Collins Lands Job as Rams' Head Coach of W-S St.
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One of Bobby Collins' best moments as a basketball coach came when his Hampton University squad won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament at the RBC Center in Raleigh last March.
Part of making it special for the Southern Pines' native was getting to enjoy the accomplishment that sent his team to the NCAA tournament before family members and friends.
Now six months later, the former Pinecrest star is back in his home state as the head coach of the Winston-Salem State men's basketball team.
The new job carries with it the opportunity to be a part of a basketball program that is transitioning from Division II to Division I for the second time in his career.
"It's a great opportunity for me to come home," Collins said by phone from his office on Friday. "Obviously, there is a lot to do and we're stretched pretty thin trying to do a lot in a short period of time. It's exciting to have the opportunity to lead them into Division I."
Collins, 40, spent the last 11 years at Hampton, four as the head coach. He resigned last March shortly after his team was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Monmouth. In 2005, he was the MEAC Coach of the Year. His record at the school was 65-57.
Phillip Stith resigned last month as the coach at Winston-Salem State after compiling a record of 94-51. Athletic Director Chico Caldwell set out to find a new coach with Division I head coaching experience.
Winston-Salem State has been a member of the Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association for many years, just as Hampton was before it moved to the MEAC when Collins was an assistant coach. The Rams will play a Division I schedule this year and join the MEAC for the 2007-08 season. They won't be eligible to win the league title until the 2010-2011 season.
Collins has a lot to do with the start of official practices a month away and a season that begins on Nov. 10 with a tournament at Fresno State. His only assistant coach at this point is David Brown, a member of Stitt's staff.
The Rams are coming off 10 consecutive winning seasons. The success goes back further to the reign of legendary coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines, whose teams compiled a record of 828-447 from 1946-1993. The winning tradition will be one of the positives for recruiting.
"I was walking on the campus one day and I'm thinking, I can sell this university," Collins said. "It has a beautiful campus, good academics and the basketball tradition. I definitely want to continue the winning tradition."
Another selling point for potential recruits is this year's schedule that includes road games against Georgia Tech, Auburn, Notre Dame, UAB and Wake Forest.
During a press conference held on Tuesday to introduce the new coach, Caldwell talked about why Collins was selected.
"One of the key things that Coach Collins brings us, is that he knows the MEAC and Division I well," he said. "He has postseason experience, not only in the MEAC tournament, but in the NCAA tournament, and most importantly, he is committed to success not only on the court, but in the classroom."
Caldwell also provided an observation from attending the last two MEAC tournaments where Hampton was a finalist in both.
"Anybody who can coach under that kind of pressure can coach for me," Caldwell said in a published report. "His demeanor just fits our staff and he went over really well with the kids when he met the team."
After being without a job for several months, Collins signed on as an assistant coach at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh before the head coaching opportunity came up.
He is the youngest of 10 children of parents who were both ministers. He earned all-conference and all-state honors at Pinecrest under Jeff Capel, now an assistant coach with the Charlotte Panthers.
He played basketball at Eastern Kentucky for four years before embarking on his coaching career as an assistant to Capel at Old Dominion.
For the past three summers, Collins has come home to hold a basketball camp for local youth. This year's camp, held at Pinecrest High School, attracted about 100 participants.
On the second day of the camp, Collins was feeling some discomfort about not yet landing a new job, but was uplifted by the smiling faces.
"Wanting to see a smile is like a drug," he said. "Anytime I see a kid smile, it's awesome."
He also talked about his experience at Hampton that included being an assistant coach when the Pirates pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, a 58-57 victory in 2001 over second-seeded Iowa State.
"I was happy at Hampton," he said. "I knew our guys laid it on the line for me. They were guys who believed in me and I hated leaving them. But I felt like it was time to move on."
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