Now that former Univertsity of Arkansas assistant and former Louisville head coach Tom Collen has been named the new head coach of the Lady Razorbacks, he knows just what the landscape is like.
He needs to recruit Arkansas – in particular a certain junior superstar in Morrilton named Shekinna Stricklen – and aboard to add to his already existing amount of talent on campus to go out and win in the SEC like he wants to do.
"I am hoping I am going to be able to rekindle relationships with the Arkansas coaches first and foremost," Collen said. "I think that is the real priority for us. I think if there are Razorbacks in our state that are good enough to elevate our program to another level, that is what we want to do is get the kids in state.
" We have great recruiting bases in Texas, Missouri and over in Oklahoma, but I really believe I am going to put a staff together that will allow us to recruit coast-to-coast," Collen added. "I am not afraid to go to California. I am not afraid to go to New York. I am from the Midwest and we recruited some pretty good players from there. Christy Smith comes to mind from the Midwest. We will go where we have to go to get players. But as long as we get the best players in the state – that's the most important thing."
Collen, 207-70 as a head coach, worked on former under former Lady Razorback bench boss Gary Blair from 1993-1997 – serving as recruiting coordinator as well as an assistant head coach – before becoming head coach at Colorado State.
He led the Lady Rams to a 24-6 mark and the NCAA Tournament second round in his first year there and a 33-3 record and the Sweet 16 the next season.
Collen rolled up a 129-33 record in six years at Colorado State before going in 2003 to Louisville, where he was 88-37 in four years with a WNIT berth his first season and three straight trips to the NCAA the last three seasons.
"One of the toughest decisions for me was to leave Louisville in the midst of the building process with the job unfinished," Collen said. "It was especially difficult to leave (UL athletic director) Tom Jurich. He gave me my first head coaching opportunity at Colorado State, and he brought me to Louisville as well. I am forever indebted to him for that because that is what led me back to Fayetteville today."
Lady Razorback athletic director Bev Lewis had Collen in her sights from the get-go and he was the only person she needed to interview after the resignation of Susie Gardner, whose team lost its last team games and finished 18-13 this season after a 15-1 start.
"Among the things I was looking at were recruiting, his post season appearances, rank of recruiting classes, top 35 rankings and attendance," Lewis said. "He is a strong evaluator of talent through his recruiting and as a head coach he is a proven developer of talent."
Collen, whose Louisiville team was 27-8 and made it to second round of the NCAA Tournament, is in the process of calling the current members of his team, the five recruits that Arkansas has signed and some that he would like to do in the future.
The Lady Razorbacks signed Fort Smith Northside point guard Shanita Arnold , CAC forward Whitney Zachariason and Mountain Home guard/forward Brittney Richardson – the state's top D-1 prospects in November along with Kansas prep forward Morgan Boyd and post Ashlea Williams of Springfield, Mo.
"I think it is really important," Collen said. "I think going into this that I am not from here in-state, that I have never spoken to any of them on phone, I wasn't part of their recruiting. Now they are going to read articles in the newspaper or see something on the evening news and are going to say ‘who's that? I don't know anything about him.'
"So I will get on phone with them, put them at ease about coming to the University of Arkansas and let them know they made the right decision," Collen added. "I want to give them just genuine insight about being here this summer and getting started."
While he respects the SEC immensely, Collen made it clear he doesn't fear the other SEC coaches or programs of a league in which the Lady Razorbacks were 16-40 under Gardner.
"It is a great conference and there is no doubt about it," Collen said. "Not only is it the success of the conference, but the type of success and the coaches that are in the conference that are legendary. Certainly locking horns with Andy Landers and Pat Summit will be a great challenge. It is something I look forward to."
Collen, who said he talked to UA chancellor John White via the phone on Friday, is in the process of putting together his staff at Arkansas.
He has talked to his staff at Louisville about joining him at Arkansas and ia also considering current Lady Razorback assistants Amber Shirey, Mike Neighbors and Johnnie Harris.
Collen and wife Nicki have twins, Reese and Connor, and are expecting their third child later this spring.
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