PHILADELPHIA — Doug Collins realized as his plane landed in Philadelphia that he was home.
Collins is back as an NBA coach after seven seasons as an analyst with TNT. Collins was excited to take over the 76ers, the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1973 draft.
He wants to revitalize the Sixers again — and make them matter in a city where their popularity has plummeted among all sports teams.
"We're talking about being relevant again," Collins said Monday. "I want the Sixers to be on people's tongues again. I want the Sixers to be the basketball team that people want to see. This city loves pro basketball. This is one of the signature franchises in the NBA."
Collins says turning the Sixers from lottery-bound losers to a championship contender won't be a "quick fix."
Team president Ed Stefanski said hiring Collins rectified his mistake of not even granting him an interview last summer. Stefanski hired Eddie Jordan, who was fired after the Sixers went 27-55 this past season.
Collins inherits a team that has the No. 2 overall pick in next month's draft.
Collins played eight seasons with the 76ers and was a four-time All-Star in a career shortened by injuries. He went 332-287 in three previous coaching stints with Chicago, Detroit and Washington. Collins, who led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1989, has worked as an analyst for TNT since leaving the Washington Wizards in 2003.
"It became clear to us what kind of teacher he was," Stefanski said.
Stefanski interviewed Collins on May 1, and he quickly became the No. 1 option to replace the fired Jordan.
"We're not ready to be a championship team right now," Collins said.
The 58-year-old will need time to build a winner in Philadelphia, something other coaches haven't been afforded. Since Larry Brown left in 2003, four others have failed to coach more than 82 games for the organization.
Jordan, Stefanski's first major coaching hire, flopped in his lone season. After first-round exits in the playoffs two straight seasons, the Sixers tumbled and wound up in the draft lottery.
Collins said people have asked him why he'd give him up a comfortable announcing job to take over a morbid Sixers franchise. His response: Why not?
Collins has some positive history on his side. He was drafted by a Sixers team that won only nine games. Four years later, the Sixers were in the NBA finals. Collins, who signed a four-year contract, would love history to repeat itself.
"I'm 18 games ahead of where I started last time," Collins said, laughing.
He was introduced only hours before the Flyers had a chance at clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup finals. He shook hands with Flyers coach Peter Laviolette before the press conference, and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski and Temple coach Fran Dunphy were among the guests at the Wachovia Center.
Collins said he's still assembling his coaching staff, but will retain former Sixers guard Aaron McKie.