Nicki Collen named Baylor's next head coach

This decision comes as a shock to the women’s basketball world. Mulkey’s seat was a major spot to fill

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Baylor has named the Atlanta Dream’s Nicki Collen as the next head coach of its women’s basketball program, succeeding the 21-year run of Kim Mulkey, who headed to LSU on April 25. Atlanta has named assistant Mike Petersen as its interim head coach.

This decision comes as a shock to the women’s basketball world. Mulkey’s seat was a major spot to fill, and Baylor jumped on the opportunity to hire a “player’s” coach from the professional level — a description anointed by multiple players during the Atlanta Dream’s press conferences in training camp.

"Today is an exciting day for Baylor University and our women's basketball program. Nicki is a passionate leader of young women and an elite basketball mind and teacher of the game," said Baylor Athletic Director Rhoades. " 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 coached in Atlanta for three years, leading the team to the playoffs in its first year, and was poised to make a playoff run this season. Hours before the decision was announced, Collen said that she expected the Dream to improve upon last season’s spot in the standings.

“I think we're a team that you know, wants to work our way back to the playoffs and prove that we're a playoff team,” she said earlier Monday. “I think we were a fringe playoff team a year ago. I don't necessarily think you know, we're gonna be in anybody's top four or five in terms of predictions in this league. So you know, it's about playing with a chip it's about having fun as we play it's about proving people wrong.”

Obviously, the next coach will assume these expectations, and Atlanta is left to scramble. The Dream are poised to have an exciting backcourt with Chennedy Carter, Aari McDonald, Odyssey Sims, and Courtney Williams, and will now have to navigate the 2021 season — which is just 11 days away — with a new head coach. Collen had taken on management duties on an interim basis in recent weeks after general manager Chris Sienko and Atlanta parted ways.

"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 in a press release. "I am excited to begin working with this extremely talented team and I am grateful for the unwavering support of President 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, on the other hand, sits comfortably with Collen taking over at the helm for a Final Four-contending team, which is led by All-American senior NaLyssa Smith. Collen has never held a head coaching job at the collegiate level but is a very well-regarded coach with experience as an assistant at the college level. Her teams' combined for a 214-74 record in nine seasons as an NCAA Division I assistant. With the NCAA’s new transfer portal rules available, the current roster’s confidence in Collen could be on public display.

Collen will be formally introduced Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.

“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 wrote 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.”