For now, Northwest men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum is staying put in Maryville, where he’s helped bring home three NCAA Division II National Championship trophies in the last four full seasons.
With the circus that is the NCAA Division I coaching carousel finally calmed — and jobs at mid-major programs like University of Texas at El Paso and Abilene Christian filled — McCollum is still here. And he expects to be here in the fall, when the Bearcats will look to defend their latest national championship, which they won in dominant fashion over West Texas A&M March 27 in Evansville, Indiana.
“As of right now, yeah,” McCollum told The Missourian April 20. “I’m not going anywhere.”
This news might represent a pause in McCollum’s career arc that will inevitably carry him onto bigger programs in pursuit of better opportunities, but at least for now, his presence should be championed in Maryville. And while The Missourian generally reserves this editorial space for matters of more pressing local importance — often amplifying the voices of public health, offering commentary on area politics or critiquing deserving institutions — McCollum’s extended stay at the helm of a program that has always united residents in a divisive age seems worth celebrating.
Over the last 12 years — and increasingly over the last five — McCollum has become one of the most dominant coaching forces in all of college basketball. He’s done so at Northwest seemingly by fate, after suiting up for Northwest as a player in the early 2000s before ditching a career at Wells Fargo to become a graduate assistant under former coach Steve Tappmeyer. After taking an assistant job at Emporia State, McCollum found his way back to Northwest to replace Tappmeyer in March 2009, 10 years after graduating from St. Mary’s High School in Storm Lake, Iowa, and eight years after transferring to Northwest as a player.
If McCollum’s arrival at Northwest and ascension to the pinnacle of Division II coaching was by fate, the fact that he is still here must be by way of luck. There has been Division I interest in McCollum, and the coach has admitted to having Division I interest of his own. And while he’s been somewhat vague in most interviews about where he hopes his career takes him, it’s clear that Northwest won’t be his first and final stop as a head coach.
“I don’t need the ego boost of saying I am Division I,” McCollum told the Sioux City Journal earlier this month. “However, there are challenges that I would accept if it was the right opportunity.”
McCollum’s departure from Northwest, it seems, is going to come down to “when” and “where to” rather than if at all. And, to be clear, McCollum deserves to be a coach elsewhere, at a school with a larger endowment, playing at a higher level, paying more money to the coach who has built a dynasty in northwest Missouri.
When he departs — whether it’s in a week or a year or a half-decade — he should receive a hero’s send off. There should be only well wishes and positive press. There should be faith in his replacement and the process that he’ll leave behind. There should probably be an arena named after him.
But those are tasks for a tomorrow that is still on hold. For today, there should just be appreciation of a coach who has molded an above-average program into one of basketball’s greatest powerhouses — one that will continue to generate championships for at least as long McCollum is around.