He comes in to jump start a young team. He’s highly emotional. Players feed off of it. They overachieve as a unit.
Eventually though, he wears on them. They don’t want to go through the rigmarole any longer. His challenges become insults. His voice begins to sound like nails on a chalkboard to them. They disengage. They UNDERACHIEVE.
This has been the book on Doug Collins for as long as we’ve known him. Yet, it still surprises us.
When The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Philadelphia 76ers hoped Doug Collins would step down (a nice way of asking him to quit), and that they wouldn’t extend him regardless of his decision, I received countless texts, tweets and emails from fans, friends and colleagues, most of whom were on Collins’ behalf. Either they couldn’t seem to understand it, didn’t think the lost season was his fault, or a combination of both.
The truth is that Doug Collins simply wears on his teams and his co-workers. He always has. His teams have historically shown vast improvement upon his arrival as well.
When the Chicago Bulls hired him in 1986, he improved their win total by 10 games in his first season. He coached the Detroit Pistons in 1995-96 and Washington Wizards in 2001-02, improving their win totals by 18 each. He lasted no more than three years with any of those organizations. In 2010-11, the Sixers started off 3-13 in Collins first year as head coach. They finished the season 14 wins better than in 2009-10.
The end of this season? The end of year three.
Collins, a former No. 1 overall pick by the 76ers, has a huge coaching ego, which seems to lead to his demise. He is very demanding, very forthright in what he needs and wants and reportedly is not a fun guy to work with. There’s a certain level of uncomfortableness whenever he’s in a team or front office meeting. As much as we think of sports as a meritocracy, there are aspects of it that are no different than the real world. Most of us spend the majority of our time at our workplace. We want to work with people we enjoy being around, if ever given the option. Most of us don’t have a choice. The Sixers front office does.
The issue is, that as great as Collins is at turning a young team around, at demonstrating to them what they’re capable of, they always seem to reach a plateau. When that plateau is reached, as it seemingly did in Philadelphia last year, it’s no longer worthwhile. As anyone involved in sports in any way will tell you: winning cures all. If the Sixers were skating into the playoffs this season, Evan Turner was vastly improving and the future felt bright, you can bet your ass I’m not writing this piece today. Yet Doug Collins would still be Doug Collins, and his bosses would tolerate him for (at least) one more season.
Obviously that’s not the case here. So what we’re left with is a possible public relations nightmare if the fans of this team overwhelmingly side with Collins. In case you’re unsure, that is the absolute last thing Joshua Harris and the rest of the new ownership group wants.
In 2002 the First Union/Wachovia/Wells Fargo Center’s attendance peaked at an average of 20,560 for Sixers home games. That number dipped slowly over time as the team failed to see the type of playoff glory they saw in 2001. In the 2009-10 season, known around Philly as “The Eddie Jordan Season,” average attendance sunk to just over 14,200 per home game. This season Joshua Harris is seeing averages of just over 16,500 per, and it’s been declining since the Denver season opener, which was sold out, as Andrew Bynum‘s status became more and more clear. You can bank on the fact that this ownership group has those attendance numbers on a big whiteboard in a big conference room where they all meet. And more importantly, the numbers of season ticket renewals, which are happening less frequently for their team than three-game winning streaks.