Tom Collen Press Conference

Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee and Athletic Director Todd Turner introduced Tom Collen, the new women's basketball head coach, Wednesday afternoon to the media and friends of the Vanderbilt women's basketball program.

Until last night, Collen was the head coach at Colorado State University, leading the Rams to a cumulative 129-33 record with post-season appearances in each of his five years there. Prior to his arrival in Ft. Collins, he served as assistant and associate coach at the University of Arkansas for four years, preceded by seven years as an assistant at Purdue.

What follows are his comments to the general audience. Afterwards, Collen was available for one-on-one interviews, and VandyMania was there. The transcript of that conversation will be posted in the following story.

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First thing I'd like to do is thank Chancellor Gee for giving me this opportunity. I had a chance to visit with him last weekend. His reputation precedes him in both the academic and the athletic endeavors, and he shared a vision with me for Vanderbilt University that fell right in line with my own vision, and that is being able to combine academic excellence with athletic excellence. I can tell you that he is a big reason why Vanderbilt is an attractive place for me to be, because we share those two philosophies together, and I was thoroughly impressed. He scared me to death a little bit. He was the first person when I was on my visit to be emphatic about expecting to win the national championship, and I was kind of afraid to ask him, "Do you mean this year?" But I heard the message, and I understand exactly what he had to say, and I thank you for giving me this opportunity, Chancellor Gee. I'll try as hard as I can to never refer to you as "President" -- I come from a university where I had a president.

I'd also like to thank Todd Turner and his staff. I can't tell you enough -- it was a very difficult decision for me. I walked away from an athletic director that I had the pleasure to work with for about a year from the University of Connecticut, who had some similar ties to Todd, and it was a very difficult thing for me to do, because I felt like I was working for the greatest guy in the world, and one of the things that unveiled itself throughout the last three weeks of conversations with Todd and his staff and the way they went about the search, it was a great relief for me to know that I was getting ready to walk away from one tremendous leader and person and to work for another individual with those same types of qualities. I appreciate being given this opportunity as well, and I promise both of you that I'll do everything I can not to let you down.

I'd also like to thank the media for your patience through this. I've got a great working relationship with the media in Colorado. I've been good to them, and they've been good to me. I know that I have not returned a single phone call in the last three or four days. I know each and every one of you tried to call me at some point in time. But we had good reason not to return them. I apologize for that, but I think the main focus at the time was we wanted to make sure that we saw this deal through to completion, and if we were going to do it, I really wanted to protect my players' back at Colorado State, and if I was going to leave them, I wanted them to hear that from me, so that's the reason you didn't get any phone calls from me. And I promise that I'll be very very cooperative with you in the future.

I want you to know that I was not out looking for jobs. I worked at a great school. Colorado State represents many of the same qualities that Chancellor Gee and Todd Turner have here at Vanderbilt. We've been there for five years. We've had five good years, and really for the first time in my career as a head coach, the phone started ringing a little bit. I was honored. I was really pleased, but I was getting ready to sign a new deal at Colorado State. I was ready to call that place home. I really loved it there. The phone rang, and Maryland called, and Minnesota called, and Ohio State called, and I had the opportunity to interview at Ohio State along with Coach Foster, and it's kind of funny, because in the media back there -- I think Todd mentioned I have roots in Ohio, I was born and raised there and lived there for 30 years -- the big rumor back there in the paper was that I was heading for Ohio State. And let me tell you this, when it became apparent to me who the frontrunners were for that job, I was the happiest guy in the world when Jim Foster took that job because finally a job had opened that I wanted to pursue instead of sitting back and waiting for it. So I was elated for Jim, but I was really excited that this job was here. At that point, I was honored that Todd and his staff were in contact with me almost immediately when that job opened. And I can tell you I was excited. We didn't make a lot of phone calls. I didn't sit there and network it, but I was honored I was in the running. But from that moment, and that was probably three weeks ago, there probably has not been a day go by when I have not spoken to Todd or somebody on his staff about this opportunity.

It took a while to get to this point. We both had busy schedules. Todd certainly had an agenda, but it took a while for it to all unfold and for it to become a reality. Last weekend Nicki and I had the opportunity to come to Nashville and visit. We stayed here Friday through Monday. We had a tremendous time. I can't tell you how impressed we were. I've driven through Nashville on the freeway from in all directions, God knows there are a lot of freeways that run through here, but we had the opportunity to meet many of the staff here at Vanderbilt, as I mentioned earlier, Chancellor Gee, some of the fans, some of the great supporters. I can tell you that every turn along the way, we got more and more excited. The people were tremendous. The campus is beautiful. Nashville is a tremendous town. I already know that the SEC is a great conference, and I'm telling you, if he had offered me the job then, I probably would have signed on the dotted line right there.

But we had some thinking to do, and we returned, and we continued the process, and Nicki and I sat down and talked it over and decided what was best for our future, and that process continued right on through until 9 o'clock last night. Todd flew out to Ft. Collins, and we sat down, and the job was officially offered to me, and I accepted it. We went from there immediately to meet with my team, which was one of the more difficult things I've ever done in terms of walking away from a group of just tremendous young ladies. And after walking out of that office with a few tears, I understood a little more what it was like for these young ladies three or four weeks ago when somebody left for another opportunity. It kind of left them hanging for awhile, and their futures were in the balance.

But I'm happy to be here. I'm excited. I feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I understand the challenges ahead of me. I spent four years in the SEC. It's no picnic. I can remember back to a couple of seasons we had at the University of Arkansas, two seasons in particular back to back where we were ranked in the Top 25 in the country from the beginning of the season to the end of the season and finished with a conference record of 7-7 and one year 6-7 and we were in the poll on the day when they announced the tournament pairings, and we didn't go to the NCAA tournament because we finished seventh or eighth in the SEC. So I understand the competitiveness of this conference. I understand the challenge.

I had the chance to meet with the team this morning, or part of the team, five players. Many of them have already finished their finals and headed out of town after a long year and final exams, and I'm going to get the opportunity to meet the majority of those players when they come back for summer school, and I'll be on the phone with them as quickly as I can. One of the things that concerned me the most leaving Colorado State was that I was leaving a tremendous bunch of young ladies. We alluded to the fact that they were good students with their grade point average. They were hard workers. They were, probably much like this year's team, very disappointed at the end of the year that they didn't get to dance a little bit further in the tournament. And I have a great understanding of what they went through and where their feelings are at now I think have prepared me for being able to walk in and meet with these young ladies and understand what their expectations are and do everything I can to help them meet their goals.

I can tell you without a doubt that I aspire to take this team to a national championship because i know that's what they aspire to be. And I'm going to do everything I can to get them there.

One of the things you're going to find out about me, I'm not the real real excitable type of guy, not Joe Teller(?), you're going to learn that. When Nicki and I go to movies, and we'll go to some slapstick comedy, and she'll be rolling out of her chair laughing, and she kind of has to elbow me in the side a little bit just to get me to laugh. When I ease up a little bit, you're probably going to see a little bit different personality. Right now what you see is a person that is focused, that is excited to be here, a person that has a job to do, and honestly, I can't wait to get started. I'm going to be in office tomorrow at 8 o'clock, and we're going to go from there.

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