A three-pointer swishes its way through the net, sending nearly all of Moby Arena’s 4,000 attendees into joyful shouting. Nearly everyone is screaming and pumping their fists in celebration.
There, on the baseline, is CSU women’s basketball head coach Tom Collen.
With his usual crouched position accompanying his idle stare, one might think he was studying a Van Gogh, rather than watching his team pull off another victory.
Such is the demeanor of one of the most successful CSU coaches.
“There will be times when we go out when I have to ask him, ‘Are you having a good time?'” said wife and Rams’ assistant coach Nikki Collen of her husband’s laid back exterior. “Sometimes, it’s hard to understand, but that’s just the way he is. He’s one of those people that can hide his emotions.”
And he’s had plenty to be emotional about.
In the past two years, he has seen his team win the Mountain West Conference tournament and advance to their fourth NCAA tournament berth in six years. Oh yeah, he also met and married the woman of his dreams.
Though he’s not big on showing it, Collen has plenty to be happy about.
“I’m a very lucky man,” Collen said. “I’m working at a great university under a supportive administration. I’m living in a beautiful town in a beautiful part of the country. I’ve got good players and parents, and we’re finding a way to win games.”
The rant is an uncommon thing for Collen. Many times he can be found quietly observing at practice or during film sessions, while assistants handle the bulk of the talking. Seems surprising when considering his original coaching idol.
“I started out a big Bobby Knight fan,” Collen said of the controversial former Indiana and current Texas Tech head coach. “I always thought I was going to be like Bobby Knight, but I’m probably the furthest removed (from him) of any coach I can think of.”
True enough, Collen’s mouth is shut most times and his appearance can seem stoic and statue-like during even the most pressure-packed of games. But rest assured, his mind is racing faster than a green-and-gold fast break.
“I feel the same things as other coaches,” Collen said. “I feel the frustration. I feel the joy. I’m just very emotionally stable on the surface in my actions.”
That stability is put to the test on game days, which always start off, according to Collen, with “a slow buildup of stress that doesn’t end until the final buzzer sounds.”
And while Collen says he enjoys dealing with the inevitable stress of coaching, the thing that’s brought the most happiness and contentment to the 48-year-old coach is his two-year romance.
“As much as my focal point has always been basketball, I felt like I was missing something,” Collen said. “It’s a cliche, but I’ve become more of a whole person now and Nikki has a lot to do with that.”
With his search for love complete, even Collen’s players have noticed the softer side of the man calling the shots.
“You can genuinely see how much he loves her and truly cares about her, that she means the world to him,” junior forward Ashley Augspurger said. “You can just see it in him.”
It doesn’t take an all-conference forward to see the success that Collen has been producing in Fort Collins for five years. Don’t look for the Rams’ bench to get any louder than usual this season.
It’s not for lack of things to shout about. It’s just that Tom Collen probably never will. n