For the last three decades, Doug Collins has essentially had two careers.
So it was inevitable, when Collins left the coaching business in the spring, that he’d be returning to his broadcasting seat in the fall.
ESPN made it official Tuesday when it announced that Collins has been signed to a multiyear deal to join Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons on the “NBA Countdown” team. In addition to Collins' work on ABC’s and ESPN’s NBA pregame show, Collins will serve in his more familiar role as a game analyst on a handful of ESPN broadcasts.
To discuss the new venture and his past three seasons on the bench of the Philadelphia 76ers, Collins went one-on-one to five with ESPN.com:
Q: Your return to TV will be primarily in a studio role this time as opposed to working games courtside. What are the challenges that poses for you?
A: In talking with ESPN and John Wildhack, they have such great game analysts. Jeff [Van Gundy] has really become one of the premier analysts in the game, and you have Hubie [Brown] and Jon Barry and Doris [Burke]. So they tried to carve out a spot that would be beneficial for both parties. I’m going to do 10 ESPN Wednesday night games and then I’m going to do 10 ESPN Friday night studio shows and then I’ll do all nine national games [in the] ABC studio during the regular season. Then come playoff time I’ll do all studio. And then I’m going to do the draft and the World Championships.
Most of my work has been done as an analyst, but I have done some studio work in the past. I think the big thing is just getting everybody together and creating a chemistry with one another on the set. I think the one thing we want is for the show to have more of a national perspective rather than [focus on] the particular game that night. Obviously, we will talk about the game that night, but I think we’d like to get the national view of things. I’m looking forward to some spirited debate with Bill, Jalen and Magic. You’ve got three guys that I’m stepping into the studio with who are incredibly knowledgeable about the NBA. Hopefully the one thing I can bring to the discussion is the coaching side. The fact that I’ve coached these last three years, going up against the likes of Miami and Chicago in the playoffs, I know these teams.
Q: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to do TV?
A: I actually sort of fell into it. When I got hurt in Philly, I had five years left on my deal. And when I signed my second deal, I had a clause in my contract saying they could use me in three different ways if there was an injury that happened and I couldn’t play. One of 'em was GM, one of 'em was assistant coach, and one of them was broadcasting.
You always talk about how things happen. I actually started out doing radio with Steve Fredericks. I did the home radio games and I was a volunteer assistant at the University of Pennsylvania with Bob Weinhauer. Then, halfway through the season, Chuck Daly was Billy Cunningham’s assistant and left to go to Cleveland to be the head coach. Matty Guokas, who was doing TV with Andy Musser, became the assistant coach, so I stepped over and started doing TV for Matty. That’s how all that came about and I really enjoyed it.
CBS watched some of my games that season and then had me do a few playoff games with Brent Musburger. And it just sort of went from there.
Q: Two trips to the playoffs and obviously a lost season last season ... how do you reflect on your time coaching the Sixers?
A: I loved it. I absolutely loved it. To go back there, it was a circle-of-life thing for me. I went there as a player when the team was 9-73. And then to be in the NBA Finals in 1977, I got to play with some great players and some great coaches. So to go back the second time as a coach, going back to so many established friendships in the city and the fans and getting back into the playoffs, I just love the place. I’ve always loved the passion of the fans and just how much they love their teams in Philadelphia.
We swung for the fences [when] we added Andrew Bynum. We had to give up a lot of young pieces; Andrew was hurt and it didn’t work out. But I give a lot of credit to Josh [Harris] and the ownership because they didn’t want to be mediocre. They wanted to have a chance at being a championship team.
If you look at the pieces we had, with [Mo] Harkless and [Nikola] Vucevic and Jrue [Holiday] and Dre [Andre Iguodala] and Thad [Young] and Evan [Turner] and Spencer [Hawes], there were a lot of good young pieces. It’s a shame the Andrew Bynum thing didn’t work out. It was nobody’s fault. It just didn’t work out. But I knew where the franchise was going. I knew they realized they were probably going to have to rebuild, and I was at the stage of my career where I just didn’t feel like I was the right coach for them at that time. At age 62 to take 60 losses ... I wanted to coach a good team for three, four more years and then move on.
Q: What do you think of the approach Philly has taken since you left?
A: Josh and I have such a great relationship, so when we sat down and talked, I told him: “I know where you’re heading. I know you’re going to be hiring a new GM -- that would have been my fourth GM in four years -- so I just feel like at this point in time there would be a better coach for you than me.” I didn’t know they were going to trade Jrue, but I knew they were going to try to accumulate a lot of draft pieces to try to rebuild their team. So I decided to step away.
But I’m going to be watching them very closely. Rebuilding is very tough; everything has to go right. It’s going to be a long, arduous process. But I’m a 76er. That’s where I was drafted. That’s where I gave my heart and soul. I walk around with an artificial knee and two artificial hips I gave Philly when I played. And I walk out of there having given them my heart and soul.
When I go back to Philly now, it’s great. In the airport or walking down the street, fans are so appreciative because we were relevant again. That was what we tried to do ... get the team relevant again. Now they’re going to try to start over and build a championship team [a different way] and I’m gonna be for 'em.
Q: Anytime a coach works in television, you immediately start to wonder how long it’ll be before he’s back on a bench. So what are the chances we see you taking one more coaching job somewhere?
A: No, I’m through coaching. I said it when I went to Philly. That was my last spot. Like I said, it was a circle of life for me.
I was at a coaching clinic the other day at Illinois State talking about how difficult coaching has become. There’s so much criticism and you’re always under the microscope. It’s a tough, tough thing. There’s so much money involved because these franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars -- and the coach, whether it’s right or wrong, has to be in the spotlight all the time. That’s just the way the situation is.
But I knew when [son] Chris got a head-coaching job, I knew I’d want to be there to watch him grow as a coach. He’s got a great spot at Northwestern now and I don’t want to miss it. When I got fired in Chicago, I took seven years off so I could watch all of Chris’ and [daughter] Kelly’s high school games. I saw Chris up until his senior year at Duke and my daughter until her senior year of high school when I went to Detroit. That’s time you can’t get back. And I’ve got five incredible grandchildren now that I don’t want to miss out on.
Coaching is 24/7. You know it’s going to be on your mind all the time. But I feel like I never coached a team that underachieved and I feel very good about that. The respect that you look for is the respect of your peers, and hopefully I have that. I always felt our teams were prepared and I feel like we had young players get better wherever I was. There’s certain things in coaching you can’t control, but I’m proud of what I’ve done as a coach and I’m excited about this part of my life.