Doug Collins will not last a fourth year in Philadelphia, because Collins never lasts four years anywhere. The steadfast rule throughout Collins’ coaching career is that his tenure is always is shorter than the typical presidential administration.
Multiple reports indicate that Collins informed the Sixers on Sunday night that he will not return as coach next season, bringing to an end a run that was alternatively wildly successful and disastrous for the team and coach. As is often the case, Collins’ departure is sprinkled with some factors he could be blamed for and many he could not, but ultimately all that matters is that the number in the “losses” column is higher than the number in the “wins” column.
It was not Collins’ fault, for instance, that Andrew Bynum‘s knees fell apart and that the team’s big offseason acquisition may never play a single game in a Sixers uniform. Even so, Collins has to shoulder some responsibility, since he had to give his approval to the deal knowing full well that Bynum has had difficulty staying on the court. This is just the way it has gone for Collins, which is why the news that he may take a non-coaching position within the organization is heartening.
Collins has long been an excellent coach who does not necessarily enjoy the other things that come with coaching in the NBA. He seems uncomfortable with front office politics, trying to appeal to fickle fans or massaging players’ fragile egos. What he does, maybe better than any other active coach, is teach the game. He is a fountain of knowledge and a near-perfectionist, and that can reap huge benefits with young teams that need micromanaged direction. When those players become more independent, Collins’ intensity and attention to detail tend to grate.
Three years in Chicago, gone. Three years in Detroit, adios. Only two years in Washington, then Michael Jordan retired for good, and Collins went back to TV. Year three in Philadelphia is about to come to an ignominious end.
A look at the stars who blossomed under Collins, then outlasted him a few years later, is long and impressive. Jordan, Grant Hill and now possibly Jrue Holiday began their ascent on Collins’ watch but needed him to move on for them to continue to grow. Now the Sixers, for all their botched handling of their roster during the last offseason, may finally be the team that utilizes Collins in the perfect way for both himself and the team.
Collins knows everything about basketball. OK, not really, but just about. The man’s memory and understanding of basketball minutia is incredible. If you were to ask him, he could probably tell you precisely the best way to set your feet when cutting along the baseline for a jump shot because he once saw Andrew Toney do it in the third quarter of a game at the Spectrum in 1981. He could probably tell you what the score was and how many fouls Darryl Dawkins had at the time, too — and that is not an exaggeration.
That exactness can wear thin every day in practice, but it could be invaluable in an advisory role. Perhaps Collins just works with the rookies and non-guaranteed contract guys in summer league or assists in a few crash-course sessions during training camp. Maybe he takes charge of working out prospective draft picks, since nobody recognizes potential or identifies areas of possible improvement like Collins. Or maybe he does something as simple and grassroots as become the face of the Sixers’ youth camps, guiding players most in need of in-depth instruction in his element, away from the cameras and millionaire employees.
However unfavorable the situation was, the honest assessment is that Collins’ performance this season did not merit another year on the sideline. Still, while he may not be good enough to serve as the Sixers’ head coach any longer, he is too good to simply let walk.
The Sixers are a franchise at a crossroads. They have a relatively new ownership group, a roster in transition and a fan base skeptical of giving their hearts to a team that usually lets them down. At a time like this, the Sixers could use a teacher. They could use someone like Collins — just not on the bench.