Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg played his cards perfectly.
On the heels of a historic 2022-23 campaign that saw Northwestern men’s basketball take down the number one team in the country and advance to the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history, Gragg announced on Monday that head coach Chris Collins signed a three-year contract extension that runs through the 2027-28 season.
Overall, Gragg and Northwestern designed the deal magnificently. A three year extension for Collins amply rewards him for his tremendous work with the 2022-23 group while not being so long as to signal a feeling of complacency or contentedness with regard to the state of the program. It creates a much needed sense of stability around the program for the near future while also showing the fanbase that the team is committed to sustained success in the long run.
In particular, the deal is shorter than the first extension Collins received from Northwestern after the 2016-17 season in which he led the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. That extension gave Collins job security for eight seasons (through 2024-25), while this one gives him job security for the next five. This decision to go for a shorter extension is incredibly wise on the part of Gragg and Northwestern because, quite frankly, the circumstances surrounding this extension and the previous one are different in many ways.
In 2017, Northwestern’s run to success was truly unprecedented. At that point, Collins had demonstrated he could lead the program to heights that fans had never seen previously and was rewarded accordingly. For comparison’s sake, the situation around Collins’ first extension is very similar to the circumstances under which Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May was extended in April. He led FAU to their best season by far in program history, just like Collins did with NU in ‘16-17, and was rewarded with a huge extension (10 years in May’s case).
The situation after this season, however, needed to be, and was, viewed differently. The level of success that Northwestern reached was still unprecedented, but not to the level of the 2016-17 squad. The 2022-23 season represented a return to the level of basketball in Evanston that Collins had established was possible with the team six years ago. Therefore, Collins still deserved to be rewarded handsomely. His work with this years team should not be overlooked by any means, but it was different than the way he was rewarded after 2016-17. A three year extension accomplishes this goal by still giving Collins an ample reward for a job well done, but not so extreme of a reward to waver from an expectation of continued success in the near future.
The other, and arguably more important, reason why a three year extension through 2027-28 is perfect for Collins, is recruiting. Before he was extended, he was only under contract for two more seasons. That meant that when he was out on the recruiting trail, he could only assure recruits that he would be around for at most the first two years of their playing careers in Evanston.
Now, with a three year extension in place, he can pitch to recruits for the next two years classes that he will be their coach for the entirety of their careers alongside evidence that his approach to winning basketball games can lead to success. In particular, he can point to the development of Boo Buie over the course of his four seasons as evidence that if a player were to come to Evanston and stick it out under Collins for four years, then they could have similar results.
After 2016-17, Northwestern saw an immediate jump in recruiting, with their national recruiting class ranking skyrocketing from 135th in 2017 to 33rd in 2018. This mark of 33rd in the country represents the highest ranking in school history. Now, Wildcat fans can expect similar success on the recruiting trail in large part due to the stability that Collins’ extension provides. This certainty combined with Northwestern’s success in the transfer portal makes Evanston a very intriguing destination for recruits in the near future. Look for Collins and his staff to hit the trail hard over the course of this offseason to try and secure some highly rated recruits.
Overall, everyone involved in negotiating this extension deserves tremendous credit. It acknowledges and rewards the success of last season while not going overboard and gives Collins a stable basis on which to try and continue to build a sustained winning product on the floor.