This is a guest post by site contributor Daniel Urda. You can follow him on twitter @DanUrda and be sure to follow Philly Fast Break @PhillyFastBreak.
It was reported last week that Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins has resigned from his position and agreed to take on a smaller managerial role within the organization. This news was a fitting end to a tumultuous season for the franchise, which entered the year with hope that it had acquired a franchise player who could help the team contend with the powers of the Eastern Conference. Instead, Andrew Bynum never suited up for a single game and the team is facing many crucial decisions that will shape the next half-decade for Philadelphia basketball.
Collins’ departure has caused much controversy among the fans and the talking heads in the Philadelphia media. Many are accusing him of jumping ship, especially considering his contract was just extended this past offseason. The reality is that you can blame the Bynum scenario all you want, but the players who did see time on the court this season did not respond to Collins’ coaching methods, continuing a trend in which Collins’ teams fall apart during the third season of his tenure after initially promising results.
While this decision may temporarily leave a bad taste in the mouths of some, in the long term, it is the best thing for Collins and his relationship with the city of Philadelphia. I have always likened the relationship between a coach and his team, as well as the city that employs him, to a marriage that is coming to an end. Obviously, unlike a marriage, very few, if any coach/team relationships last til death do them part. But like a marriage, the best possible way for a coach’s employment with his team to come to an end is with both parties agreeing that the contract is no longer mutually beneficial, and deciding to walk away amicably.
Just like a marriage that ends in this way, there might be some initial bitterness. There might be some name calling and some negative things said behind one’s back. However, five years down the road, both participants will be able to look back at the time spent together as a very positive experience that had just reached its expiration date. Five years from now, Sixers fans are going to think of Collins’ coaching tenure and remember how he took over a miserable team, taught young stars like Jrue Holiday and Thad Young how to make the most of their natural talents, and even led the team to an improbable run to a second round game 7 in a year when they were the eighth seed in the playoffs.
It is understandable to spite Collins for restructuring his deal last offseason and then feel like he is quitting on the franchise. However, anyone who watched the team play this season saw the coach practically lose his mind to the point where his late season press conferences were train wrecks. At the same time, the players on the court did not play with the same energy that Collins used to ignite in them. The spark was gone. To continue the marriage metaphor, the guy got old looking and fat, and the woman stopped shaving her body.
Collins’ departure at this time is a distinct contrast to the departure of another coach in the City of Brotherly Love: Andy Reid. The pairing between Reid and the city was just like the marriage that goes on years longer than it should. Everybody knows a couple who fell in love right away, were incredibly happy together, had a wonderful wedding, and then, as time took its toll on their relationship, grew apart. But for some reason, whether it be because of kids, religion, or an unwillingness to concede that the relationship was over, they stayed together years longer than they should have.
Instead of a clean break-up, they grew bitter with each other, and it eventually grew into hatred. Maybe she couldn’t take it anymore and in a weak moment, slept with her co-worker. Maybe, in a desperate attempt to relive better times, he made an impulse purchase of a new convertible without consulting her. When these relationships inevitably meet their endpoint, the proverbial crap hits the fan. Divorce hearings are nasty, there are fights about child custody, alimony, etc. Both parties truly believe their lives would have been better had they never met the person they would go on to marry.
That is where the city of Philadelphia stands with Reid, and it’s where fans will never stand with Collins. Reid stayed two or three years too many. The quirky things he used to do that the city once found exciting and innovative became excruciating, predictable, and detrimental. In the great movie “500 Days of Summer,” when the relationship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel is just beginning, there is a scene in an Ikea when he starts to play around with the furniture as if they lived there. She laughs and plays along with him in the middle of the store. That’s how Eagles fans initially viewed Andy Reid. “He calls onside kicks to begin games!” “He lets his star players make plays instead of calling a conventional game plan! The city loved every second of it because the team was winning.
At the end of the movie, Gordon-Levitt tries the same move to make her smile, but she looks at him with utter disgust and disdain. She was sick of it, the spark was gone, things like that were not fun anymore; they were just annoying. That is how Philadelphia became with Reid (and is slowly becoming with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel). His “outside the box” thinking became excruciating and did not yield positive results. Hiring an offensive line coach to run the defense failed miserably. Letting a mistake-prone quarterback throw the ball 50+ times a game led to turnovers. By the time it was finally over, the once positive relationship between Reid and Philadelphia was ruined. Nobody remembers that when he came to Philadelphia, the team was 3-13, and he led the them to nine playoff appearances, four NFC Championship Games, and one Super Bowl, albeit a loss. We just remember the frustration of watching a guy who thought he was smarter than everyone.
That is the scenario that Collins’ has avoided. Initial bitterness may lead one to call him a quitter or fault him for a lot of the Sixers’ struggles. I truly believe, however, that the city has always loved Collins and years down the road will speak positively about him, even with the way his tenure ended. If Collins stayed one more year, missed the playoffs again, failed to make his team show any heart, and continued to unravel mentally at press conferences, he may have damaged his image to the point where the bad times were the first thing that fans thought of when they heard his name. For now, we can wish nothing but the best in the future for both sides, Collins and the Sixers. If that isn’t the correct way to end a relationship, I don’t know what is. Doug, I know it’s been a tough ride with a few bumps in the road, and we won’t be seeing as much of you anymore, but on behalf of the city of Philadelphia, in time we can still be friends.