O'Donnell: Is Northwestern's Collins on the threshold of falling in with the haunted?

 
Updated 3/14/2019 9:36 PM
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  • Northwestern coach Chris Collins doesn't like what he sees during Wednesday's loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Conference tournament at the United Center.

    Northwestern coach Chris Collins doesn't like what he sees during Wednesday's loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Conference tournament at the United Center. Associated Press

THERE'S ALWAYS BEEN A FEELING the basketball life of Doug Collins was haunted.

When his on-court existence looked like Easy Street -- en route to Munich, Philadelphia, Michael Jordan -- there always seemed to be danger at the door.

Maybe it had to do with the fact a boyhood neighbor in downstate Benton was John Malkovich. That'd be enough for odd channelings of the spirits, wouldn't it?

But there never was a thought that the wicked ghosts of the father would GPS the son.

That son would be Chris Collins. In 2013, he was the greatest marquee "get" -- coach or player -- in the history of Northwestern basketball.

Two years ago, Collins got the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament for the first time. All was in timely ascent. He was rewarded with an eight-year contract extension, through the 2024-25 season, worth an estimated $24 million.

Late Wednesday night at the United Center, after his latest edition of 'Cats completed a second straight land-mined season at 13-19, the ex-Bulls ball boy looked like the most beaten-down 44-year-old coach on Planet Basketball.

He was gracious and typically amiable after a 74-69 loss to Illinois in OT as the bottom seed in the Big Ten Tournament. He said institutionally correct things.

Collins gently skirted the fact that the elitist poseurs who gate-keep NU greatly helped torpedo his season by abruptly denying the admission of point guard Jordan Lathon long after a suitable replacement would be recruitable.

He also came across as an exhausted basketball mind desperately in need of ample time and cocoon to reboot.

A friend might suggest Chris Collins tries to please too many people, allows too many stale voices to chirp in his ear.

Most importantly, are his career goals consistent with Northwestern realities?

At Duke, he was the good line officer who waited -- and waited and waited -- for the hopelessly self-absorbed Mike Krzyzewski to set a retirement date.

Among other things, that unfortunate career management induced Collins to pass on an open-net shot at becoming the head coach at Indiana in 2008 when Kelvin Sampson proved to be Kelvin Sampson. It's extremely unlikely IU administrators would leave their head men's basketball coach twisting in the wind over a Jordan Lathon.

By 2013, something had to give and it wasn't going to be Krzyzewski. Northwestern swooped in with promises of new horizons, impressive resources and unwavering support and Collins was hooked.

He remains hooked -- like a catfish down by the fishin' hole. At $3 million per-year. Without a properly constructed roster during a second consecutive season of burned purple and vaporized momentum.

His wonder years on The Enchanted Lakefront are over.

The prime of his coaching career is inexorably on the clock.

And has the haunting just begun?

STREET-BEATIN': Microwaveable Bracketology -- Pick the Final Four first and work backward with two No. 1 seeds, one No. 2 or No. 3 and one No. 7 through No. 11. (The CBS Selection Show, thankfully, reverts back to a single hour at 5 p.m. Sunday). ... Wonder if the Illinois High School Association would have been so swiftly arbitrary in declaring a "double forfeit" if a brawl had broken out at the end of the St. Viator-DePaul Prep sectional championship as it was with Farragut-North Lawndale. Viator kids likely would have hopped in cars and circled the IHSA headquarters in Bloomington until an attorney / parent could have gotten a temporary restraining order. ... Also, from the Delany and Bow-out File, only one Big Ten team has won the NCAA championship game since 1989. That was Tom Izzo, Mateen Cleaves and Michigan State in 2000. … By his own admission, Tiger Woods is now in a career phase where one bad swing could lead to yet another extended absence. CBS and the respectful magnolias down at Augusta remain hopeful that he'll keep it together for three more weeks to make only his third Masters start since 2014. … DePaul's Jeannie Ponsetto and associates are weighing whether or not to pay to get unpredictable Max Strus and blue crew (15-15) into the College Basketball Invitational. Porter Moser and Loyola began their long run to last year's Final Four with a CBI title in 2015. … News that Mike North was returning to Chicago radio with a weekly one-hour "gambling" show on WMVP-AM (1000) must have prompted hopeful bookies to flood his pigeon roost with fruit baskets, Meijer gift cards and offers of free betting rebates. More intriguingly -- and he will deny it until his Huntz Hall makeup kits run out -- the old gray yapper now has dead aim on the station's moribund noon-to-2 p.m. weekday show. … Speaking of chase fever, for Parry Sound types who bet NHL totals, Blackhawks games are 24-2-1 going over the designated number since Jan. 6. … And reader Scott Thomson went a bit Fernwood in emailing that if Joe Maddon isn't renewed beyond this season, he'd be an absolute natural for a nightly talk show on The Marquee Sports Network: "Happy Cubb and the Mirthmakers could be the house band."

jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com

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