By Chris Emma-
In the first of a periodical series this summer, “A day with Coach,” CBSChicago.com college sports columnist Chris Emma spent a day with Northwestern basketball coach Chris Collins at Evanston’s Dewey Elementary School as he volunteered with children in physical education class.
EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — Any other Friday morning will find Chris Collins trapped in his office, swamped with game film and recruiting plans, but this past Friday was different. It brought out his other passion, aside from basketball. Working with kids.
Hundreds of children, kindergarten through third grade, gathered before Collins and Northwestern faculty at Evanston’s Dewey Elementary School. It was time for gym class, and the coach became a P.E. teacher.
For a father of a young son and daughter, a day of volunteering with children is a true treat. It also brought back fond memories of his childhood, where an affection for sports began to develop.
“There are so many times I can remember going in the front yard as a kid and playing make-believe games where I was both teams, shooting the buzzer shots,” Collins recalled.
On Friday morning, Collins was kicking soccer balls to kindergartners and leading a game of “500” for a group of eager second-graders. Then, the older kids showed up. The third-grade class took to the field, and Collins immediately grabbed two basketballs and led a group to the courts.
A game of “Knockout” started up, with the former Duke standout squaring off with the third-graders. That smooth jump shot made an appearance, and a little bit of Collins’ competitive side came out.
Did you think he was going to let third-graders beat him? Not in the game which brings such a strong thirst.
“I’ve always loved the game and still do to this day,” Collins said.
Collins is the ultimate competitor, something that stems from his father, former NBA coach Doug Collins. He steered away from offers from private high schools and prestigious basketball programs because he wanted the tall task of leading a futile Glenbrook North team to a winning tradition. He used skeptics of his potential at Duke as motivation to improve.
That same drive was injected into Collins’ coaching career, which started at age 24 as an assistant with the WNBA’s Detroit Shock. It’s now stronger than ever as the Wildcats’ coach.
It takes a true competitor to accept the challenge of leading Northwestern’s basketball program. It led him away from the history and winning tradition of Duke to a new journey.
“This situation at Northwestern, with what we’re trying to build — trying to take another step to get to a level of success that’s never happened in the program — to me, that’s exciting,” Collins said. “To some, it might be scary or daunting. To me, it’s exciting. It’s something I’m passionate about.”
Beyond the opportunity, the challenge and prestige, Collins had greater reason to take Northwestern’s coaching offer. It provided the opportunity to raise his young family in Chicago’s suburbs, his home.
Collins makes his home a short drive from Welsh-Ryan Arena, allowing him to be with his family as often as possible. Even with the demands of an incredibly taxing job, Collins still secures time to spend with his wife, Kim, and two children.
“To be able to come back to this area that I love, to have my kids grow up in this area and to be a part of this community that I was, it’s great,” Collins said.
“When I get free time, I like to be with my family. That, to me, is what’s the most worthwhile.”
Days like Friday are still special for Collins. He works a dream job in the community he loves. Playing “Knockout” with a group of third-graders is just another enjoyable duty of his role.
When the day’s activities came to a close and Dewey Elementary School said goodbye to its P.E. teacher of the day, Collins drove home to be with his family.
Of all his passions, none could be greater than that.
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBS Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.