Men’s Basketball: Lengthy Collins extension secures Northwestern’s ‘destination’ status


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Chris Collins watches during the NCAA Tournament. The men’s basketball coach received a contract extension that runs through the 2024-25 season.

Cole Paxton, Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

CHICAGO — Before last season began, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips wanted to extend basketball coach Chris Collins’ contract.

“We hadn’t done anything. He’d been here for four years, signed an original seven-year contract, and it was time for us to do that,” Phillips said. “You can’t recruit with three years left.”

Then, Collins made history by taking the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament and winning a game there. Though Phillips said those accomplishments did not add pressure to contract negotiations, the extension was nonetheless a symbolic action that secured Collins’ future in Evanston.

NU officially announced his extension at a news conference Tuesday — as it did for football coach Pat Fitzgerald — lengthening Collins’ deal for seven years through the 2024-25 season. Though financial terms were not disclosed, Phillips alluded that Collins will receive significantly more than the $1.34 million he reportedly earned last season, which made him the lowest-paid coach in the Big Ten.

“I came here to be the Northwestern coach for a long time,” Collins said. “That’s what this commitment does. I want to be here. I love it, and I’m excited to be the coach for a long, long time.”

When Collins arrived in Evanston in 2013 as a rookie head coach, he did not inherit a program that generated much excitement. The Wildcats had never made the NCAA Tournament and did not finish higher than seventh in the Big Ten in any of the seven seasons preceding his takeover.

The inaugural years of the Collins era were also a challenge, as NU finished with sub-.500 records and low Big Ten finishes in each of his first two seasons. But the closeness of his relationship with Phillips convinced him of his security.

“He was the one who always kept me going through those kinds of (tough) times,” Collins said. “I never even worried … We’ve always worked hand in hand since day one.”

Then things improved. The Cats won a school-record 20 games two years ago, then finally broke through last season with their maiden NCAA Tournament appearance.

In many ways, the program had finally arrived on the national scale. At long last, the country knew NU basketball for something other than its seven decades of futility.

And Collins wanted to stay.

“When the season was over and this presented itself, it was something I wanted to do,” he said. “When Jim brought it up … it wasn’t hard for me to say yes, because that is what was in my heart.”

Collins turned a program mired in mediocrity for generations into a respectable one at the very least. But he also became arguably the first NU coach in history to be an attractive candidate on the coaching market.

As a Duke graduate and assistant at his alma mater before coming to Evanston, Collins has often been linked to that head coaching job — so much so that he was asked the “Duke question” Tuesday if he would leave to coach the Blue Devils. According to his words, however, the 43-year-old Collins sees no reason to leave.

“I’ve never viewed this as not being a destination. It’s home,” Collins said. “This is where I’m going to be, and I couldn’t be more excited about that.”

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Twitter: @ckpaxton