On Tuesday morning, the new coach arrived to a standing ovation at Welsh-Ryan Arena for an event that seemed more akin to a bar mitzvah than a presser. Reporters of print and broadcast, Chicago and beyond, breakfasted on bagels, schmoozed about the man about to take the stage at center court and patiently waited for Collins and athletic director Jim Phillips to emerge from behind the purple curtain.
When he emerged, the new coach hit on all the important points: excitement to make the next step, an intense focus on recruiting, a desire to blaze his own path rather than walk in his father's and Mike Krzyzewski's hardened footsteps, and, most importantly, establishing the Wildcats as a contender in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
Collins moved through the laundry list of prerequisite questions and gave the quote-hungry reporters plenty to feed on. But at the end of the day, it wasn't the fact that he mentioned these that made the biggest impression — it was the passion and tenacious optimism behind them that did.
For Collins, the Northwestern job wasn't just the next step up, but rather "a perfect fit" and "a dream come true." He didn't just tout what Northwestern has to offer, but equated the school's name with excellence, embracing the rigid academic standards some fans and reporters deplore, He insisted that there are enough young players who believe in the mission set forth by Phillips and President Morty Schapiro that drew Collins here and promised to tirelessly pursue them.
The new coach gushed about building a massive home-court advantage at Welsh-Ryan, deriving an offensive system from a roster, not the other way around, and using what he learned from his father and Coach K as means of fostering his own style of leadership from within.
Finally, Collins insisted that success at Northwestern isn't just breaking the 75-year tournament drought that defines the program: "We're going to build a winner here," he said with an eye on an NCAA championship, not a just a chance at one.
Behind every sound bite and quote came an undeniably authentic passion and optimism, an attitude of unrelenting optimism and undying belief in the potential greatness vested within the program. You can attribute it to youthful overzealousness. You can call it the product of an emotional coach presented with the biggest opportunity of his life. You can even call it the downplaying of the immense challenges this job presents. But whatever it may be, it's a complete departure from the mentality surrounding the program until Collins' hiring.
Before Collins, Northwestern was defined by discipline, patience and its existential limitations. Bill Carmody's merits as a basketball coach and strategist are unquestionable, but failed instill the same passion and exude the same optimism in 13 years that Collins has in just three days.
And after all, that's just what Northwestern fans need. From the very get-go, Phillips made it clear that this move was about culture change, not just a coaching change. Collins makes sense on paper with his laundry list of well-publicized qualities, but the key is how he presents these qualities.
After years of waiting and toiling, wishing and hoping, and clawing and scratching at close success, Collins is intent on grabbing onto it and never letting go. There's no way to tell if he can do it or not until his Wildcats take the floor. But until they do, all we have is his word.
And the way he make it sounds, why not take the leap of faith with him?