By Mark Singer
Even if this season ends in Salt Lake City Thursday, Chris Collins has firmly cemented his legacy as the greatest basketball coach in Northwestern history. Now the question for Collins is, does he want to add to his legacy in Evanston or somewhere else?
Judging by his comments on Selection Sunday, Collins doesn’t seem poised to leave this team anytime soon.
“This is not the end game,” he said after the Wildcats secured the No. 8 seed in the West Sunday. “To me, this is the beginning of Northwestern basketball.”
The complete lack of success at Northwestern actually helped the school pull Collins away from coach Mike Krzyzewski’s shadow at Duke four years ago.
“I am my own guy,” Collins said on April 2, 2013, his first day as head coach at Northwestern. “I am going to blaze my own path, and this is the right place for me to do that.”
Besides Collins’s comments from Sunday and April 2013, Northwestern fans can also look at his recent actions as an indication of his commitment to the Wildcats. After the 2014-15 season, Collins signed a multiyear contact extension that he said would keep him in Evanston for the “foreseeable future.”
Nonetheless, the possibility of Collins leaving Northwestern can’t be ruled out.
“I definitely think people expect him, when he gets success, to leave,” junior guard Scottie Lindsey said. “But he’s already built something special here. Why would you leave that?”
To take over one of the top programs in the country, perhaps.
While Collins, 42, brought the Northwestern men’s basketball team to the school’s relative mountaintop with the Wildcats’s first NCAA Tournament berth, he merely accomplished the ordinary in relation to elite coaches at prestigious programs.
Take, for instance, Collins’s mentor at his alma mater, Duke’s Krzyzewski. After leading the Blue Devils to the NCAA Tournament for a 33rd time Sunday, “Coach K” broke a tie with Syracuse’s Jim Boehim for the most trips to the tournament by an active coach.
Coach K set the record under difficult circumstances. The coach was forced to miss seven games after undergoing back surgery in January to remove a fragment of a herniated disc. This comes after having knee replacement surgery last April and inguinal hernia surgery a month later.
Krzyzewski said he doesn’t have “plans for the future” last summer, but it’s unclear how much longer the 70-year-old coach will remain at the head of Duke’s bench. Current Duke assistant Jim Capel, who went 4-3 as interim coach while Krzyzewski recovered from his back surgery, is rumored to be a leading candidate to replace Coach K when that day comes.
Another leading name is a former Duke assistant: Collins. Duke appears to be one of the only schools, if not the only, which could tempt Collins into leaving Northwestern.
ESPN’s Andy Katz said Collins is a strong contender to replace Coach K, but the veteran college basketball reporter also noted he doesn’t think Collins will leave Evanston anytime soon.
“I would [be surprised if Collins left Northwestern],” Katz wrote in an email. “I think he wants to forge his own path.”
After accomplishing in four years what others at Northwestern couldn’t in the previous 74 years, Collins has cemented the first steps of his path. Whether that path leads to Tobacco Road remains to be seen.