FAYETTEVILLE – University of Arkansas Women’s Athletics Director Bev Lewis named Tom Collen as the seventh head coach of the Lady Razorback basketball team.
"I am excited about the opportunity to return to Arkansas," Collen said. "Some of my fondest memories both as a person and as a coach are from my time in Fayetteville. I want to thank Bev for the opportunity to be here today."
One of America’s most successful women’s basketball coaches, Collen was introduced to fans and media at a press conference at the Lewis Center Friday afternoon. The former head coach at Louisville the past four seasons, Collen was the head coach at Colorado State for five years. Collen replaces Susie Gardner who resigned after four seasons at Arkansas on March 2.
"Tom was a successful head coach at two programs, and his reputation as a recruiter is among the best in the country," Lewis said. "He was an outstanding recruiter here at Arkansas as an assistant, and his success at two other universities recruiting as the head coach only enhanced that reputation."
"I have always felt that the University of Arkansas has the potential to perform at the national level," Collen said. "We proved that during my tenure here as the recruiting coordinator that resulted in an appearance at the Final Four."
Collen served as the recruiting coordinator for four seasons at Arkansas from 1993 until departing to become the head coach at Colorado State in 1997. His last two seasons at Arkansas, Collen was also promoted to assistant head coach.
"I know the key to success in building this program to the heights I know we can reach revolve around keeping the best players in the state, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen," Collen said.
"His personality and his experience with Arkansas was a plus," Lewis said. "We know he will connect with Arkansas and our fan base. I know that he is very concerned with the welfare of his student-athletes, and will keep their interests at heart."
Lewis conducted the search for Arkansas’ latest women’s basketball coach, and believes Collen fit the criteria for the Lady Razorbacks’ job.
"Among the things I looked at were recruiting, postseason appearances, rank of recruiting classes, top 25 rankings, and attendance – Tom had it all," Lewis said. "He is a strong evaluator of talent through his recruiting, and as a head coach he’s a proven developer of that talent."
In his final two seasons with Arkansas, Collen was promoted to assistant head coach for the Lady Razorbacks.
"I developed great working relationships with many of the people here and those proved to be very important in the decision to return to Arkansas," Collen said.
The national coach of the year in 1999, Collen ranks among the nation’s winningest women’s basketball coaches at the start of the 2006-07 season with a winning percentage of 75.4% to rank 11th among the Division I coaches. Winning his 200th game this past season, Collen achieved that coaching milestone in only his ninth season as a head coach, providing him an average of 23 wins a season.
His 2006-07 Louisville team made history by achieving the first national ranking in school history. Behind the presence of Big East Player of the Year Angel McCoughtry – only the second player in Big East history to lead the league in scoring and rebounding – Collen’s Cardinals closed the season with a school-record 27 wins and came within minutes of reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time ever.
"One of the toughest decisions for me was to leave Louisville in the midst of the building process with the job unfinished," Collen said. "It was especially difficult to leave (UL athletic director) Tom Jurich. He gave me my first head coaching opportunity at Colorado State, and he brought me to Louisville as well. I am forever indebted to him for that because that is what led me back to Fayetteville today."
Collen brings a reputation for recruiting and resurrecting programs to the Arkansas position. In his nine years as a head coach, his teams have never missed the post season and he has racked up eight 20-win seasons, missing a perfect nine by a single game.
During his career as an assistant and head coach in Division I, Collen’s recruiting has been singled out as among the best in the nation.
One of the most sought-after assistant coaches in America during his early career, he recruited the athletes that put Purdue and Arkansas into their first Final Four appearances. During his 14 seasons as a full-time assistant with Utah, Purdue and Arkansas, Collen produced 10 recruiting classes that ranked top 20 in the nation.
His final class at Utah ranked 19th, starting an eight-year run in the top 20 for the up-and-coming recruiter. Collen’s seven-year tenure at Purdue resulted in seven consecutive recruiting classes ranked in the top 20, including the top class in the nation in 1989. At Arkansas, his final two recruiting classes were ranked top 20 with the 1996 class achieving the highest ranking in school history at fifth.
Perhaps the most recognized recruit in Collen’s Arkansas career was future University hall of fame point guard Christy Smith who led the Lady Razorbacks to the 1998 Final Four. However, the recruiting classes during his four years as Arkansas’ recruiting coordinator included Parade All-Americans like Tennille Adams, 1998 NCAA West Regional MVP Sytia Messer and the second all-time three-point shooter in SEC history Wendi Willits. On the court, Collen’s defensive mastery turned Arkansas into a 20-game winner after one season. The Lady Razorbacks posted two post-season appearances during his four years.
Departing Arkansas after the 1997 season to take over the Colorado State program, he turned the Rams into champions in his first season. The Rams took the Western Athletic Conference regular season title winning 24 games and advancing to the NCAA second round.
The next season, CSU ran the table in the WAC with a school-record 33-3 record to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first and only time in school history. Led by Ram superstar Becky Hammon and fellow all-American Katie Cronin, Collen’ second year team put Colorado State on the map and earned conference, regional and national coach of the year honors for Collen.
While the accolades came for the 1999 team, Collen earned them the following year as he guided the Rams to another 20-win season in 2000. Rebuilding without Hammon and company, CSU reached the post season and advanced three games into the Women’s NIT before losing in the semifinals.
With a new foundation recruited to Fort Collins, Colorado State returned to the NCAA tournament in 2001 and 2002. Changing conferences in 2001, the Rams took the Mountain West tournament title in 2001 and the MVC regular season title in 2002.
After the 2002 season, Collen appeared bound for the SEC at Vanderbilt, but the Commodores withdrew their offer after mistakenly interpreting the veteran coach’s academic record from his graduate work at Miami of Ohio. Taking a year off from coaching in 2002-03, Collen was vindicated by the registrar’s office at Miami.
The next year, Collen took over the Cardinals and had the same immediate impact experienced at Colorado State. With a single returning starter, Collen led Louisville to a 20-win season and the first appearance in the Conference USA tournament semifinals since 1999. His coaching turned Sara Nord into an all-America candidate that led the Cardinals into the post season.
In his second year, Collen had UL leading C-USA before losing one of his starting forwards, Missy Taylor, to a torn meniscus. Turning to one of his freshmen recruits, Yuliya Tokova, Collen rebuilt the Cardinals who finished the season with a powerful surge to reach the C-USA finals for the first time since 1998. In the title game, UL took its second hit with a torn ACL to Tokova, yet the Cardinal closed the year at 22-9 and in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
His time at Louisville first produced three all-freshmen team members three straight seasons with Jazz Covington, Yuliya Tokova and Angel McCoughtry then all-conference honors peaking this past season with McCoughtry’s selection as the Big East Player of the Year. Covington became the first Wade Trophy watch list member in Cardinal history.
The 53-year-old native of Lancaster, Ohio, graduated from Bowling Green State in 1977 with his bachelor’s in physical education. He completed his master’s in recreational education and in health education at Miami of Ohio in 1983 while serving two seasons as the Red Hawks’ graduate assistant coach.
Collen and wife Nicki have twins, Reese and Connor, and are expecting their third child later this spring.