Nebraska’s match-up with Butler in the NIT will bring a familiar face to Lincoln as former coach Barry Collier, now the athletic director at Butler, will be in the house along with the Bulldogs on Wednesday.
Collier spent six season as Nebraska’s coach in the early 2000s, taking the Huskers to two NITs during his time in Lincoln. In 2006, Collier left Nebraska to return to Butler — where he began his head coaching career — as vice president and director of athletics.
Hail Varsity Radio’s Chris Schmidt caught up with Collier to discuss Nebraska, Butler, the NIT and more.
The Bulldogs finished 16-16 this season and in a tie for last place in the Big East wth a 7-11 conference record. Collier offered his thoughts on what to expect from the Bulldogs.
“We’ve been inconsistent to say the least, but when you’re 16-16 I don’t know that there’s any way to get more inconsistent than that,” Collier said. “When we play well, our defense is solid for most of the game. We have guys that are good at taking shots; we don’t always make them, so it’s a challenge to try to get that consistency. We’ve struggled on the road. We’ve played in some real good places against real good teams and had more losses by a large margin than wins. So we know we’re up against it to play the Huskers. They’re even a different team than the team I saw roughly six weeks ago because of Injury to [Isaac] Copeland — that was actually the game I watched was when Isaac Copeland got hurt.
“But they’ve also shown a tremendous resiliency and their play in the Big Ten Tournament was incredible, actually. I’m certainly impressed with them.”
Collier stopped by Pinnacle Bank Arena when the Huskers hosted Ohio State on Jan. 26. Butler played at Creighton the day before so Collier took advantage of that road trip to check out his former team.
Collier isn’t the only tie between Butler and Nebraska. Assistant coach Michael Lewis spent five seasons as an assistant at Butler before joining Tim Miles’ staff in Lincoln. Collier said he’d make sure to catch up with Lewis before the game.
“I look forward to it,” Collier said. “He’s a special guy and had a great run with us here at Butler for sure. I got to see him and Coach Miles briefly six weeks ago, so we’ll get reacquainted one more time.”
Collier is also a member of the NIT selection committee and he discussed what kind of an impact Nebraska’s run in the Big Ten Tournament made on the Huskers’ selection and seeding for the Tournament.
“I did not think there was doubt [about the Huskers making it], and yes, the Big Ten run, the play in the Big Ten, even dropping a close game to Wisconsin was a plus given the success of the teams they played against and their play in the Big Ten Tournament,” Collier said. “There’s no doubt that helped them a great deal. You know what? The NIT committee’s job, like the NCAA committee’s job, is to look at all the games and each one that came in as that tournament was moving along added to their position and there’s a kind of constant update of information from teams when they were playing during that last week of the season and those conference tournaments.
“It was really impressive what the Huskers did in the Big Ten Tournament and they’ll certainly be a huge challenge for us if they keep that going. We’ve got our work cut out for us but like I said, you love a challenge and I’m sure Wednesday night will be one. But that’s why we compete.”
Collier spent nine seasons as the coach at Butler, guiding the Bulldogs to a 196-132 overall record. He led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in three of his last four seasons and took Butler to the NIT three times during his tenure as well. Schmidt asked Collier how he was able to build the foundation of a winning program at Butler.
“I don’t think that we really got to where we needed to be until I had had an opportunity to learn from Dick Bennett who was the coach at Wisconsin and had been in our conference at Wisconsin-Green Bay before he went to Madison,” Collier said. “I was able to learn quite a bit from him that just kind of solidified how we wanted to do things. We became more committed to defense and that made all the difference in the world, Chris. I think if I’d have found that sooner, we’d have gotten there sooner but I wasn’t a smart enough coach to figure that out. You’re trying to do that all the time; easier said than done. You’ve got to be in the ball park recruiting-wise; you’re not going to win if you’re totally out-manned on the court physically. I think another thing was to try to play as intelligently as you can. So between having a commitment to defense which requires a physicality and then trying to play as smart as you can on offense is a pretty good combination.”
Collier also discussed the challenge of coaching at a school like Nebraska.
“I think the most important thing is to focus on the now,” Collier said. “This year’s team, whatever you’re talking about, can’t do anything about what happened five years ago, much less last year but even further back when they weren’t even together as a team. I think there are pieces in place. It takes great time and patience. You look at their recruiting, the recruiting base is wide and far and that makes it a challenge, but if you find people that want the challenge and love the challenge, then places that don’t have everything in terms of recruits base or tradition or something like that, you can overcome that with the right culture and the right people.
“I think Tim’s done a good job and had some challenges with injury. He’s in the, if not the best league, and I think it is the best league this year. I follow the Big Ten as my responsibility with the NIT committee and I do think they had as good a year as any other league in the country. And so it’s a huge challenge, but if you love a challenge, and I do, then I think it’s a great place.”
Collier signed off with one final message:
“Go Huskers — after Wednesday.”
For the full interview, listen to the latest episode of Hail Varsity Radio. In addition to Collier, Schmidt also talked with the BTN’s Rick Pizzo and Tom Penders.