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BARRY COLLIER: NEBRASKA

by Cigarboy

February 11th, 2003

 

CigarBoy Chats with Barry Collier

This is probably one of hardest interviews I have ever scheduled. I started working on this about a year ago. Whenever I was scheduled to be in Lincoln I called the Nebraska Sports Information Director for Basketball. After a few tries and a false start or two the SID said we could do it on a Sunday morning after Coach Collier completed his weekly TV show.

We met inside Memorial Stadium where there is a TV studio. We conducted the interview in a lounge in the lower level of the stadium. Coach Collier was very relaxed and friendly. He is the kind of guy you would buy a car from because he doesn’t come across as a fast-talking salesman. He comes across as a straight shooter. I present to you the man who will I believe will put Nebraska basketball on the national map. After all, he has done it before.

What other coaches are saying about Barry Collier:

“A mad scientist, he is always cooking up something on the sidelines!”

Phil Martelli, St. Joseph’s coach

 

“ A great X’s and O’s guy! He built his program the right way at Butler. He has good kids that do things right, and in a very blue collar way, they go about winning..”

Ed Schilling, Wright State coach

 

“He is a very bright guy. Avery disciplined guy. He has a disciplined program, I think for the betterment of his players. I think he is a very good role model for his players.”

Tim Buckley, Ball State’s coach.

CigarBoy: Coach, as you are now into your conference, can you give me an update on your team at this point?

Collier: Well, I think that we’ve made some progress with a very, very young team. We’ve been a team that, for the most part, is new to the starting line-up. This year we are starting three sophomores. We’ve also been in a situation with one freshman at times, a couple of juniors that are new to the program, and so that’s led to some inconsistency as you would imagine. But, I think we are learning what we can and can’t do, learning our strengths and weaknesses. Now we need to play to those strengths.

CigarBoy: As we walk our way past the Kansas game, what did you learn about your team in Kansas yesterday?

Collier: Well, I think we were two different teams within the game. The first 8-10 minutes of the game when Muhleisen was playing for us, I thought we were battling pretty well and had some good execution of our game plan defensively. We actually had a tie score when he went out. Then a few minutes after that, we led by a point, 17-16 I think it was, but without him for depth, without him for our leader, without him as a ball handler, we just broke down too much in the game on both ends of the floor and in transition. What we learned was that we need to really play close to the basket and execute, really help each other out, handle the ball against pressure, particularly without Muhleisen. I think that in any situation, when you face adversity, you are going to grow from that if you attack it, stay after it, and that’s what we try to do.

CigarBoy: You had tremendous success at Butler but it took you a few years to get going. However, after you got your system in place, it stayed in place. What’s the process you use to rebuild a program?

Collier: Well, obviously there’s a lot that goes into it. You start with a great staff and then collectively try to recruit the best players you can for the system that you think you can be successful with. In our case at Butler, we began at kind of a low point. The program had only had 3 winning seasons in the previous 15 years so anything would have probably been a positive. We had some wins early, but we were playing in a way that probably let us beat the teams we were suppose to beat or should beat, but we couldn’t break through to that upper level of the conference. We couldn’t hold on the last couple of weeks of the conference season. In the middle ‘90’s, I visited with Dick Bennett who had left the Green Bay program and gone to Madison. We shared some ideas but mostly it was a philosophical thing about how you go about playing better than what you do. That really cemented the idea that I believed in and brought kind of a full circle of how you do things on and off the court, physically, mentally and spiritually. That all led to a very sound and solid method of doing things. We sold it to our players. We had excellent assistant coaches: Jay John, Thad Matta, Todd Lickliter, Jerry Francis, all those guys, who at that time, were very, very effective at local recruiting and additionally believed in selling our system to our team.

CigarBoy: You got Thad Matta, and Todd Lickliter who are very successful coaches. Both John Jay and Jerry Francis are rebuilding their programs. What is your take on what they are doing?

Collier: Well, I think Todd and Thad are both taking over successful programs at Xavier and Butler. Jay and I are both kind of in the same boat with trying to generate or return to some good play at Oregon State and Nebraska. Jerry Francis is the head coach of Prairie View and is trying to kick-start a program there that has been down. But I think we talked a lot amongst that group of guys and I think that each one of them has their own set of skills and method of doing things. There are some very common traits in that method, but they’ve done well and I’m very proud of them.

CigarBoy: What’s the difference between coaching at Butler and coaching at Nebraska?

Collier: You know, coaching is coaching. Everything is relative to your competition and where your program stands at the time. Coaching at Butler, there were a few years where it was just like coaching at Nebraska. When we were trying to get started and struggling to get our class of juniors and seniors that had been through the program for 3 or 4 years and help teach the younger players in the way that we do things. That’s a similarity that is just a part of coaching. The difference at Nebraska and Butler is the level of competition. I think that the Kansas and Texas, Missouri, Iowa State, K-state, Texas Tech, Colorado, Baylor, and A&M, all these schools in our league, every one of them, has the capability of playing in the NCAA tournament. Regardless, you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to turn it on, but our league is just outstanding. Day after day you are going in front of 10,000-15,000 fans for the opposition on the road. Each school has resources that just aren’t available on the lower levels and that sets the stage, in my mind, of putting a system in play and working the system. Over time, I think we’ll have the same kind of success that we had at Butler.

CigarBoy: Speaking of Butler, I want to go back there for a second. I’ll call it the Butler way or maybe even the Collier way, because you got it going. To me, it means student athletes with character, they play defense, they are very unselfish in their play, there may not be a lot of superstars on the team but they play very tough. Am I describing it right?

Collier: Well one thing that I always thought at Butler was that our players were a little slighted when they weren’t as recognized as athletes as they should have been given the fact that they were extremely successful when playing the system that we had. I think a lot of things come into play. But I don’t think they received the credit they should have because, as all coaches know, players have to perform out on the court and have to be willing and able as an athlete to do a good job on the court. I think a lot things came into play in the Butler way and what has really continued there with Thad Matta and now Todd Lickliter. Those guys made adjustments and they’ve added too. In fact, they were part of the whole set-up in the first place. Jay John being from the beginning, a part of that. With all of that involved, you just keep working, and working the system and trying to get to a point where the players approach the game and know how to play in a way that is most successful. You are absolutely right, we had teams that took care of the ball, who were unselfish with the basketball, played smart basketball, and they played extremely hard. They also played together on defense. That’s a pretty deadly combination right there because with that, you can survive off-shooting nights, because you have a chance to win every time you play when you incorporate those things.

CigarBoy: Let’s talk about scheduling philosophy. At Butler, it was pretty easy because you started with a ton of players in Indiana right there at your doorstep. Now you are in Nebraska. Do you have a recruiting base in the area or do you go out 4 or 5 states? Talk about how you recruit and your personal philosophy.

Collier: Our recruiting area for Nebraska is a little bit like the Platte River, half a foot deep and 500 miles long. We have a talent pool here in Nebraska and we have some good players. I think we have some excellent coaches in the state of Nebraska and we are going to try and recruit players there. So we do have five guys on the team with scholarships, from the state of Nebraska. Guys we think we can win with, and are good players, and they are going to need to develop like everyone else. From there, we basically are recruiting the middle third of the country with the exception being when we have a contact, a coaching acquaintance, an alum, or somebody who has given us the name of somebody that gives us an “in”. Then we’ll go just about anywhere. But, we’ve basically decided to recruit the middle third of the country and use our resources in a part of the country where kids will be not too far from home, which gets into the personal philosophy I have. We’d certainly like to get the very best athletes that we can, who can run, jump, have quickness, size and so forth. We like skilled basketball players, the ones who can also execute fundamentals. We like smart basketball players that know the game, know when to go, where to go, and how to get there. We would also like kids that would fit in academically with our university which kind of ties in with the smart basketball player. A guy who can kind of figure out some things, and someone who understands. We’d also want someone who has good character, can accept help, understands that education is very important and that effort is very important. That kind of guy is probably going to be one who has listened to his parents or mentors along the way to understand academically and effort-wise how to get all those things tied together. That person, who has listened to their parents and mentors and family members, is also going to want to be relatively close to them. You just don’t up and leave your support group behind in part because you want to let them see you play but also because you want to be with them for holidays, breaks and special days - Mother’s day, birthdays, when you can. So that all fits into the kind of kid we want that has an understanding of all those things. His priorities are set, understands effort, and clearly we are trying to develop a kind of toughness that is the trademark of our program. That’s something that we don’t have here yet but I certainly think we did at Butler those last two years.

CigarBoy: What’s your scheduling philosophy? I know it’s a little different scheduling at a Big 12 school than at a Horizon League school.

Collier: One of the parameters that we have to work with is we need 16 home games every year, regardless of what we have to do to get those home games. We have to have that many home games per year. At Butler, we didn’t have the resources to get that many home games. Also, our league at Butler was not nearly as strong as the Big 12 so you start with scheduling Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State, Colorado, K-State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor and all of a sudden, you have a huge advantage and a challenge in scheduling. Then you start adding to that. What we have available each year is six games that we can schedule home and home. You aren’t going to get Tennessee to come to Lincoln, NE for “no return to Knoxville”, so we had six games like that. This coming year we’ll have Minnesota, Tennessee, Creighton, South Florida, Arizona State, and Purdue. Those are a team from the Big 6 with the exception of South Florida who is from an excellent conference and that was a television game. The other thing we do is keep open some games late in the scheduling process in the summertime so you can maybe land a television opportunity. They kind of have to fish through all that during the summer, deciding everything from the network games down to the national cable games.

CigarBoy: It is a little bit easier you because at Nebraska you’ve got your RPI already taken care of with your conference schedule……..

Collier: You do have your RPI, I guess taken care of and that’s under the assumption you care about your RPI. I don’t really care about it. I didn’t at Butler. I think that what you care about is having X-number of home games where your fans can see their team play and develop a home court advantage. Obviously you want to help yourself recruiting if you can go back to the home area for recruits, you certainly want to try and do that. We try to do that. But, the bottom line was just to win the next game. You know, Butler and Nebraska don’t really have a choice of who they play in their league. You are going to play those teams. So outside of that, it just became an issue at Butler of scheduling games where we could get home and home arrangements and an occasional guarantee game. I think the RPI is something that leagues futilely chase as a league and what should happen with scheduling is each school needs to do what is best for them because every school is different. I really believe that because we are all in different stages of our programs. We are 2-1/2 years into the program here and whether it’s Rick Barnes or Roy Williams who have been there 3-4 times longer than I have been here. They are at a different level than we are right now. So we have to do what is best for our program for where we are at this point. I like who we play and I think that the biggest thing is that we are in the Big 12. That was probably the major thing when I made the decision to come here was to compete in this league and be at a place that would have resources that we could do that.

CigarBoy: I’m going to name a few coaches and I want you to give a sentence or two on each coach. Whatever comes to mind that you associate with that coach. Seth Greenberg.

Collier: Frenetic and hilarious.

CigarBoy: Phil Martelli

Collier: Innovative and passionate.

CigarBoy: Buzz Peterson

Collier: Home spun and really down home.

CigarBoy: John Calipari

Collier: I don’t know him as well as some others but John Calipari is ahead of the game by about two steps.

CigarBoy: Todd Lickliter

Collier: I think Todd Lickliter is a budding Michelangelo and a funny, funny guy!

CigarBoy: Bob Huggins

Collier: Extremely intense and competitive, and quiet off the court.

CigarBoy: Oliver Purnell

Collier: An excellent basketball coach and a perfect gentleman.

CigarBoy: Roy Williams

Collier: One of the games best coaches, straight out of Mayberry RFD.

CigarBoy: Ed Schilling

Collier: I think one of the up and comers in our business

CigarBoy: Tim Buckley

Collier: Very thorough, intense, and extremely motivated.

CigarBoy: Scott Drew

Collier: One of our Butler basketball managers. I think Scott Drew is going to be coach in one of the Big 6 conferences in the near future. I think he’s very, very good.

CigarBoy: As a guy who travels a lot, I know you eat out a lot, so give me some of your favorite restaurants anywhere in the country.

Collier: I like St. Elmo’s in Indianapolis, McCormick and Schmidts in Kansas City. It’s actually a chain but it’s pretty good. Of course the Nickel Plate in Fishers, IN. My all time favorite is Shorty’s Barb-B-Q in Miami, FL. In Chicago, Heaven on Seven is a great Cajun Restaurant.

CigarBoy: Really? I know Chicago like the back of my hand and I’ve never been there.

Collier: You gotta’ go. It’s about a block and a half from the Marriott maybe even less.

CigarBoy: I was at the Marriott last weekend, I know right where it is.

Collier: You kind of go up an escalator. It’s right on the second floor in one of those places right on Seventh. It’s great, especially if you like Cajun food.

CigarBoy: If we looked on your CD player, what CD is on there right now?

Collier: Actually the Dixie Chicks are on there right now. I’ve got everything from Barry White to the Dixie Chicks. Barry White and George Jones as a matter of fact. I guess I am ambidextrous in my listening to music.

CigarBoy: Coach, last question. When you get up in the morning, what excites you?

Collier: Just the thought of being able to coach this game. I love the game and I love the players. Our team, right now, is one that is struggling a little bit and we have a long way to go. But we have the kind of guys you want to go with. That and my yellow lab Jimmy, who wakes me up in the morning, are what get me going.

CigarBoy: Thank you for your time coach!

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