As bad as the 76ers appeared during last season's 27--55 disaster, Doug Collins has seen worse. In 1973 Collins, then a mop-topped 21-year-old out of Illinois State, was the No. 1 overall pick by a Philadelphia team coming off a historically woeful nine-win season. "I know how quickly things can change," says Collins, who on May 21 ditched his TNT analyst gig to become the Sixers' new head coach. "Four years after that we were playing for a championship. I see things where we can improve."
Indeed, Collins has a history of presiding over quick turnarounds. In '86 he took over a 30-win Bulls team and instantly added 10 more victories. In '95 he joined the Pistons, winners of just 28 games a year earlier, and increased their wins by 18. "Nobody in the league is smarter than him," says Grant Hill, a Piston under Collins. "He's constantly pushing you to get better."
Collins's passion, however, can also be his worst enemy. None of his three coaching stops—Chicago, Detroit and Washington—lasted longer than three seasons, and each ended with the fiery Collins being shoved out the door. "Sometimes when you're younger, you get tunnel vision," says Collins, now 58. "I'm going to take time to enjoy this. I'm in it for the long haul."
That's important, because the Sixers aren't looking for a quick fix. The core players on last season's team—Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young—are all 26 or younger and, after playing for three coaches in the last two seasons, are in desperate need of an NBA education. "We were looking for a teacher," says Sixers G.M. Ed Stefanski. "Anyone who listens to Doug on TV knows he can teach."