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Chris Collins: Duke over Iowa led to Big Ten coaching opportunity

[ 0 ] March 27, 2013 |
Chris Collins. Big Ten ready?

Chris Collins. Big Ten ready?

A successful career often includes a fork in the road. A choice has to be made, one that defines that career.

Duke associate head coach Chris Collins is expected to be named Bill Carmody’s successor at Northwestern according to multiple national media reports. A press conference won’t be held until the Blue Devils’ season is done.

For Collins, the fork in the road was a decision he made before the start of his senior season at Glenbard North High School in suburban Chicago, Ill.; Iowa or Duke?

“Duke kind of came in late to the picture,” Collins said during an interview in January. “There was a great chance I could have ended up at Iowa. And a big reason was how comfortable I felt around the guys. Especially Chris (Street).”

Street was Collins’ official host during his two-day on campus visit.

“I just remember how passionate he was about having a chance to wear that uniform,” Collins said of Street, the Hawkeye star who died in an automobile accident in the middle of his junior season, 20 years ago.

Had Collins gone to Iowa and not Duke, he wouldn’t have worked his way up coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bench. Chances are, he wouldn’t be the next Northwestern coach. But the fork in the road will take him to Evanston.

Instead of playing in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, he’ll coach there while trying to get the Wildcats their first NCAA bid. Ever.

Collins will likely use his Chicago upbringing and connections to passionately recruit the best players in the Windy City and its suburbs. But he’ll do so with the knowledge that the Krzyzewski coaching tree hasn’t produced an abundance of fruit.

From Tommy Amaker to Quin Snyder, Johnny Dawkins to Jeff Capel, it hasn’t been a dead-cinch layup when they’ve headed out on their own.

Amaker is having a nice career at Harvard, but he got fired at Michigan after getting no NCAA invites in six seasons and a Big Ten record eight games under .500. He did get to the tournament once at his first job, Seton Hall. And Harvard knocked off New Mexico in an NCAA first-round upset this year.

Snyder’s time at Missouri ended after an NCAA probation. Snyder started fast with four trips to the NCAA Tournament, including an Elite Eight appearances in 2002, then nosedived.

Dawkins has yet been to the NCAA Tournament in six seasons at Stanford. His 2012 team won the NIT title.

Capel played at Duke, but took a different route to get on Krzyzewski’s staff. He started by working for his father at Old Dominion. Out on his own, he had one NCAA team at Virginia Commonwealth and then jumped to Oklahoma. He had an Elite Eight 30-win team in 2008-09, but followed that up with records of 13-18 and 14-8 and was fired. He’s back at Duke as an assistant to Krzyzewski.

What does that mean for Collins? Nothing, maybe. Yes, he’s never been a head coach before. But can you say Fred Hoiberg? He had never been a head coach, either, when Jamie Pollard went outside the box and hired him at his alma mater. Hoiberg has been a rousing success.

Northwestern is not an easy job. No history. No tradition. No NCAA heritage. Poor facilities. No practice facility. Collins is a smart guy. Something tells me he wouldn’t take the job unless athletic director Jim Phillips promised some upgrades.

Collins’ challenge now is to turn promises into production in a conference that has been known to chew up and spit out many a coach with big dreams.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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