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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
CigarBoy: Oliver Purnell
Collier: An excellent basketball coach and a perfect
CigarBoy: Roy Williams
Collier: One of the games best coaches, straight out of
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
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
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!