Northwestern announced the hiring of Duke associate head coach Chris Collins as its new head coach last week, and on Tuesday, the Collins era will officially begin in Evanston with an introductory press conference. There was little drama in this coaching search — everyone knew all along the job was Collins’ if he wanted it, and he took it, citing the chance to come home (he’s a Northbrook, Illinois, native) and lead a high-major program. But Northwestern isn’t just any high-major program. Truthfully, it could be the toughest job in all of college basketball. The Wildcats have never been to the NCAA Tournament, and while their last coach, Bill Carmody — a terrific coach in his own right — got NU to heights it had never seen before, the program still lagged far behind most of the Big Ten as far as sustained success goes. Carmody was in Evanston for 13 years and the challenges got even tougher for him throughout his tenure, as he explained in his final press conference.
“There’s not much different now about what Northwestern offers than it was when Kevin O’Neill was here and (Ricky) Byrdsong and Bill Foster and all those,” he said. “So everyone knows, people have talked about it, it’s sort of like an arms race. So the gap might be widening that way.” These challenges — particularly the lack of good facilities and Northwestern’s stringent academic standards — will still be there for Collins. The question now is if NU is willing to do anything to change them, or if Collins will have to work around them. Facilities-wise, the football program is currently receiving its long-awaited face-lift, so it’s unlikely that basketball will get a similar upgrade in the near future. But what about academics, which could potentially be changed right away? Nobody is expecting NU to accept everyone who applies, but right now, the perception is that the Wildcats won’t bend for good players like Duke, and maybe even Harvard, will.