Posted Sep 2 2010 7:17AM
If he had been one of the Wright brothers, he'd have invented the jet engine before the propeller plane. If he were a caveman, he would have thought of the radial tire before the wheel.
Thus, it should surprise no one that Doug Collins is a few steps ahead of the pack in his return to Philadelphia as coach of the Sixers.
"It will feel great to have old excitement and electricity back in the city and back in the building," he said. "We're gonna have a team that the people will respond to. We're gonna have meaningful games late in the season. We're gonna have a playoff atmosphere and all that brings."
Never mind learning to crawl when you can simply stand up and break into an all-out sprint. That has always been the Collins way from the time he was an All-American at Illinois State, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1973 Draft and a brilliant but star-crossed guard for the Sixers to all of his three previous three NBA coaching stops.
On the court and off it, he's always been an exposed nerve end, someone who practically hums like a tuning fork when you stand next to him, the equivalent of a fireworks display that lights up the sky and then quickly dissolves into the night.
"I think at 35 years old, you could say that, maybe at 45," Collins said, nodding his head. "I don't think that's the case at 59. I'm a grandpa now with four grandkids and I think you see things differently. I think you get older with vision and a perspective that changes.
"When you're younger you just roll up your sleeves and you're gonna fight the world and make it all right and stuff. Then, in the words of the late Chuck Daly, you learn to pick and choose your battles."
Daly, the Hall of Famer who guided the Pistons to back-to-back NBA championships and the Dream Team to Olympic gold in 1992, used to call it "selective hearing."
Collins calls it just one of the things he's gleaned from all of the other coaches he came in contact with during his past seven years as a TNT analyst after being fired by the Wizards following a two-year stint during Michael Jordan's comeback in 2003.
"I always knew I was gonna do it again," he said. "I always knew I was gonna coach again. I was not gonna rush back into it. It was gonna pick a situation that I thought fit who I am and what I do as a coach. I've always gone to teams that have been down and have some talent. I feel like I'm a teacher. I feel that I create an environment where guys get better.
"The one thing I've felt is that wherever I've gone, the teams have gotten better. We won more games. I've always felt that wherever I've left has been better for me being there and I don't mean to say that in an arrogant way."
Collins took over a Chicago team with Jordan and Scottie Pippen that finished 30-52 in 1986 and had them at 47-35 and in the Eastern Conference finals when he was let go in 1989. Detroit was 28-54 the season when he arrived in 1995 and he had them at 54-28 two years later. In Washington, during Jordan's comeback, the Wizards had consecutive 37-45 seasons under Collins, but that was up substantially from the 19-63 team he inherited.
Now the Sixers, after consecutive playoff first-round losses in 2008 and 2009 that many believed was underachieving, are coming off a loud 27-55 belly flop of a season that got coach Eddie Jordan fired after less than one year on the job.
The right opportunity came along just when Collins was ready to scratch that itch again.
"I wasn't going just anyplace," he said. "I'd had five or six other opportunities in recent years and just said no. There are only two cities -- Philadelphia or Chicago -- that I said I would go to. I almost went to Chicago two years ago. Then [Bulls owner] Jerry Reinsdorf and I talked and he said, 'I don't want to turn our personal relationship into a business' and I understood.
"That left Philly. I waited and this came out. It was right because of my wife and my family. My wife and I had lived there before and were comfortable. My daughter lives just outside the city. The grandkids are there. I have friends in Philly."
Not to mention memories having helped pick the Sixers up off the floor once before. As a rookie, Collins joined a team that had set the NBA's worst ever record of 9-73 the year before. He soon became a vastly underrated four-time All-Star on a star-spangled lineup that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis and Darryl Dawkins that won all the headlines but no championships.
He looks now at a roster that features talented young pieces in Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and No. 2 draft pick Evan Turner. He sees a Boston team that is still the class of the Atlantic Division, but getting older, along with New York, New Jersey and Toronto that are either in transition or in trouble.
He was a fiery bundle of optimism walking into each of those previous jobs, but left burned and wilted like a used candle. So at a time when Steve Kerr was quick to jump from the hot seat of being the general manager in Phoenix to taking over Collins' job behind the TNT microphone, the question is why would he want to put himself through it again?
"I just feel like I'm in the best spot I've ever been as a coach," Collins said. "I'm driven. But so are Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan."
The head bobs, the eyes dance and that high-pitched voice can still go up another octave when he's running down the young roster and over all of the plans he has for his old/new town this season.
"It's ready, the city is so ready," he said. "I do know and understand the emotion and excitement when things are right. I've been in this situation before. I know what it feels like in Philadelphia to get it going again."
Doug Collins, ahead of the pack as usual, is already there again.
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