When Chris Collins took the Northwestern job in 2013, a lot of people thought the former Duke star and assistant coach had lost his mind.
Nobody succeeded at Northwestern. Nobody.
Bill Foster failed there after succeeding at Rutgers, Utah and Duke. Ricky Byrdsong and Kevin O’ Neill, both seen as promising young assistants, saw their careers derailed there (that’s not entirely fair to Birdsong, who was murdered two years after his Northwestern tenure ended).
Bill Carmody, who had done well at Princeton, made the NIT for four years in a row, but that’s not a mark of success anymore. His old Princeton boss, the legendary Pete Carroll, said “well, I guess you know what you’re doing.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement.
So when Collins took the job, people were dubious. He was a Coach K protegé and could walk into any number of better jobs.
But like his old boss, Collins is a Chicago kid and he was excited about coaching back home.
For the first four seasons, Collins turned in successively better records and in 2016-17, he took the Wildcats somewhere they had never been and many thought they would never go, namely the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats beat Vandy in their first game and lost to powerful Gonzaga by just six.
Things kind of went south for a while after that.
Northwestern finished 5-17 in 2017-18, 13-19 in 2018-19, 8-22 I 2019-20, 9-15 in 2020-21 and 15-16 last season.
When the season began, Collins was rumored to be on the hot seat.
Not so much anymore.
Northwestern is 18-7, and after a monumental upset of Purdue Sunday night, now tied for second place in the Big Ten.
We don’t know for sure, but our guess is this is the latest they’ve ever been high as #2 in the Big Ten and also that this may be the biggest upset in Northwestern history.
Northwestern looks like they’re in line for another tournament bid and while few coaches get fired after making the field, at Northwestern, getting two is going to get you closer to canonization.