Don't freak out just yet. This is just the publication of a staff thread discussing hypotheticals. I repeat, this is just discussing HYPOTHETICALS. Chris Collins is not leaving Northwestern, as far as we know.
Josh Rosenblat: It was just weeks ago when Henry Bushnell and I were driving back from filming part of a documentary on former Northwestern football player Kyle Prater in his hometown of Maywood, Ill., when we were discussing what it would take for Northwestern's head basketball coach Chris Collins to leave. We reasoned about when he could leave, what job would be most enticing to him and how much success he would have to have at Northwestern before leaving or before he has had too much success to leave. One of the jobs we discussed was Florida -- this was before Billy Donovan was hired by the Oklahoma City Thunder -- and I believe that the Gator higher-ups at least mentioned Collins' name in some preliminary discussion before crossing off his name before they got serious about gauging candidates' interest. While Florida obviously went in a different direction than Collins, it did surprise me to see Minnesota's Richard Pitino be thrown around as a top candidate for the job. That got me thinking. Are we sure Pitino is a good coach and that Collins doesn't have the same appeal? Through two seasons, what is Collins' attachment to Northwestern? What would it take for him to leave in terms of success, jobs and time at Northwestern? How has his stock changed and what can it do to change? Could there be a point in the near future where Wildcat fans may have to sweat out rumors about Collins moving elsewhere and at what point might that be?
Ben Goren: I don't see how his stock could be THAT high just yet. He's recruited well at NU, but there are two concerns I would have about Collins if I was at a top level program. One, he hasn't had any on court success yet. Two, there are exactly zero parallels between coaching at NU and coaching at a school like Florida. Now if Collins gets to the NCAA tournament soon? All bets are off.
Daniel Rapaport: I have a hard time believing he'd leave in the next few years, just because of the whole "NU Era" marketing plan and all his talk about changing the program's culture. Sure, any coach taking over a program with such a profound lack of success is going to talk like that, but wouldn't it look sort of scummy for Collins to abandon the rebuilding project? I also think any discussion as to whether a coach would accept a job is incomplete without at least acknowledging financials. I haven't seen any specifics as to what Northwestern is paying Collins--most estimates hover around the $1.3 million range--but money talks, and the more money the louder it talks. If a school offers Collins something significantly more than he's currently getting paid, you have to believe he--and his agent-- will take a good, long look. Wouldn't you consider leaving your current workplace for a 100% or more increase in salary?
Rosenblat: When talking of money, I think it's important to mention that Northwestern would be willing to adjust his salary to keep it competitive. In that respect, I think we should keep this discussion, at least at first, to what is considered "success" and what is considered to make up Collins' "stock."
Coaches, like players, are often judged on potential with program-to-program parallels being hard to find. In a vacuum, Ben's right that Collins' stock isn't THAT high. Yet. But I think his pedigree (his Duke career and his father, Doug, are real assets of his) and proven recruiting acumen (without having on-court success) are super appealing to programs. If he has on-court success in the next couple of season, I think he'll be thinking long and hard about the long-range potential of Northwestern's basketball program. And it's this calculation of long-range success that could be the final determining factor about how long he may stay at Northwestern.
Zach Pereles: One of the biggest things, I think, to look at is where the Northwestern basketball program is right now. Has Collins done great things on the recruiting path? Sure. Are people more excited at the prospect of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a while? Yes. Is Northwestern basketball considered to be on the upswing? Definitely. But let's look at what Collins has done record-wise. Not much. Although there is certainly positivity surrounding the program, neither of his teams have made the NCAA Tournament and neither have been anywhere near close to making it, either. It would be unreasonable to think that a guy still in the midst of his rebuilding would go elsewhere. In fact, it remains to be seen if his rebuilding will ever come to fruition. We know how tirelessly Collins recruits, and we know he's a fantastic motivator. But until Collins has established himself as a great in-game coach and until Northwestern at least makes the NCAA Tournament a couple times, he won't be leaving Evanston.
Jason Dorow: I'm thinking along the same wavelength as Ben and Josh here. Collins doesn't have the on-court success at this point to command serious consideration for top-tier jobs like the opening at Florida. Heck, he hasn't even won 30 games as a head coach. That said, his basketball pedigree and recruiting success (at Northwestern and at Duke) are huge assets in the coaching market.
I really doubt Collins considers leaving for anything but a job at a powerhouse like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Florida, and none of those schools are going to come calling yet. Like Danny said, we've heard so much about how this is a process and soon enough NU will be making the tournament and competing on a national stage. If and when that does happen, we can talk about where Collins might be headed because there is a definite ceiling to what can be achieved at Northwestern.
Goren: Sounds like you're accepting mediocrity, Jason.
Could Collins' style of play be a turn off for bigger schools too? I'm not sure athletic departments would be super stoked about hiring a relatively untested recruiter who plays one of the slowest games in the country. Maybe I'm off base.
Pereles: Ben, you bring up a good point, but it also begs the question of which came first: the chicken or the egg? Does Northwestern play slow because that's Collins' style? Or is the Wildcats' pace limited due to their personnel?
No offense to Alex Olah, but he's not exactly the guy to sprint end-to-end in transition. Northwestern tried to make a concerted effort to feed Olah (although they certainly could have given him more looks). Will Northwestern look to run more with Joey van Zegeren? I would think so. The team isn't really built to run right now. Additionally, while slow pace might turn off some recruits, there are definitely recruits willing to play at a slow pace. Wisconsin was actually below Northwestern in possessions per game as was Virginia. Both constantly get good recruits-- Virginia has the top recruiting class in 2016 according to 247. Even Florida played just over one possession per game faster than this year's Northwestern bunch. If you run a slow pace effectively, it can be majorly successful. In general, I don't think "playing a slow pace" would be a negative when big programs consider Collins as a possible coaching candidate.
Henry Bushnell: To bring this back to Josh's initial prompt, I think we all agree that Collins isn't all that close to being seriously considered right now. But I think the compelling discussion is all about hypotheticals.
For me, there's a really intriguing dynamic here, because there's two different questions. One is what it would take for Collins to be considered for bigger jobs. The other is if he would leave. And both answers obviously depend on how much success he has. As Josh wrote, "We reasoned about... how much success he would have to have at Northwestern before leaving or before he has had too much success to leave."
I'm of the belief that he wouldn't get a big time job just based on potential (the one outlier here might be the Duke job, but we can discuss that later). He'd have to get Northwestern to the Tournament, or at least get close multiple times, before he's a finalist for a Florida-level gig. And importantly, naturally, his stock would be highest immediately after that season that he got there, or when it was clear the program was trending upwards (think Tim Miles and Nebraska; he was the hot name last year, but now, not so much). So essentially, Collins' decision of whether or not to leave would likely have to be made immediately after a season in which he took Northwestern to new heights, and it would probably have to be made when the future of the program looked extremely bright.
So in the end, if he does have enough success to get an offer from a program -- and I think it's important to point out that that is still a big ‘if' -- he's going to have to evaluate himself and the program he has built. He'll have to ask himself the question: Was the success, whether it's a Tournament berth or otherwise, a fluke? Or is it a sign of things to come? If he believes it's sustainable, then it's tough to see him leaving, because the same amount of success that would bring him the offers would also convince him that he can have more of that success right here in Evanston. But if he thinks there's a strict cap on NU's potential as a program, then he might jump at a bigger offer. That's the dilemma, and I think it's the crux of the matter.
TL;DR -- If Collins gets NU to the Tourney, does he say, ‘okay, mission accomplished, now onto a program with a higher ceiling'? Or does he think ‘this is only the beginning, I can establish Northwestern as a legitimate year-in, year-out contender'?
Goren: No coach since ever has looked in the mirror and seen their success as a fluke. To be good, you have to know you're good, even if you're not. If Collins leaves, it's not because he thinks that long term success at NU isn't feasible. It's going to be because he thinks his job is done or that an offer is just too good to pass up. I don't think it would take too good of a job offer to come to Collins for him to leave. I've never talked to Collins (so feel free to discount everything I say), but his goals seem significantly loftier than NU. It's not like Fitz who's a local guy who went to NU and trained to be a head coach at NU. If Collins got a call from someone like Fitz got a call from Michigan, I think he bounces. I just don't think he's done enough to get that call yet.
Jason: I think Collins is driven to bring this program far beyond one tournament appearance. At last season's Big Ten media day, he stressed NU would be "nationally relevant" one day, and he's hung his hat on this developing process. And I don't think he's wrong in thinking Northwestern can be a tournament team year in and year out. That level of play isn't in the near future, but the resources are in place for that to be a possibility down the road.
A tournament team is much different from national relevancy though. Is NU ever going to be consistently competing for conference titles or ranking among the nation's top 20? Highly unlikely. I think Collins knows the growth will eventually plateau, and if he gets the ‘Cats to the tourney, or at least very close multiple times, there will be job offers. Really good, Florida-type offers. And that could happen in two years. Or it could be 10 years. We'll have to wait and see. Just know that if Duke comes calling, all bets are off.
Bushnell: On that "nationally relevant" point... just going to throw this out there: Do you guys think that deep down in the bottom of his heart, Collins actually believes that?
Goren: Yeah he has to. I think he's wrong, because there are way too many structural things keeping Northwestern from getting there (and I think that's totally OK but that's a discussion for another day), but yeah, when coaches say "we want to compete for championships" they really do mean it. Shoot, if freaking Butler can make 2 Final Fours in a row, who can blame a coach for having seemingly unreasonably high goals?
Rosenblat: I think Collins knows there's a ceiling at Northwestern. But I also think he believes that no one really knows what that ceiling is. And I think this idea of a ceiling all goes back to the point about how much success would Collins need to have in order to move on to a "better" job. Jason illustrated that point beautifully above. This program doesn't have the infrastructure to become "nationally relevant." I think Collins could bring sparks of relevancy but I'm not sure those sparks will ever string together to establish something lasting. That's why I think he could leave after a few sparks.
Well, he has let loose these fireworks...
...but he's still here.
Check back tomorrow for Part II where we discuss the looming retirement of Mike Krzyzewski and other things.