EVANSTON – Just five years ago, he was the toast of the town after putting an end to a streak that hovered over the Northwestern men’s basketball program for their entire existence.
Chris Collins led the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament birth since the inception of the program in the early 1900s in the 2016-2017 season. Not only did they make the “Big Dance,” but they got a win as well, knocking off Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City before eventually falling to top seed Gonzaga in the second round.
But since that moment, it’s been a difficult road for Collins at Northwestern as the team has failed to have a winning season the last five years.
Despite that, new Wildcats athletic director Dr. Derrick Gragg is going to stick with the head coach for another season, announcing that Collins will return for the 2022-2023 season on Monday afternoon. At the same time, he made it be known that change must happen with a program that’s lost momentum over the last half-decade.
Collins has a 132-148 overall record including a 56-113 mark in Big Ten play.
“Coach Collins and I met today to discuss the high expectations we have for our men’s basketball program, and the path forward for it. At the conclusion of a challenging season, I share in the disappointment felt by our staff and avid fans,” said Dr. Gragg in a statement released by the school. “As our Wildcats enter the offseason, we are committed to evaluating all aspects of the program on and off the court to ensure we are supporting this team with the foundation necessary to compete and win in the nation’s best college basketball conference.
“I have tasked Coach Collins with making necessary changes to build towards success in the 2022-23 campaign. I am extremely grateful to all our supporters for their dedication and, most importantly, to our student-athletes for always representing our University with pride and passion.”
Collins will need a turnaround in his tenth season in Evanston in order to stay with a program that he had on the rise in the middle of the last decade when they posted back-to-back 20-win seasons in 2015-2016 (20) and 2016-2017 (24). The run to the NCAA Tournament in the latter year was one of the most celebrated stories of “March Madness” in 2017, with the hope that it would lead to sustained success.
Instead, the program hasn’t come close to duplicating that in the five seasons since, with the team failing to post a winning season while accumulating an overall record of 60-90. This past season was the best since the tournament appearance with the Wildcats going 15-16 with seven Big Ten victories, the most since the 2016-2017 campaign.
Now Collins will get a chance to build on that as he looks to ensure his future in a program he had on the rise not that long ago.