The toughest part of getting Chris Collins as Northwestern's coach was apparently the dinner.
We spent Wednesday night waiting and joking about why Collins' hiring was delayed as he reportedly had dinner with Morty Schapiro - my guess is still Bat 17 - but the doubt was never there. Collins had been reported as Northwestern's leading candidate pretty much from the moment his predecessor, Bill Carmody was fired. And with no drama and the only suspense jokes about Evanston eateries, he went from frontrunner to coach.
When Northwestern fired Bill Carmody, I was a little bit worried. Not to rehash the argument surrounding why Northwestern fired the man who brought them the most successful four-year stretch in school history, but retaining Carmody was the move that risked the least. NU would have had another outside shot at tourney success in 2013-2014, and hopefully he could have continued recruiting and had better opportunities in the future.
Firing Carmody, on the other hand, gave NU the opportunity to vie for change and try to spark a program that's historically spark-resistent. But it also brought about a distinct prospect of failure. It's exceedingly rare that a team fire a coach and get the guy they had hoped for. Minnesota just fired Tubby Smith in hopes of getting Shaka Smart, Smart has already signed an extension at VCU. Last year, Illinois fired Bruce Weber, and went through a slew of candidates turning them down - Collins was a name tossed around, although he never interviewed - before settling on John Groce, a hire that's turned out pretty well considering he was, by all accounts, a fifth or sixth choice. This past offseason, Tennessee fired their football coach and dealt with the ignominy of multiple candidates saying Tennessee football wasn't their dream job.
And Northwestern is not those programs. It's an outlier for failure out of 75 or so major conference schools. It plays in a gym that for its meager size, is not particularly charming or nice. It has brutally low fan support. We like to joke, but Northwestern basketball is really a remarkably unappealing scenario.
Although I held out hope for Collins and a few other candidates I felt were slightly weaker, I understood the gravity inherent with firing Carmody. There's a chance Northwestern could have ended up with somebody the school didn't want, someone completely unprepared for the task ahead, a chance that the school could have been not just worse off, but significantly worse off.
You know, Rihanna, I just never believed you. Not that I've been to a lot of hopeless places - I've never been to any war-torn countries, , spent little time in wards for diseases with unknown cures, and only driven through Gary, Indiana briefly - but they've never seemed like fertile breeding grounds for romance. And I'm fairly certain Northwestern basketball is one. We know hopelessness; it's when everything looks like it will turn out well, and all of a sudden there's a Jared Sullinger-shaped hole in your will to do anything besides bond with your fellow man over how futile everything is.
But this is love. Jim Phillips and Northwestern love Chris Collins for so many reasons. He's young and exciting - yes, like Pat Fitzgerald - successful, local and experienced dealing with a program with academic requirements. Collins loves Northwestern because he gets the opportunity to be a head coach for the first time at a place relatively familiar to him, and is willing to put up with Northwestern's flaws - in fact, in the case of academics, he seems thrilled to take on the challenge.
It seems both came into their meeting in Atlanta Monday wanting to impress the other - NU knew Collins was the frontrunner, but wanted to make sure they could get him, and yet reportedly came away somehow more impressed than they were before after Collins hit all the talking points that Phillips and crew were supposedly worried about.
Somehow, this worked. I'm genuinely baffled not only that Northwestern got its leading candidate, but that that leading candidate is apparently as excited as NU. And to see NU twitter blow up last night with fans thrilled about the coaching hire - well, it was fun to be a part of.
I didn't expect this to be easy. If you could've told me we'd have two weeks and the school would land its first choice, axing Carmody would've seemed like an easy choice well in the past.
Of course, nothing will tell us whether or not Collins is a good coach for Northwestern. Not how passionate he is, not his past successes, or, for that matter, Northwestern's past failures, and definitely not how easy this search went. But for now, NU got the guy who seems like the best available, and that's as well as you can do.