the Wildcats – ties to assistant Fred Hill, the conviction to play, and star, right away, a favorable skills to scheme fit, and so on – are at least partially tenable under Collins’ watch, and if coach and player can see eye-to-eye on the new direction of the program.

Haste is a baseline requirement for any successful Sina reccovery mission: with the spring signing period (beginning April 17) rapidly approaching, Collins needs to strike up a positive relationship with Sina as soon as possible. Without sitting down and conversing and discussing the future of the program with Sina, Northwestern could be in serious danger of seeing one of its most prized recruit walk away for good.

Another player Northwestern would very much like to have stick around: Drew Crawford. There was speculation Crawford – who is likely to receive a fifth year of eligibility for a medical hardship waiver after injuring his shoulder and missing most of last season – would seek to play out his college career in another uniform, provided Carmody was released at the end of the season.

There has been no word of Crawford’s intentions since Carmody was fired, but Collins will need to outline his plan for pushing Northwestern into the NCAA Tournament picture this season to convince Crawford his best option is to remain in Evanston for his final season. If Collins’ pitch is unconvincing, or Crawford believes his chances of reaching the postseason are more realistic at another program, it would not be surprising to see him transfer – which, needless to say, would be a huge blow to the Wildcats’ Big Dance aspirations.

Assistants

When a head coach is fired, a couple of things can happen. Assistants are immediately pushed out, willingly or unwillingly, and left to fend for themselves on the open market. The other option is staying home, trying to develop common ground with the new head coach (in this case, Collins) and moving forward under a new chief operator. Northwestern’s assistants – namely Fred Hill and Tavaras Hardy – haven’t released notice (publicly) whether they intend to bridge the Carmody-Collins gap, or seek new jobs elsewhere.

The Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein reported knowledge from an “industry source” that Hardy has been offered high-profile assistant jobs both inside and outside the Big Ten. Hardy played at Northwestern, and helped recruit both Crawford and JerShonn Cobb, who was suspended last season for “violations of team policy.” Hardy has ties to AAU coaches in the area, a natural personal connection with players and,  based off Greenstein’s report, appears to be a coveted entity on the coaching market. Losing him would leave Northwestern without one of its most effective teachers and individual developers of talent, plus an accomplished local recruiter.

Meanwhile, Hill is seen as Northwestern’s most direct link to Sina – During his time bossing Rutgers’ sidelines (2006-2010), Hill was the first head coach to offer Sina a scholarship. Lose Hill, and Sina could be just as quickly out the door.

Facilities

When people disparage Northwestern basketball, its anqituated facilities are on the short list of common critiques. Welsh-Ryan arena is an outdated facility, and the Wildcats’ practice courts don’t come close to some of the other programs across the Big Ten. And Collins, according to reports, isn’t in a hurry to make any immediate demands on that front. Sources from Greenstein’s article said Collins didn’t inquire about upgrading Welsh-Ryan or the practice facilities any time soon; after all, Cameron Indoor Stadium isn’t exactly a bastion of college hoops modernity.

At the outset, Collins won’t be pressing athletic director Jim Phillips to move quickly on more facilities upgrades; that and his lenient exigency for a loosening of academic standards leads one to believe Collins can function smoothly and successfully in a position that, at times, seemed to hold back both Carmody and the larger progress of the program.

Pedigree and Personality

It can’t hurt to have “Team USA staffer (2006-2012)” on your portfolio, nor does working under the winningest coach in Division I history reflect poorly on your job credentials. Collins has both of those things working for him, and his promotion to associate head coach at Duke in 2008 speaks to his steady rise on Coach K’s reputable staff. Beyond the simple resume minutiae is Collins’ energetic personality, which – according to Greenstein – Northwestern likens to a “basketball Fitz.”

If that claim has any merit, then Northwestern is getting a charismatic and engaging personality – the diametric opposite of the laid back and often outwardly dispassionate demeanor exhibited by Carmody on a daily basis. For recruits and boosters and the general vigor of the program, a vivacious and animated program figurehead inspires confidence that the program is headed in the right direction.

If Collins’ employment pedigree doesn’t do it for you, what then do you make of his family ties – the fact that his father, Doug Collins, is currently the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, currently considered one of the most perceptive and tactically sharp basketball minds in the sport and a coach who (especially if removed from his current post following this season, a very real possibility) could help ease son Chris into his first head coaching job.

What Northwestern fans desire most, more than any big-name coach or five star recruit, is to win, and to win in the NCAA Tournament (just getting there would bea nice first step). By all accounts, Collins – head coach or no – has been there unfailingly during his time at Duke. For 13 years, Collins helped build, develop and craft Tournament-bound rosters, and now that he has complete control, rest assured the winning culture he helped maintain at Duke will rub off on Northwestern’s Tournament fortunes.