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Bobby Collins leaving WSSU for Maryland-Eastern Shore

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Bobby Collins is 78-33 in his past four seasons as the head coach at Winston-Salem State. (Lauren Carroll/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Bobby Collins, the coach with the second longest tenure in the history of the Winston-Salem State’s men’s basketball program, is leaving to become the coach at Division I Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Collins, 48, said that he’s ready for the challenge of turning perennial loser UMES into a contender in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The decision to leave wasn’t an easy one for Collins, but the lure of coaching again at the NCAA Division I level was too good to pass up.

“I realize it’s going to be a challenge,” Collins said about coaching the Hawks, who have had just one winning season in the last 35 years.

Collins had an offer from UMES and talked to Keith Davidson, the school’s athletics director, at the Final Four in Dallas. Collins returned to Winston-Salem on Monday and made the decision to take the job on Tuesday morning.

Collins held a meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Gaines Center to let the players know he was leaving.

Collins spent the last eight seasons at WSSU and went 116-114 during that time; the Rams went 79-33 over the last four seasons with one CIAA title and three trips to the NCAA Division II tournament.

In his 12 seasons as a head coach, including four seasons at Division I Hampton, Collins has a 181-171 record with two conference championships.

Before coming to WSSU, Collins guided Hampton to three straight MEAC championship games and the 2006 MEAC title. But Collins resigned two days after the Pirates lost a play-in game in the NCAA Tournament in 2006.

Collins then took a job as an assistant at St. Augustine’s but was there for only about a month before WSSU hired Collins to replace Phillip Stitt, who had resigned.

Collins’ eight seasons at WSSU are second only to the late Big House Gaines, who compiled 828 wins in his 47 seasons. Collins’ 116 wins are second most in school history behind Gaines’ 828 victories.

Collins went 5-24 in his first season in 2006-07, when WSSU was in the first season of a transition to the MEAC and Division I. WSSU halted the move to Division I before Collins’ fourth season. Collins made some headway with the program during the transition years; the Rams went 12-17 in the final season of playing a full Division I schedule.

During the last four seasons, Collins helped the Rams become one of the most consistent programs in the CIAA, averaging 20 wins a season. The Rams won the CIAA title in 2012 and returned to the championship game this past season, when they lost to Livingstone in the final.

The Rams went 18-11 this past season with a roster that included eight new players and three new starters. The Rams missed the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time in four seasons.

Collins is only the second coach in history to win titles in both the MEAC and the CIAA. Cal Irvin accomplished the feat at N.C. A&T.

Collins has a lot of work to do to make the Hawks into contenders.

Frankie Allen was fired by UMES after a loss to Norfolk State in the first round of the MEAC Tournament last month. Allen was 42-139 in six seasons at UMES; his best record in the MEAC was in the 2009-10 season, when the Hawks went 8-8 and tied for fifth.

The Hawks were 6-24 this past season and 4-13 in the MEAC. Their lone MEAC Tournament title came in 1974.

Collins said the hardest part for him will be leaving the current team, which should be a contender in the CIAA next season. Rising seniors WyKevin Bazemore, Marquez Jones — both All-CIAA this past season — and William Peay have been with Collins the longest.

“WyKevin has been a very special player for us and he is a warrior,” Collins said. “I can’t say enough about what he did, and what he’ll continue to do.”

Collins, a Southern Pines native and former player at Eastern Kentucky, had two years left on his contract that paid him around $107,000 a year.

Collins said he hopes that his top assistant, James Wilhelmi, who has been at WSSU for the last three seasons and was instrumental in recruiting the current players, will get a chance to stay and be the head coach. Forward Nate Long (Mount Tabor) and high-scoring guard Terrell Leach (Southwest Guilford) redshirted this past season and both will have chances to make immediate impacts.

“The program is in good shape for this coming season,” Collins said.

Other possible candidates include Ken Spencer, a former assistant at WSSU who is the associate head coach at S.C. State, and John Mosley, another former assistant at WSSU who is the associate head coach at N.C. Central, which won the MEAC Tournament title this past season and played in the NCAA Tournament.

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