By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) The press conference will be great, no question.
When Northwestern introduces longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins to run its moribund basketball program, the rollout will function nicely as a marketing event. Amid clicking cameras, Collins will stand in front of a sponsored, purple backdrop and extol the virtues of Wildcats hoops, looking every bit the part of a composed, energetic, young leader.
He will say every right thing, and answer every question. His local history, accomplishments and connections will be trumpeted. He’ll pose for the handshake picture, do a round of interviews with radio and TV outlets, and head away when the lights dim.
Only then will we begin to find out if he can coach.
Collins has never actually run a team, spending time as an assistant in the WNBA and at Seton Hall before taking his place on Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke staff in July of 2000. Since then, his official bio states that his “12-year resume at Duke includes an overall record of 356-72.”
That’s a special place, that position at the right hand of college basketball’s demigod, from which his coaching magic is believed to transfer to the latest Chosen One. He follows a line of others using that coveted status as a springboard to head-coaching success. Let’s examine them.
Bob Bender left Coach K’s side in 1989 for Illinois State, where he compiled a record of 60-57 before stepping up to Washington. His subsequent run of four winning seasons in nine years catapulted him to the end of an NBA bench, where he can still be found today.
Next came Tommy Amaker, who took the Seton Hall job in 1997. His tenure there resulted in a 32-36 conference record, one NCAA bid, and three first-round outs in the NIT. He topped that in his six ensuing years at Michigan with zero NCAA bids and a Big Ten record of 43-53. He’s found a happier, less demanding home now, at Harvard.
Quin Snyder emerged from the nest in 1997 to take over for Norm Stewart at Missouri. He led them to the tournament four straight years, but then only a .500 record after that. He was forced out in 2006 after incurring a three-year NCAA probation in 2004, the program marred by scandal over payments to players from coaches. Snyder is currently working as an assistant for a team in Russia.
Johnny Dawkins soaked up the Duke vibes for eleven years before landing a gig at Stanford, where he has spent the last six years compiling a 39-51 Pac-12 record. He is still looking for his first tournament trip.
If Mike Krzyzewski has a coaching tree, it looks like Harvey Updyke got to it. Greatness is not transferred through osmosis.
And there are more concerns, beyond the uninspiring track record of his predecessors. As successful as Collins has been as a recruiter, he will be facing academic restrictions unlike anything he has experienced at Duke, unless AD Jim Phillips has been able to convince his superiors to loosen up a bit. The pool of possibilities will shrink, and the margin for error will be slim.
More importantly, we have no idea if he’s the same kind of mental time bomb as his famously high-strung father. Doug Collins has a beautiful basketball mind, but has imploded under NBA stress in three cities, working on a fourth. High energy has a damaging downside when turned inward, and it’s possible that specific gene carries on the Y-chromosome of coaches. We won’t know it until we see it at some bleak postgame, another Collins with sunken eyes staring down at a stat sheet held by a hand trembling ever so slightly.
Duke bio notwithstanding, he has no coaching record. It has never been his name atop a roster.
When he takes over Northwestern, he’ll bring the certainties of positive immediate attention and brand-name credibility from both his previous job and his last name. But he also brings risk to a program that has long struggled to define itself, pulled in different directions by postseason aspirations and scholarly identity.
Collins and Northwestern may be an ideal fit. It will certainly look and sound that way while it’s still all about appearances.