WHEN DOUG COLLINS was first introduced to the city of Philadelphia, he was a skinny, curly haired 21-year-old out of Illinois State whom the 76ers selected with the first overall pick in the 1973 draft.
Thirty-seven years later, the hair is more closely cropped, though the build is still athletically slender. The mind now is immensely more filled with basketball knowledge, as Collins has immersed himself into the game, particularly in the NBA as a coach and broadcaster.
That is what attracted Sixers president and general manager Ed Stefanski during two meetings with Collins during his meticulous coaching search. Eventually it led to the hiring of the former Sixers player, who was introduced yesterday at the Wachovia Center as the team's 21st head coach.
"When we started this process, I mentioned to everyone that we wanted to find a coach who was a teacher, who was a motivator and a manager. Those were the three items we were looking for,'' Stefanski said.
"We met Doug and sat at his home for a long period of time and it became clear to us what a teacher he was. If you listen to his telecasts you know he's one of the brightest and most knowledgeable guys out there, and then when you talk to people he coached and people he worked for, the knowledge that he gained is second to none."
In a room that included his first pro coach (Gene Shue), his former next-door neighbor (Ron Jaworski), his wife, daughter and son-in-law, son and grandkids, Collins provided an enthusiasm that has been missing in this organization for a long time. And it wasn't an easy day, with orange ties and socks and executives with beards dominating the room (think Flyers).
"A lot of people say, 'Why would you want to do this,' and my answer is, 'Why not?' " Collins said. "I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and go to work here because there's some nice young pieces in this organization. I feel like I'm the bus driver. I've got to get the right people on the bus, and more importantly I've got to get them sitting in the right seats. If we can do that we're going to win a lot of games."
Collins comes with an open mind about his roster, which probably will include Evan Turner after the June 24 draft, in which the Sixers have the second pick. Unlike his predecessor, Eddie Jordan, who brought his Princeton offense and insisted it would work no matter the talent, Collins will wait to assess his players before implementing a system.
"I have a very active mind, sometimes too active," he said. "I think about if I were coaching that particular team tonight and I was playing against an opponent, how would I attack them, where would my matchups be, how would I like to sub, how am I putting myself in the position in the last 8 minutes of the game where I'm playing to my strength?
"You can't say, 'I'm going to take this group and play this way.' What you have to do is say, 'What do I have?' And then you've got to build your team around that. Every year that I coached I ran a different system because I've never had the same team. And that's what coaches have to do. They have to adjust and they have to play to their personnel."
Collins talked glowingly about point guard Jrue Holiday, who started 51 games in his rookie season. He said he wanted to make Andre Iguodala an all-NBA defender at the small forward spot and that he needed to "get back" Thaddeus Young, whom Collins believes is best suited at the power forward position.
"I think Jrue Holiday has a chance to be a terrific on-the-ball defender, that's where it all starts. Andre Iguodala should be an all-league defensive player at the small forward position. Thaddeus, I've got to get him back. He had a tough year, but the year before he played terrific.''
Collins already has a relationship with Elton Brand because of his connection to the Duke program, where his son Chris played and now serves as an associate head coach to Mike Krzyzewski. Collins believes that can be helpful in rejuvenating Brand. The forward was coming off an Achilles' injury when the Sixers signed him as a free agent in the summer of 2008, then injured his shoulder early in his first season here.
"Obviously, Elton is going to be critical, and I've got to get him playing the way he is capable of playing," Collins said.
In pointing out Brand's struggles in his first two Sixers seasons, Collins said, "He's had 2 tough years coming off the Achilles' and shoulder and we've got to get him healthy and feeling good about himself."
As for some of his other new players, Collins referenced "Sam [Dalembert] with his shot-blocking and rebounding. We've got good guys coming off the bench who can do some things in [Marreese] Speights and Lou Williams and Willie Green. Jodie Meeks played well at the end of the year. There's some pieces, now it's up to me to put it together."
Stefanski met with Collins on May 1 at Collins' home in Scottsdale, Ariz. A couple of weeks later, after meeting with candidates Dan Majerle and Monty Williams, Stefanski met again with Collins for lunch. Collins seemed to Stefanski to be the perfect fit for a team that grossly underachieved on its way to a 27-55 record this season.
"It is so good to be home again," Collins said. "Thirty seven years ago I walked into Philadelphia as a young kid from Benton, Ill., and Illinois State as the first pick in the draft of a team that was 9-73, so I'm 18 games ahead of where I started. This is an incredible city. I learned to grow up here."
His job now is to teach this young team to grow up the way he did.
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