Big Ten

Duke chatter unlikely to stop, but newly extended Chris Collins wants to be at Northwestern: 'There's no reason for me to look elsewhere'

Duke chatter unlikely to stop, but newly extended Chris Collins wants to be at Northwestern: 'There's no reason for me to look elsewhere'

OK, guys. You can stop talking about Chris Collins and the Duke job now.

It's unrealistic to assume that in the modern era of college sports speculation over coaching changes will ever completely cease. But Northwestern and its head men's basketball coach made some pretty definitive statements Tuesday over Collins' future, mainly that it will be in Evanston. Not Durham or anywhere else.

"I always wanted to have the opportunity to coach at a place that I could call home," Collins said Tuesday after the announcement of his new contract extension that keeps him as the Wildcats' head coach through the 2024-25 season. "Fit is so important on every level. Northwestern is a fit for me and my family and our staff. I love the people there. I love the commitment from the university, the leadership, to see what we've been able to build over the last four years and how everyone has supported that.

"It was never about being here to go somewhere else. I came to Northwestern to be the Northwestern coach for a long time. ... 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."

It's no shock that Collins potentially leaving for greener pastures would be a talking point. He's done a remarkable job in just four seasons at Northwestern, transforming a perennial basement-dweller into a winning Big Ten program. This past season he guided the Cats to a program-record 24 wins, the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament, the program's first-ever NCAA tournament appearance and a win in its first-ever NCAA tournament game.

Collins keeps racking up resume-building victories and earning commitments from the highest-rated recruits the program has ever seen. This season could be another milestone campaign with four starters returning from last year's team.

Then throw in Collins' history prior to arriving at Northwestern, his nearly 20 years in Mike Krzyzewski's Duke program as a player and an assistant coach. Coach K's advancing age means he won't coach at Duke forever, and if he retires soon, why wouldn't Collins be at the top of Duke's wishlist?

But Northwestern has plenty going for it, too. A product of Glenbrook North High School, Collins has long called Chicagoland home. He also has the opportunity to do something that would be impossible at Duke, and that's building his own program and leaving his own legacy.

It might sound bizarre considering that as recently as two months ago Northwestern had never played in the NCAA tournament, but why can't Collins do at Northwestern what Coach K did at Duke? Establishing an academic powerhouse as one of the top basketball programs in one of the best conferences in America sounds kind of familiar.

"The first thing he always told me was, 'Go be yourself, don't try to be me.' But seeing what could be done at places like that, I use that as motivation," Collins said. "I felt this was a great spot for me. I felt a belief from Day 1 that we could be a winning program, we could be a place that you could do it long term, where it wasn't just a quick fix, where you didn't have one team that was good but you could be good year in and year out because of the leadership, because of the resources and everything that Northwestern had to sell. I did, I always believed in my heart we could be here for a long, long time, and I'm glad that's going to be the case.

"I grew up with a famous father, so I've always been motivated by blazing my own trail. I've always wanted to have my own identity and my own legacy and leave my own mark on different places. I viewed this as an opportunity to do that: a great school in my hometown with the opportunity to have tremendous growth in the basketball program and a place I thought I could make my own. I feel like I found that. I love being here and working for (athletics director Jim) Phillips and the administration and the resources that they've given me to continue to build this thing. There's no reason for me to look elsewhere."

Northwestern is pouring a ton of resources into its two highest-profile programs with hopes of ridding any notion it's a stepping stone, attempting to cement a reputation as a destination job in both men's basketball and football. Near decade-long contract extensions for Collins and head football coach Pat Fitzgerald coupled with massive facilities projects in both sports show how serious this academic powerhouse is about sports.

In this industry there's always a perfectly acceptable reason for fans, observers, recruits and whoever else to be wary. Leaving for a different job is as common among college basketball coaches as screaming at referees.

But Collins has good reasons to match words with intent. He has his connections to the area and his opportunity to make his own legacy. He has an awful lot to show for four years on the job. And now he has a hefty financial commitment from his university in the form of his new extension and the stadium renovations at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

You don't have to slam the Duke door shut. But it doesn't seem like you have to worry about Collins sprinting through it anytime soon.

"For me, it's always been about being here. I've never viewed this as not being a destination. It's my home," he said. "I love Northwestern, I love everything about it, I love the people, I love the young men I get to coach, the staff we have on a daily basis. My family loves living here.

"To me this has always been about being here, and that's not going to change. This is where I'm going to be, and I couldn't be more excited about that. I can't wait to see what we can build. We've done some good things, but to me it's just the beginning of what our potential is. And that's what drives me and that's what motivates me to keep this thing going."

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?