Loyola assistant Armon Gates will be the final addition to this Northwestern coaching staff. The move, first reported by PurpleWildcats.com on Saturday evening, ends the brief spell of uncertainty that surrounded NU basketball. Now, the staff of Chris Collins, Patrick Baldwin, Brian James and Gates can begin their work on the trail and on the sidelines. Everything wrapped up quickly.
Of course, Gates–a budding top recruiter–seems more than capable of handling this position. But the rapid turnaround and savvy decision demonstrates something just as important: Chris Collins is ready. He exudes confidence and thorough preparation. With this latest hire, he now turns what could have been a rough transition into an opportunity for growth.
No doubt, the departure of Tavaras Hardy left one lingering question. The team needed Chicago ties, as well as someone who could replace Hardy’s reputation for caring about players. Because really, an excellent recruiter talks basketball, but knows how to relate to the guys in special ways. Hardy did that. Gates will do that.
Instead of floundering in the face of adversity, Collins made his move. There’s no reason to believe that there were any other candidates seriously considered. We don’t know exactly when the deal was more or less complete, but this crystalized in an instant.
One component to this is Gates’ excellent reputation. He rose up the coaching ranks after graduating from Kent State in 2006. People identified his talent without hesitation, and this ability helped him find success at Loyola. Gates helped to reel in an impressive six-man class for 2012, which included two key Chicago prospects.
He also brings youth, which is probably his most overlooked benefit. Many successful coaching staffs include youthful perspective and rising stars. Collins found one in his own backyard, and closed in on this solid investment.
(Also, I saw an astute message board observation: Gates coached Nikola Cerina during the coach’s one-year stint at TCU. That’s another huge benefit when you consider the fact that Cerina made major contributions late in that sophomore campaign.)
When Gates is officially announced, we can appreciate his accomplishment—namely that he’s just 30 and an assistant coach in the Big Ten. Yet today, we learned even more about Collins. He knows what he wants. He closes quickly. And, in the end, he built what looks like a uniquely motivated and diverse coaching staff.
A less experienced head coach might sit and stall. Collins knew that he needed to finalize his staff as the 2015 contact period–and so much else–entered the equation. It looks good on the program and infuses this group with confidence. It’s not splashy, but reputations have to blossom somewhere.
There is work to be done. The 2014 recruiting picture still looks blurry, and it will require an impressive collective effort to work out. Even more so, they’ll have to learn to gel on the hardwood, and muster what they can out of the current roster.
Still, a coaching staff that looked messy one week ago is now restored. There’s little doubt that Chris Collins arrived in Evanston passionate about the job. With smart decisions, it has become increasingly clear that he's ready.