Out with new, in with old: Jordan brings on Collins

Wizards' boss hires his ex-coach for job vacated by rookie

Pro Basketball

April 20, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The life of a basketball television analyst is a good one, what with your weekdays free and the ability to live where and how you want.

That lifestyle is so good, in fact, that it took a special phone call to drag Doug Collins out of it, namely one from Michael Jordan, the man who defined Collins' early coaching career in Chicago.

Jordan, the Wizards' president of basketball operations, had been warming Collins up to the prospect of coaching the chronically woeful team for about two weeks and got Collins to sign on here yesterday, replacing Leonard Hamilton, who abruptly resigned after Wednesday's season finale.

"A lot of people say why, why do this? It's easy. Because Michael Jordan called me on the phone and he said, `I need you. I need your help.' Once he said that, I knew this was the place for me to be," said Collins, who is in the option year of his four-year contract with NBC. "When he told me he would be there for me on a daily basis as we try to get this right, that's all I needed to know."

He'll continue with NBC through the playoffs and then assume full duties as Wizards coach. And so, the two men, who first bonded 15 years ago when Collins took over the Chicago Bulls in Jordan's second season, re-form their partnership. The goal this time is to straighten out a Wizards team that has had only five winning seasons in the past 20, and just set a franchise record for most losses in a single season at 19-63.

Collins, who coached three seasons in Chicago before he was fired after the 1988-89 season and worked in Detroit for another three seasons, is under no illusions that his job will be easy. He'll be the Wizards' fifth coach in seven years. Reclamation projects are nothing new to Collins.

He was the first player chosen in the 1973 NBA draft, by Philadelphia - which lost 73 of 82 games that year for the worst record in league history. And he inherited bad teams in Chicago and Detroit.

"If you know my background, you would know that I have never started at the top," said Collins. "I have never inherited a rose garden. I have always worked hard to try and make the place that I have been better after I have left. That has always been my goal."

The process of bringing Collins aboard began almost two weeks ago when Jordan and Hamilton spoke about the former coach's future with the team. Jordan said that Hamilton, who had not coached professionally before he left the University of Miami after 10 seasons, expressed concern about his desire to coach in the NBA.

Even with that concern, Hamilton spoke to his team and the media before Wednesday's 98-92 loss to Toronto as if he would be returning next season. He was summoned to Jordan's MCI Center office after the game, and the two met for two hours before Hamilton told the media just before midnight that he was resigning.

Yesterday, Jordan said that he hoped that he wouldn't have had to fire Hamilton, but felt the change was appropriate and that Collins was the right choice.

"He [Hamilton] was against all odds, but I don't think that it depreciates his value as a coach," said Jordan. "He had to pick and learn the program and then learn how to adjust to the new rules coming in. And that's a disadvantage for Leonard. That's why I chose to go with more experience, [with] a guy that I've played with, a guy that I've played against, that could take this new style of basketball and implement it on a team of young, talented basketball players."

Collins and Jordan, who had run-ins in their Chicago days that reportedly cost Collins his job, also have the little matter of a working relationship to iron out.

Jordan, who retired as a player three years ago, recently has been training heavily amid rumors that he is seeking to return to the NBA. Yesterday Jordan repeated that he is "99.9 percent" certain he will not play again, but also left open the door that he could come back.

Nevertheless, Jordan told Collins that he should prepare for the coming season as if he will be his boss, not his star player.

"The most important thing for me is Michael is going to be the president here and that he and I are going to be together. Whatever comes after that is gravy," said Collins. "Would I love for him to play? Darn right I would love to have Michael. But the most important thing is that Michael is going to make that decision. When Michael makes his decision, he's going to know in his heart whether or not he can do the things he wants to do. That was all I needed to know from Michael."

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