New coach, more fun, more expectations: The Jackson Five on the spot

From the archives: Phil Jackson begins his tenure under pressure following the successes of Doug Collins.

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Phil Jackson is introduced as the new coach of the Bulls.

Phil Jackson is introduced as the new coach of the Bulls.


Originally published Nov. 1, 1989.

It may take the entire season to determine whether the Bulls made a mistake last July when they fired coach Doug Collins and replaced him with Phil Jackson.

Some hint that Jackson, the 44-year-old father of five, is in a no-win situation.

If Jackson guides the Bulls into the finals and perhaps wins a championship, people will call that a natural progression because Collins had led the team within two victories of the finals and then the team added three first-round draft picks.

“Doug brought us a long way from where we had been,” owner Jerry Reindorf said in July. “But now we have a man we feel can take us the rest of the way. Phil, like another great coach, Red Holtzman, believes good defense is the most important thing in building a championship team. I agree.”

Critics may figure the Bulls must make the finals this season to prove Reinsdorf and basketball operations chief Jerry Krause were right in firing the 38-year-old Collins.

Jackson is not perturbed. He says he does not feel pressure to win a championship to justify his being hired.

“Naturally, our goal is to win a championship,” Jackson said. “Every team wants the same thing. But as coach, my job is more basic. My job is to build the best team we can have, and the best team does not always win the championship. I think we have a team capable of winning a championship. It’s just going to take time. It will depend upon how fast our rookies develop. They need a little seasoning.

“We will use our speed and quickness in an up-tempo offense. We have the young legs for the best running attack since I’ve been with the team. We also will play tough defense. Especially, our guards. I want my point guard picking his man up in the backcourt and pressing him all the way.”

Reinsdorf and Krause believe Jackson is better suited for this year’s young team because of his temperament. Jackson is quieter and milder than Collins, who was a knowledgeable coach but an emotional type who frequently berated his players during games when they made mistakes.

Management felt Jackson’s personality would enjoy a better rapport with its young team.

Collins and Jackson are National Basketball Association veterans. Collins, an All-America at Illinois State, the NBA’s No. 1 pick in 1973 and a four-time All-Star with the Philadelphia 76ers, was the star.

Jackson, an All-America at the University of North Dakota, was a low-key journeyman in the pros, a reserve on the New York Knicks’ 1973 championship team, the year Collins was drafted.

Because he was a star, Collins perhaps was more demanding and less patient with players. Good plays came easily for Collins.

Jackson may identify better with the average NBA player because he was average. But Jackson may turn out to be a better coach than he was a player. He guided Albany to the Continental Basketball Association championship in 1984 and was the CBA Coach of the Year in 1985.

Jackson, whose father and mother were ministers in the Assemblies of God church, had thoughts about becoming a preacher before opting for basketball. Although Jackson is not as loud and dramatic as Collins, Jackson is strict and outspoken.

It has helped Jackson that the Bulls forged the first unbeaten pre-season record (8-0) in the franchise’s 23-year history. Preliminary reports from his players are encouraging. “Phil has brought a more relaxed atmosphere into our training camp,” Michael Jordan said. “Basketball is fun again and I like that. So far, we’re playing real well.”

“I think Phil is doing a great job,” center Bill Cartwright said. “He has taken the positive things we did last year and built on them. It became apparent last year we were at our best when we pushed the ball up the floor and played tough defense. Phil has us pushing the ball more and he has people like Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen playing more open-court ball.

“Horace is one of the quickest and fastest power forwards in this league. If he gets three or four easy baskets a game on the break, that’s going to help our club an awful lot.

“He’s usually going to be faster than guys he’ll be matched against. Phil is also emphasizing team defense. Usually the team that plays good defense wins championships. I believe Phil is making us a better defensive team.”

“I like Phil’s coaching style better than I liked Doug’s,” Pippen said.

“They have the same philosophy basically and they both want to win. It’s just that Phil is not so uptight. Phil seems to treat and respect his players a little better out on the court.

“Not that he doesn’t ride us, because he does when you need it. But he does not ride you as much when you make mistakes. We don’t play under as much pressure now.”

Krause and Reinsdorf also believe second-year reserve center Will Perdue will benefit from the coaching change. Perdue was drafted 11th last season but played only 190 minutes, the least of any first-rounder. Perdue averaged 20 minutes, six rebounds and 9.7 points during pre-season.

“We believe Perdue is a good player,” Jackson said. “He simply did not get a chance to play much last year and show what he really can do. It was a decision made by the coaching staff because we had three centers.

“That’s why we traded away Dave Corzine — to open up more time for Perdue. We’d like to see Stacey King mainly backing up Horace at power forward and Perdue as the main backup for Bill at center.”

Perdue likes it that he played a lot during the pre-season. But he does not think that means he will play 20 minutes a game during the regular season.

“I haven’t bothered to compare the two coaches because the season hasn’t really started yet,” Perdue said. “Phil even told us he’s been laid back because it is the exhibition season and that he hasn’t really shown his true coaching style yet.

“He said he was the type of guy who is always on the referees and he wasn’t really on the refs during the preseason. So things might change when the season starts.

“But I do like the way he was coaching. He would let the players take control rather than him set the tempo and determine everything. He’s let the players run the game according to how the tempo is being played.

“I can’t yet say whether Phil believes in me more than Doug did. But Phil is the kind of guy who will let you prove to him you can play rather than assume you can and can’t do certain things based on what you did in college.

“I think it’s too early for me to say which one is better. There are things about Doug you like and things about Phil you like.”

The coaching change makes for an intriguing season. And since Jackson did not hire himself, he is not really the man who will be under scrutiny. That will be Krause and Reinsdorf.

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