Collins leaving UIC after 14 years

Jimmy Collins doesn't remember what life was like when he wasn't coaching.

That's why he's out to find out again.

After nearly 30 years of college coaching, Collins announced Tuesday he would be stepping away from the game and his position as UIC's head coach as of Aug. 31.

"It's too bad coaches can't go on sabbaticals, but they can't," Collins said. "After 30 years of being in the profession and, of course, 14 great years at UIC, I decided a rest would be in order. Whether it'll be permanent or a few months or a year, I need to see what kind of feelings I get every morning of not having to worry about 18 year olds.

"Well, I'm still going to be obviously watching the game of basketball. I'm going to really sit back after 30 years of dealing with stresses and preparations and see if I want to continue or get back into it. I'll weight all of that. Otherwise, I'll get my old straw hat and go fishing."

Collins took UIC's program to new heights in his 14 seasons with the Flames. He led UIC to its first NCAA tournament in 1998 and added two more NCAA appearances along with a NIT one during his tenure.

The Flames went 218-208 under Collins and had four seasons of 20 or more wins. UIC won the Horizon League championships in 2002 and 2004. He was also named the Midwestern College Conference Co-Coach of the Year in his first season.

"I think this was a program that was a sleeping giant before I got here," said Collins, who was an Illinois assistant coach for 13 seasons under Lou Henson before taking over at UIC. "I don't think it's sleeping anymore. It woke up."

UIC athletic director Jim Schmidt praised Collins as a coach and person on Tuesday.

"Jimmy Collins holds the all-time winningest men's basketball coach title and during his tenure raised the stature of the UIC men's basketball program," said Jim Schmidt in a statement. "Coach Collins embraced the values that UIC athletics aspires to uphold. He had great integrity, leadership skills and accountability while holding academics, the student-athlete experience and excellence as his guiding principles."

Collins said Schmidt and his coaching staff were aware that he was considering retirement. Collins also said his decision was not health related.

Collins wasn't sure exactly how to feel after his decision.

"You deal with mixed emotions," Collins said. "When you deal with the unknown around the corner, you wonder how that's going to be. I'm not happy about leaving some of the greatest kids I've had the pleasure in knowing. There are some great coaches and great administrators over there. I'm not happy walking away from that.

"Anytime there is a decision to make and you make that decision, you feel good about being able to do that."

Schmidt said UIC would hold a national search for its next coach.

"We anticipate great interest in our head men's basketball coaching position," Schmidt said. "The UIC men's basketball program will have the components for an excellent future."

Former UIC assistant coach Tracy Dildy was thought to be a possible successor for Collins, but recently left the program to take Chicago State's head coaching position.

Illinois assistant coaches Jerrance Howard and Jay Price, Minnesota assistant coach Vince Taylor, Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore, UIC assistant coaches Bryant Lowe and Mark Miller and former Oregon coach Ernie Kent have been mentioned as possible replacements.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.