Collen Named Women's Hoops Head Coach

Winding road leads 2018 WNBA Coach of the Year to Waco

Collen Named Women's Hoops Head Coach

Nicki Collen’s “ah-ha” moment came in the fifth grade when she hit the game-winning shot in a recreation-league basketball game coached by her dad. 

“Every step of my life since then has been defined by that orange ball,” said Collen. “From falling in love with the game, to getting a college degree, to playing overseas, to getting involved in coaching and meeting my husband and following my husband’s career and then making this mine, truly mine, it’s been about that orange ball.”

Nicki Collen
Nicki Collen

Collen was named Baylor’s women’s basketball head coach May 5. She succeeds Kim Mulkey, who garnered a 632-104 record with three national titles in 21 seasons at Baylor. Collen has coached women’s basketball since the 2000-01 season, spending the past three seasons as head coach of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

“Basketball was my first love,” Collen said. “Not my only love, but my first love. And I’m still in love with it.”

Collen’s passion for the game ultimately convinced Baylor Vice President and Director of Athletics Mack B. Rhoades IV that she was the choice to lead a program that has won 11 consecutive Big 12 titles.

“Her combination of high intellect and humility, her faith, her belief, the way her Christian values align with Baylor’s, her unbelievable passion and wisdom for the game of basketball and the way she pours into her players is why we selected Nicki Collen as the fifth women’s basketball coach here at Baylor University,” Rhoades said. “Here’s to new beginnings.”

“Basketball was my first love,” Collen said. “Not my only love, but my first love. And I’m still in love with it.”

Collen said it is a daunting task to follow Mulkey, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member. Baylor finished 28-3 this season, falling to the University of Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament River Walk Regional Final. 

“But coaches like challenges,” Collen said. “I’m going to keep saying this: I’m not Kim Mulkey. I’m not going to try to be Kim Mulkey. I’m at that point in my life and career where I’m comfortable being Nicki Collen. I’m going to do it my way, and it might look and sound a little differently. The similar part is we’re both competitive. We may do it a different way, but there will probably be more similarities than differences.”

Collen spent nine seasons as a collegiate assistant coach. Her coaching career began at Colorado State University, followed by assistant coach stints at Ball State University, the University of Louisville, the University of Arkansas and Florida Gulf Coast University.

Collen was an assistant for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun for three seasons before taking the reins in Atlanta. She was named WNBA Coach of the Year following her inaugural season with the Dream, leading Atlanta to a 23-11 regular-season record and division title a year after the team went 12-22.

A Platteville, Wisconsin, native, Collen played collegiately at Purdue University and Marquette University. Purdue reached the Final Four in her freshman season (1993-94), and she played in the NCAA Tournament all four years.

Colorado State was more than where Collen began her coaching career. The Fort Collins, Colorado, university is where she met her husband Tom, who was the Rams’ head coach at the time. They married in 2001 and have three children: Connor, Reese and Logan.

Collen said that she may not have followed a traditional trajectory of a rising coach. After all, she was out of coaching for seven years as a stay-at-home mother. However, with time as a coach, a coach’s wife and a broadcaster, Collen said she’s been all over the country.

“It doesn’t look like anybody’s else’s path, but I loved every step of the way because it got me here,” she said.