Nick FriedellESPN Staff Writer
CHICAGO — Doug Collins, who was the Chicago Bulls‘ coach before they started winning titles, is returning to the team as a senior adviser.
“It’s nice to be home,” said the 66-year-old Collins, who will report directly to Bulls Executive VP John Paxson.
Collins coached the team from 1986 to 1989, taking the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals in his final season, before being replaced by Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson.
Collins met Labor Day weekend with Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and COO Michael Reinsdorf. His new role is still undefined, but the Bulls felt it was time to bring back Collins as they begin the process of rebuilding.
“If you ask what my schedule’s going to be, my schedule’s going to be whatever Pax, [general manager] Gar [Forman] and [head coach] Fred [Hoiberg] need me to do for them. That will be my schedule. I’m here to help them however they need me to help them.”
“The first thing that must be known is, under no circumstances am I going to coach here,” Collins said. “That should not even be a question. I know there’s still going to be people who go, ‘Yeah, sure, Coach. How many times did this guy retire and come back?’ And all that kind of stuff, so I get that.
“But I’m not going to coach. I’m not going to give up my life.”
Collins said he wanted to be a “voice” that Hoiberg could lean on, but also noted that he did not want to miss a Northwestern game.
Collins’ son, Chris, led Northwestern to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in the program’s history. The elder Collins became a fixture around the program, but he will not have as much interaction with the Northwestern players because of his new role with the Bulls.
After garnering acclaim during several decades as an NBA television analyst, Collins says he is looking forward to being part of the day-to-day challenge to help a team win again. Collins, who worked for ESPN for four seasons as both a commentator and an analyst, said the company gave him its blessing to take the job with the Bulls.
“I think anyone who has been a competitor likes that feeling of being invested,” Collins said. “This gives me a chance to be invested and to be part of a team. They’re going to grow, and it’s going to be fun watching them grow.”
Collins, who is going into his 45th year in the league, also referenced that Reinsdorf almost signed off on his becoming head coach of the Bulls for a second time in 2008, but ultimately decided against it. Vinny Del Negro was hired instead of Collins, lasting two seasons before being fired.
“Jerry, at that point in time in ’08, his big thing was: ‘I love you like a son. I don’t want to have to fire you.’ And I got it, because when you’re a coach, that’s part of the business,” Collins said. “He said, ‘I love you like a son. I don’t want to get in that relationship again … that I have to make a change. I care about you too much.’ And so I respected that.”
Collins is hopeful he can use his knowledge to help the Bulls grow as a gift to Reinsdorf for his loyalty throughout the years. From his perspective, Collins feels the Bulls’ front office has been “a little bit of a piñata” for some of the questionable decisions it has made.
“[The organization’s] taken a lot of hits,” Collins said.
He brushed off the notion that he is too old to connect with younger players in the NBA.
“I will tell you, I’m old, but I’m not old-school,” Collins said. “I’ve got a young brain. And I think you get pigeonholed of [people saying], ‘That guy’s old-school because he’s old.’ Now if being on time and working hard and doing all those things is old-school, then yes, I’m old-school. But I will match my wits with anybody in terms of young people, in terms of what’s going on, what’s happening. So I am … woke.”
Both Paxson and Collins noted this likely would be one of the only times Collins speaks to the media in his new role. The Bulls wanted to make it clear that his role is more behind-the-scenes as the organization tries to find its way after two subpar seasons and a draft-night deal that sent All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I coached here three years. I didn’t win any championships,” Collins said. “But I walk around this city and the love that the people have always shown me has been really amazing. It’s almost like you would have thought I would have been the one that had won [the championships]. And that’s the kind of respect that I’ve always gotten here in Chicago. It’s why the city is so important.
“And then to watch what my son is doing at Northwestern and to see what’s happening over there and to be a part of that. I think Pax said it best: I’m not here to be a decision-maker. I want to provoke thought. My mind is very active. Anyone who has ever been around me, I think all the time.”
As a player, Doug Collins was the first overall pick in the 1973 NBA draft out of Illinois State. He played high school basketball in downstate Benton, Illinois. Collins was a four-time NBA All-Star who averaged 17.9 points per game for the 76ers in eight seasons before injuries cut short his career.
On a side note, Paxson said there is still no resolution with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic’s contract situation. Mirotic and his representatives were hoping for a big payday this summer, but that major money has not materialized yet.
“No update with Niko,” Paxson said. “Gar continues to talk to his representatives. The qualifying offer is still out there, but no [update].”