- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

The Washington Wizards continued to purge themselves of any vestiges of the Michael Jordan era yesterday by firing his hand-picked coach, Doug Collins, three weeks after majority owner Abe Pollin told Jordan he would not return to his former job of president of basketball operations.

“Several weeks ago, Doug and I spoke, and we promised each other we would be fair in whatever happened,” Pollin said in a statement released by the team. “With seven head coaching positions available in the league and with his future here in Washington in doubt, I felt that it was only fair that Doug be given a chance to pursue other interests. Doug was our head coach in a very unique situation, and I know that he worked very, very hard to prepare our team for every game.”

Just more than a week ago, Pollin said Collins’ future would be determined by whomever the team hires to run its basketball operations. At that time, Pollin said he wanted to have that person in place before the NBA Draft on June26 and possibly earlier. However, it became clear that the Wizards would be unable to adhere to those rigid parameters if they wanted to pick from the widest possible array of candidates.

Yesterday’s move came as little surprise to Collins, 51, who is in Hawaii preparing to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary.

“I think everybody had a sense all along that I was going to be fired and it was just a matter of when it was going to happen,” said Collins, who compiled a 74-90 record (.451) over two seasons. “Anytime you get fired, it hurts. But I understand the organization is moving in another direction.

“I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to take the team to the playoffs. I know how important it was for Michael and the organization. I feel sadly that I wasn’t able to get that done. It’s my job as a coach to win, to make sure those things happen, and that didn’t happen.”

Collins coached Jordan and the Chicago Bulls from 1986 to 1989 and the Detroit Pistons from 1995 to 1998. He was working as a TV analyst when Jordan lured him back to the bench. His two seasons with the Wizards were the only ones in which his teams did not make the playoffs.

Collins’ departure leaves the Wizards looking for their seventh coach since 1999. Of the last five, only Collins lasted more than one season. He has two years remaining on his contract and will receive at least $10million in compensation.

His dismissal allows the Wizards to join the glut of teams looking for a coach. The Wizards also need a top basketball executive to replace general manager Wes Unseld, who will take a leave of absence following the draft.

The Wizards have yet to identify a top candidate for this job. According to a recent report, they expressed interest in Larry Brown, who wore both hats in Philadelphia before he resigned earlier this week. However, Brown already has met with the owners of both the Houston Rockets — a team perceived as having a much better nucleus than the Wizards — and the Los Angeles Clippers, who are not far from his Malibu home.

“Don’t look for that to happen,” said a league source with knowledge of the Wizards situation. “Larry’s attracted to Yao Ming and [the Rockets] potential. And even though he’s already coached the Clippers, he and his wife love it out there.”

Said Collins: “If [the Wizards] get Larry Brown, they’ve hit a home run — they’ve got a Hall of Fame coach with a proven track record wherever he’s gone. He’s a brilliant man. But for them to get Larry, it would have to be both positions.”

More realistic candidates in whom the Wizards are said to be interested are the New Jersey Nets’ duo of chief scout Eddie Stefanski (basketball operations) and assistant Eddie Jordan (coach). Philadelphia also is said to be interested in Jordan, but when Brown left the 76ers, Billy King was promoted to team president. One league source said Stefanski and Jordan, who have played a large role in the current success of the two-time Eastern Conference champion Nets, want to continue working together.

Collins had said he wanted the Wizards to be his final coaching job. He was noncommittal concerning his future yesterday but didn’t rule out taking another coaching job. Nor did he disparage a suggestion that he might return to the broadcast booth, where he was a star.

In his first season with the Wizards, the team went from 19 wins the previous season to 37. However, injuries to players such as No.11 overall pick Jared Jeffries and Jahidi White plagued the team this season. Collins had run-ins with second-year forward Kwame Brown and leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse. By the end of the season, during a battle for the final Eastern playoff berth, the squabbling and bickering among the players had become the main story.

Much of this centered around Jordan, whom Pollin disparaged for his work effort during the 21 months he served as an executive. Collins conceded yesterday that the dynamic of having Jordan on the roster at times was overwhelming for everyone concerned.

“With Michael in the locker room and guys knowing that he was going to be part owner and president again, that was a major dynamic,” Collins said. “That dynamic is not going to be there anymore. It is a different team now.”

In his final game at MCI Center, Collins characterized a level of disrespect among his players toward him as “insidious.” However, when asked to evaluate the overall character level of the players awaiting the team’s eventual new coach, Collins relented.

“There are good guys in that locker room, a lot of professionals,” Collins said. “I think they are in a position with some of those young guys where it is their time to step forward now and win.”

Meanwhile, the Wizards said no decision had been made concerning assistant coach Brian James. The contracts of assistants Larry Drew and Patrick Ewing are expiring, and assistant John Bach retired at the end of the season.

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