Originally published July 7, 1989.
Like a pair of tough movie critics who didn’t care for the show’s director, Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause turned thumbs down Thursday on the man who made the thumbs-up sign his trademark.
And with that, suddenly, surprisingly, Doug Collins was out as Bulls coach.
In a three-paragraph statement, Bulls owner Reinsdorf and vice president of basketball operations Krause said they had terminated the last year of Collins’ contract because of “philosophical differences between management and Doug through the years.”
“We know this will be an unpopular decision,” the statement read, “but we truly believe this will be in the best interests of all parties.”
Collins was called into the Bulls’ office early Thursday morning and was told “his services were no longer needed,” said John Langel, Collins’ agent. “That was Krause’s opening line.”
“Doug was as shocked as anybody,” Langel said. “He was given no explanation.”
Neither was anyone else, as Krause and Reinsdorf held no press conference and were not available for questions after the release of their written statement. Collins also refused to talk Thursday.
However, speculation grew that Collins’ release was due primarily to matters unrelated to basketball, and that Bulls assistant Phil Jackson was the No. 1 candidate to become the new head coach.
While most players said they were shocked by Collins’ demise, two who requested anonymity said they had been aware of the pending firing for days.
“It was something (Collins) did that greatly upset the top man (Reinsdorf) and not Jerry Krause,” one player said. “It’s unfortunate that Krause will come out of this looking like the bad guy when he was simply the bearer of the bad news.
“Maybe Krause and Collins did not like each other that much. But it wasn’t Krause’s decision to fire Collins.”
Although Collins earned a 98 percent approval mark in this year’s Chicago Sun-Times readers’ poll and was rated higher than even Michael Jordan last year, Krause wasn’t president of Collins’ fan club.
Krause was sold on 1988 No. 1 draft pick Will Perdue, calling him “the center of the future” who would “solidify our center position for the next 10 years.” But Collins was not convinced and showed it by benching Perdue for most of the season. Perdue played just 190 minutes, the least of any No. 1 draft pick.
When Krause drafted 6-11 Stacey King with the No. 6 pick last week and traded backup center Dave Corzine, he said the moves demonstrated the Bulls believed in Perdue and that Perdue would play more.
Although Collins may not have respected Krause’s judgment, he respected Krause’s rapport with Reinsdorf and feared being fired if he ever went to the mat with Krause.
“Reinsdorf likes Krause and has given Krause the team to run,” one player said.
Collins also has clashed at times with Jordan, but Jordan denied Thursday any involvement with Collins’ firing.
“When people say Michael Jordan had something to do with it, that doesn’t have any validity to it,” Jordan said from North Carolina. “We were getting closer and closer as we spent more time together. We were great friends and our relationship did not jeopardize our team.”
Krause confirmed Thursday night that Jordan was not involved.
“I firmly want to put that to rest,” Krause said. “Michael Jordan had nothing to do with the decision.”
Reinsdorf and Krause said in their statement they would “now begin the process of selecting a new coach and hope to be able to offer the job to our first choice in the near future.”
That may be as soon as Jackson, a Bulls assistant for the last two seasons, returns from vacation. Jackson, who has been a candidate for the head position with other NBA teams and was seriously considered for the Bulls job when Collins was hired three years ago, was unavailable Thursday.
Jackson had applied for the New York Knicks coaching vacancy. Krause would not give New York permission to talk to Jackson until after last week’s NBA draft, keeping him available for the Bulls opening.
A New York source close to the Knicks situation said Jackson ”hasn’t even interviewed for the job” and that Knicks assistant Stu Jackson will be named next week.
Collins’ three-year record was 137-109 in the regular season and 13-17 in the playoffs, including nine postseason victories last spring in the Bulls’ drive to the Eastern Conference championships.
Collins has no immediate plans, his lawyer said. The Bulls will honor the final year of his contract, thought to be worth $350,000.
Besides the Knicks opening, the Los Angeles Clippers also have not named a head coach for next season. Another possibility for Collins would be a return to his former role as a television analyst for NBA games.