She replaces Kim Mulkey, who left last week to become LSU's coach. Current Atlanta assistant Mike Petersen takes over as interim head coach of the Dream, who begin their season on May 14.
"Nicki is a passionate leader of young women and an elite basketball mind and teacher of the game,'' Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a statement. "She is a great mission fit who shares in our vision of Preparing Champions for Life by commanding excellence both on and off the court. Nicki's professional experience will be invaluable to developing players for the next level. Her addition sustains our commitment to the women's basketball program at the highest level."
Collen became the Dream's head coach prior to the 2018 season and went 38-52 in her three years with Atlanta. Her best season was her first, when the Dream finished 23-11 in 2018 and advanced to the WNBA semifinals.
Prior to her time with the Dream, Collen was an assistant for two WNBA seasons with the Connecticut Sun.
Collen, who will turn 46 on May 13, was a college assistant before moving to the WNBA, working at Florida Gulf Coast, Arkansas, Louisville, Ball State and Colorado State. She worked with her husband, Tom Collen, at Arkansas, Louisville and Colorado State when he was head coach at those schools. She played collegiately at Purdue and Marquette.
"I am thrilled to be the head coach at Baylor University. I believe it is the top job in the country for women's basketball," Collen said. "I am excited to begin working with this extremely talented team, and I am grateful for the unwavering support of President [Linda] Livingstone and Mack Rhoades. The success of this program speaks for itself, and I will begin working today to ensure Baylor women's basketball continues to be a program that excels at the highest levels."
Baylor rising senior NaLyssa Smith, the 2021 Wade Trophy winner and No. 1 on ESPN.com's list of its top 25 players for next season, tweeted in response to Collen's hiring: "Time to get to work!"
time to get to work ! 💫💫💫 https://t.co/5Ag0UmNYKh— #1 (@NaLyssaSmith) May 3, 2021
Collen is scheduled to address the media on Wednesday.
The Dream went 7-15 last year during the WNBA's season in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida. It was a challenging time for Atlanta, with players in disagreement with then-Dream co-owner and U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler over multiple issues, including her comments on the WNBA's support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
WNBA players backed Loeffler's opponent in Georgia's U.S. Senate race, Raphael Warnock, who won in a runoff election on Jan. 5.
In February, the Dream franchise was sold to a three-member group led by real estate investor Larry Gottesdiener, now the team's majority owner. Suzanne Abair, president of Northland Investment Corp., and former WNBA player Renee Montgomery are the other two investors.
On April 21, the Dream fired president and general manager Chris Sienko, with the move coming just six days after the WNBA draft.
Dream center Kalani Brown, a Baylor alum who was a key part of the Lady Bears' 2019 title team, reacted to Monday's news on Twitter, "Ya'll blowing me up... Please I'm just as shocked as ya'll."
Ya'll blowing me up... Please I'm just as shocked as ya'll 😩🤷🏾♀️— 𝐋𝐀𝐍𝐈. (@kalanibrown21) May 3, 2021
Petersen joined the Dream's staff shortly after Collen was hired in late 2017. He previously was a head coach and an assistant at the college level for many years for women's and men's basketball. That included eight seasons leading the Wake Forest women's program. He also has been head coach for the Gonzaga, New Mexico State, TCU and North Texas women's programs as well as an assistant with the Oregon women's team and Minnesota men's team.
"We are grateful to Nicki Collen for her hard work coaching the Dream over the past three years. We wish her great success at Baylor University," the Dream said in a statement. "At this time, we are thrilled to announce the promotion of Mike Petersen from assistant coach to interim head coach, who will work closely with assistant coach Darius Taylor. They are invaluable members of the Atlanta Dream family, and we look forward to their leadership of the team this season."
Baylor won three NCAA titles under Mulkey (2005, 2012 and 2019) and a combined 23 Big 12 titles, between the regular season and the league tournament. Mulkey was 632-104 as Baylor's head coach from 2000 to 2021.