Doug Collins to replace Hamilton as Wizards coach

Thursday, April 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Doug Collins is reuniting with Michael Jordan, this time as the Washington Wizards' coach.

The team announced Thursday that Collins will replace Leonard Hamilton, who resigned late Wednesday after the Wizards completed a season in which they won 19 games and lost 63 _ third-worst record in the NBA.

Michael Jordan, the Wizards' president who was coached by Collins in his early days with the Chicago Bulls, hailed Collins as capable of ``putting together a better basketball team here in Washington.''

Collins said he was excited about the opportunity.

``Michael Jordan called me on the phone and said, `I need you. Can you come here and help me?''' Collins said. ``It was easy, once he said that. Whatever Michael needs from me, that's what I intend to bring.''

Jordan said, ``We're introducing a coach that I had an opportunity to play for and against.''

``I think his record speaks for itself. He has an appetite for the game. He has an enthusiasm about the game,'' Jordan said of Collins. ``I think his knowledge of the game is going to be very helpful. ...

``I felt that at this particular time we needed the knowledge of utilizing these young players for the benefit of us improving as a franchise.''

Jordan declined to discuss terms of the contract.

Collins, an NBC Sports NBA game analyst since 1998, was Jordan's coach with the Bulls for three years before being fired after the 1988-89 season. He was replaced by Phil Jackson, who was Chicago's coach as Jordan led the team to six NBA championships in eight years.

Collins also coached the Detroit Pistons from the start of the 1995-96 season through 45 games of the 1997-98 season.

Hamilton quit after meeting with Jordan, the team's part owner, for more than two hours after Wednesday night's season finale. The move was a surprise _ the rookie coach had given every indication before the 98-92 loss to Toronto that he planned to return next season.

``I think it's in the best interests of everybody that I allow their progress to move on with me going in another direction,'' said Hamilton, who refused to be more specific about why he resigned or what he felt went wrong during the season.

Hamilton said he had been thinking about quitting for ``quite some time.'' Before the game, however, he said he was planning a full day at the office Thursday. After the game, he spoke to the players about staying in shape over the summer and did not mention a plan to resign. He didn't tell his close friends on his staff, and he didn't even inform his wife until after the long meeting with Jordan, the team's president of basketball operations.

``I kept this as close to the vest as possible,'' Hamilton said.

When challenged on whether he was forced to resign, Hamilton said: ``I'm straightforward and honest in what I said.''

Hamilton was summoned to Jordan's office immediately after the Raptors game, leaving bewildered assistant Larry Drew to hold the postgame news conference.

When it was pointed out to Hamilton that Jordan called the meeting, Hamilton said he and Jordan had ``made this decision that we would talk a while back.''

``I spoke to him a week to 10 days ago concerning my feelings,'' Hamilton said.

If the Wizards had fired Hamilton, they would have been obligated to pay him the remaining three guaranteed years _ worth $6 million _ of his four-year, $8 million contract. By resigning, Hamilton forfeits that money, unless Jordan gave him a buyout in exchange for making the departure a resignation.

Hamilton becomes the third full-time Wizards coach to resign or be fired in three seasons, and the second in Jordan's 15 months in the front office.

The Wizards have had five head coaches since the start of the 1998-99 season: Bernie Bickerstaff, Jim Brovelli, Gar Heard, Darrell Walker and Hamilton. The Wizards haven't won a playoff game in 13 years.

By losing Wednesday's game, the Wizards (19-63) set a franchise record for losses in a season. The 63 defeats are one more than the 1961-62 Chicago Packers, who finished 18-62 in an 80-game schedule two years before the team moved to the Baltimore-Washington area.

Hamilton rebuilt college programs at Oklahoma State (1986-90) and Miami (1990-2000) before Jordan lured him to the professional ranks. Jordan was determined to hire a college coach and pursued Hamilton after talks with Mike Jarvis of St. John's fell through.

Jordan predicted a .500 record and a playoff berth this season, but the team didn't have nearly enough talent to fulfill that task. Hamilton tried to stay in the shadows while Jordan attempted to make trades to free salary cap room in future years.

Hamilton did not have a particularly close relationship with Jordan, who worked mostly from his home in Chicago and talked regularly by phone to general manager Wes Unseld and other members of the front office. Hamilton once said he would go for days without talking to Jordan.

The Wizards began the year with a lineup that included Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland. When the wins didn't come, Jordan traded Howard and cut Strickland to free salary cap space for the 2002-03 season.

Richmond was injured down the stretch, leaving Hamilton with a young, raw lineup with several players playing out of position. In Wednesday's finale, the Wizards dressed just eight players.