Hours after announcing that Carmody wouldn't return next season, Phillips outlined four basic prerequisites for the Northwestern job: program fit, recruiting prowess, commitment to graduation and, bluntly, a winning culture. With Duke associate coach Chris Collins almost guaranteed to be hired, Phillips got his man.
The first and foremost priority, Phillips said back on March 16, was institutional fit. With such a nuanced program, one that perpetually juggles world-class academic standards and Big Ten athletic competition, Phillips needed someone who "understands Northwestern."
Enter Collins, who's spent the past 13 years on the sidelines of Duke, essentially Northwestern 2.0. A four-year letterman with the Blue Devils from 1993-96, balancing books and basketball is not a foreign concept.
But it goes beyond that. A former Mr. Illinois Basketball honoree and a standout at Glenbrook North High School, Collins played ball just 10 miles from Northwestern's campus.
It's that Chicagoland connection that checks off Phillips' second requirement, someone who "enjoys recruiting." For a program with paltry facilities and arduous academic standards, bringing top prospects to Evanston is no easy task. Instead, Northwestern's recruitment efforts stem largely from charisma and personal networks, something Collins has plenty of.
Collins was instrumental in hauling in former Blue Devils and Illinois products Sean Dockery and Jon Scheyer, the latter of which went on to be a Second-Team All-American in 2010. With helping hands in countless other commits, including hyped 2013 recruit Jabari Parker, Collins touts over a decade of recruiting experience while still being young enough for his message to resonate with high school players.
"It's the lifeblood of every program," Phillips said of the attitude toward recruitment. That blood is now seeping blue, with Collins carrying in the reputation of one of the country's most revered schools. No, he won't have "Cameron Crazies" or a sprawling Durham campus to show off, but Collins brings an established tradition to Northwestern that goes well beyond what Carmody was bringing from Princeton.
A Duke graduate himself, Collins knows a thing or two about cap and gowns in college basketball. Last year, Blue Devil athletics notched a 98 percent graduation success rate, a mark that accounts for freshmen under athletic scholarship who earn diplomas in six years or less. Factoring in student-athletes who leave the school in good academic standing, Duke's basketball program tallied a perfect 100 percent GSR, according to official NCAA releases.
Collins isn't coming from a notorious "one-and-done" program. He isn't coming from a program plagued by scandal and violations either, a rarity in today's milieu for college athletics. With a degree on his wall and 12 years coaching in a system that emphasizes futures beyond the hardwood, he should fit right in.
Of course, Phillips' fourth factor is the most tangible, and in the eyes of a starved fan base, the most important. Success, ultimately, goes beyond NIT berths and gritty 19-win seasons. For all that Carmody did for a morbid program, he never had NU competing for Big Ten titles, much less dancing come March.
Phillips was looking for "someone that can be successful here and take our program to another level." While the jury's still out on the health of Drew Crawford and the status of Jaren Sina, it's safe to say that Collins brings a winning culture that Welsh-Ryan Arena has never even dreamed of seeing.
Heading into Friday's Sweet 16 bout with third-seeded Michigan State, Collins' record at Duke is a stunning 356-72. He's been at the helm of eight ACC Tournament championships and national titles in 2001 and 2010.
Collins succeeded from the get-go, working with Duke's backcourt as they took the NCAA Tournament in his first season on the sidelines. Under his watch, freshman Chris Duhon garnered ACC Rookie of the Year honors, while Jason Williams cruised to over 21 points a game.
Collins paced J.J. Redick in his Naismith season, and coached the top-scoring trio in all of college basketball in guards Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith in 2009-10. Crucial to the development of Austin Rivers and Seth Curry, the list of decorated guards under Collins' guidance goes on and on.
Having played in three NCAA Tournaments himself, Collins offers experience that nobody at Northwestern can match. And with Collins likely comes a slew of other credentialed assistants.
Phillips' four pillars are filled with ease. But Collins also builds a fifth standard Phillips never mentioned: a renewed sense of importance.
Stumbling to a 13-19 record in what was supposed to be a breakout season, the Wildcats were dominated inside and out by the Big Ten this year. Losing starters left and right to injury and watching Sina reopen his commitment, Northwestern basketball took an ostensible step backward the past few months. But with the official hiring of Collins, a nationally reputed name, the Cats are back on the map. The second-in-command to Mike Krzyzewski makes the Wildcats an entirely different threat.
The journey from Northwestern to Duke is a long one, and those expecting Blue Devil-type success right away should be tempered. But with Phillips' ideal candidate behind the wheel and finally starting the ignition, it's a journey that's definitely going somewhere.