We have spoken so much about what we think and so little about what we want.
Athletic director Jim Phillips does not base his search agenda on message board grumblings and public opinion. If we needed any more indication, Northwestern reportedly spoke with Al Skinner.
To me and to many, it seems borderline insane to interview the former Boston College coach and current definition of "washed up." I like Shane Falco from "The Replacements" as much as the next guy, but hiring the 60-year-old who looked to be visibly aging on the BC sidelines by 2010 would seem like a horribly wrong decision.
At the end of the day, it's very likely Chris Collins roams the sidelines in Evanston next season. The 13-year Duke assistant finally needs his chance at glory. Judging by headlines, his dad, Doug, is discussing this possibility with just about everyone. But aside from hoping and praying that he refuses to adopt the Doug Collins 1920s offensive mindset, it's difficult to pinpoint expectations.
What is it that we're looking for? Let me try to explain.
I want the next head coach to avoid those heart-sinking early-season losses. On Dec. 1, every single NU player showed fatigue in the 50-44 defeat to UIC. It was inexcusable from every standpoint. The Wildcats lost their composure and no one set them straight.
This was no Wichita State steal in which the opponent drained improbable three after three. UIC shot 34 percent and struggled on the glass, but somehow broke the tie with 53 seconds remaining. Drew Crawford – at whatever percent strength – and Jared Swopshire played in that game. And despite the poor 16-turnover outing, NU could easily have rallied. They never did. This new coach could eke out wins with tactics (Buzz Williams) or perhaps with the inexplicable ability to inspire (John Groce). NU fans are tired of the letdowns.
I want the next head coach to take special pride in his recruiting efforts. So much hollow chatter surrounds the "Chicago recruiting scene." To sign strong classes, you only need three good players. No one should complain about their area codes if they fill needs. To Collins or whoever: find big men anywhere. Alabama, Serbia (maybe not), Glen Ellyn — it does not and will not matter.
After football's lengthy National Signing Day, running on fumes and 5-hour Energy, I turned on the radio to hear Pat Fitzgerald. The head coach had just returned from his official press conference, yet he paid attention to selling the group even further. He gushed about quarterback Matt Alviti. Time permitting, he'd have done the same for every single commit. I don't expect four-star and five-star players to walk through Welsh-Ryan Arena each year, but the coach should explain his optimism for the future recipe.
I will also let out one quiet fist-pump the first time a prospect names this new head coach as the primary figure in his recruitment.
I want the next head coach to believe in this job. This, we all know, is no ordinary basketball program. We sit at home having trouble imagining a Northwestern tournament run. We wonder how the NIT committee views our résumé. No coaches should consider the NU job one stepping stone from the elite coaching ranks. It's a relatively unattractive opening – with the negatives arguably outweighing the positives – but we couldn't care less.
Evanston can only accept so many moral victories. If everyone returns next season, recruits included, this team has some tournament potential. So there's no reason to sell this short. Sit down at that opening press conference, and tell us you think you can make the Madness. It will rub off on the team. It will incite enthusiasm and get students in the often-empty seats behind baskets.
I want the next head coach to infuse this team with passion and energy never seen in 2012. If Tom Crean starts yelling, he should be yelling back. If the officials gift Aaron Craft one of many charges, he can feel free to throw his jacket and slap the scorer's table à la Fran McCaffery. There are no style points in this job.
There is something here, something untapped. We can argue over facilities, but they're not arriving anytime soon. So embrace the high school gym and tease your players about their impossible class requirements. Grow to love those unique elements that make this job hell and find players to mirror that energy. We'll love you for it.
And one more: If the second round of the NCAA Tournament someday means more to Northwestern fans than endless Bud Light commercials and mid-major alley-oops, all the better.
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