Perhaps it's his youthful exuberance that makes Northwestern's Chris Collins such a popular man in the world of college basketball. While the Big Ten conference remains riddled with several veteran, aging coaches, Collins provides a fresh faced alternative that promises hope for the mired Wildcat program. Don't believe the hype? Just ask Coach K.
"He’s been with me for over a decade and he’s been terrific. Not good, terrific," Krzyzewski said after former assistant at Duke University was hired by Northwestern. "He’s got a great basketball mind, competitive personality. (He’s) a team guy. He’s a great guy, but he’s a great basketball guy, too. Anybody who would get one of my guys would get somebody pretty special."
From 2000-2013, Collins served at his alma mater under the legendary Coach K. Having played for Krzyzewski during the early 1990's, Collins' familiarity with the system allowed for a perfect fit over the course of his thirteen year tenure. Together, the two were able to lead the Blue Devils to three Final Four appearances, as well as the school's fourth national championship in 2010. Most would call that quite a success.
But it's not just his past successes that makes Collins such a hot commodity for his new team. Collins' communal involvement has played a major role in galvanizing local support around the Northwestern program. Since his hire in 2013, he has spent much of his time touring Chicago, promoting Wildcat basketball. Whether it be throwing out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game, serving free food to students on the Northwestern campus or championing the program mantra "Chicago's Big Ten Team", Collins has worked to revive the city's collegiate basketball culture. By bringing relevancy to a big conference program, the possibilities for growth are endless.
While much of his fanfare is derived off the court, his passion for Northwestern shines equally when on it. To call Chris Collins a basketball nut would be the understatement of the century. Just check out his reaction to a no-call during last season's matchup against Ohio State:
This display of enthusiasm is far from an isolated incident. Collins is one of the few coaches that can be found sweating in practices as hard as his players, and according to former Wildcat Dave Sobolewski, this energy makes a big difference for his players.
"Its [feels] like he’s with us out on the court." said Sobolewski of his head coach in 2013. "He’s unbelievably invested in this program and this team, so we’re excited to take the court with him."
Collins' energy also plays into his goal of creating a distinct culture within the program. When asked of the brand basketball he wanted Northwestern to play, he responded "We’re gonna be a competitive team, we’re gonna be a feisty team and a team that plays hard every night we play."
"We want to be a team every night that people know when they play against us that we’re gonna fight 'em for forty minutes. That’s something you get through culture. We play hard, we compete. We’re a blue collar team."
While already evident, the head coach's long-term commitment to the program was made official last month when he signed a multi-year extension with the university. While the contents of the deal are undisclosed, it locks him into the program he cares so much about for the long run.
"I want to be at Northwestern and love what we're doing." he said after the announcement.
In many ways, Chris Collins is just getting started.