Published May 24, 2010
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Doug Collins helped lead the 76ers from the bottom of the NBA to the Finals as a player.
He gets that shot now as their coach.
All anyone wants to know is, why?
Collins understands why friends and fans keep asking him why he would quit a cozy job calling NBA games on TNT for a job coaching the Philadelphia 76ers. Among the reasons is the one that raced through his mind as his plane touched down.
Philadelphia is home.
With his daughter, who lives in the Philly area, among the scores of family members attending Collins' press conference on Monday, he was reminded of the imprint the city left on him when he played on some of the greatest Sixers teams in franchise history. Collins wants to revitalize the Sixers — and make them matter again in a city where their popularity has plummeted among all sports teams.
"We're talking about being relevant again," Collins said Monday. "I want the Sixers to be on people's tongues again. ... I want the Sixers to be the basketball team that people want to see. This is a pro town. This city loves pro basketball. This is one of the signature franchises in the NBA."
Yes, but not one of the successful ones.
The Sixers haven't won a playoff series since 2003 or won a championship since 1983. Since Larry Brown left in 2003, the Sixers have discarded six other coaches. The 58-year-old Collins has a four-year deal to build a winner in Philly.
"For the very first time in a long time, I feel very confident this organization is going in the right direction," Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider said.
The Sixers could have hired Collins last summer. He was interested in the job but never got a call from team president Ed Stefanski. Stefanski picked his friend, Eddie Jordan, and the decision backfired almost from the day he was hired.
Jordan's lone season wasn't a total bust — the Sixers won the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery.
Stefanski admitted his mistake in not reaching out to Collins last year.
"We had a list that we felt comfortable with and we went from there," Stefanski said. "Obviously, it was not the right decision and we rectified it."
Collins was interviewed this year on May 1, and was in constant contact with Sixers management even as other candidates surfaced. Collins had one request of Stefanski: If he found someone better, call him.
Stefanski made a call — but it was to tell Collins last week he had the job.
The Sixers also shot down speculation that Stefanski's job was on the rocks by letting him hire Collins. Stefanski has seen many of his major moves fail and neither Snider nor chief operating officer Peter Luukko gave him a public endorsement at the end of the season.
Stefanski's job is safe for now as the Sixers overhaul takes shape.
"When did I say I wanted to replace him?" Snider said. "He's the general manager, he's got two more years on his contract. I haven't said anything negative, have I?"
Collins inherits a team that needs backcourt help with the No. 2 pick, and Ohio State guard Evan Turner has emerged as the likely choice. Most of the nucleus was around for two straight first-round playoff exits before last year's flop, giving Collins confidence there is the right developing talent to build around.
"We've got some players on the team that I'm going to have to revitalize a little bit, get their joy of the game back," Collins said.
Jordan's weakness was implementing a plodding Princeton offense on his up-tempo roster. Collins wants to evaluate his team before deciding what style to play.
Collins played eight seasons with the 76ers and was a four-time All-Star in a career shortened by injuries. He's been here before. Collins was drafted No. 1 overall in 1973 by a Sixers team coming off an NBA-worst 9-73 record. Four years later, the Sixers were in the NBA finals. Collins would love history to repeat itself.
"I'm 18 games ahead of where I started last time," Collins said, laughing.
He went 332-287 in three previous coaching stints with Chicago, Detroit and Washington. Collins, who led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1989, has worked as an analyst for TNT since leaving the Wizards in 2003.
He was introduced only hours before the Flyers had a chance at clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup finals. He shook hands with Flyers coach Peter Laviolette before the press conference, and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski and Temple coach Fran Dunphy were among the guests at the Wachovia Center.
Collins said he's still assembling his coaching staff, but will retain former Sixers guard Aaron McKie. He'll finish calling the Western Conference finals for TNT. It might be as close as Collins gets to the finals for a few years.
"We're not ready to be a championship team right now," Collins said.
It's his job to make them one.