PHILADELPHIA — His eyes red and moist, Doug Collins explained how he knew in his heart the time was right to retire from coaching.
It wasn’t, he insisted, because the Philadelphia 76ers face a painful rebuilding process. Or even because he felt unwanted by ownership.
The 61-year-old Collins simply missed being a family man.
When the emotional tug of five young grandchildren, and a son about to take over at Northwestern became too much to consider missing, Collins walked away. He resigned Thursday after three seasons as coach of the Sixers and will remain with the franchise as an adviser.
After coaching jobs with three other teams, Collins’ days on the bench are over.
“There’s a lot of things I want to enjoy,” he said. “I think it’s every man’s dream to be able to live that life that you’ve worked so hard to try and live. That’s what I want to do.”
Collins had one year and $4.5 million left on his original four-year deal. Team owner Josh Harris said Collins will now begin a five-year stint as a consultant and expects to have his input on choosing the next coach.
Even as the losses piled up, Harris said Collins was not being pushed out.
“Why wouldn’t you want a great coach to come back and be your coach?” Harris said. “But at the time, I respect his desires as a man. There’s no resentment. I feel like we are going to build a high-quality organization and will attract a high-quality coach.”
Collins steps down after a season so full of promise unraveled starting with the knee injury to center Andrew Bynum. The Sixers went 34-48 and missed the playoffs for the first time in his three seasons.
Collins was on hand at the team’s end-of-season press conference, and said he considered retirement back in December, citing family reasons. He still wants to add his input from the front office, but he wants to be home, too.
“I think I’ve done a lot of good things for this organization,” he said. “This organization is all I know. It’s all I’ll ever know. I’m going to be a Sixer for life.”
The Sixers picked up the option on Collins’ contract for the 2013-14 season in training camp and he said then he wanted to remain with the organization in some capacity when his coaching career is over. It’s over earlier than expected.
“I don’t want to ever have to drop my head. I didn’t fail,” Collins said. “Did we have the year that we wanted to have? Absolutely not. But a lot of that was out of our control.”
None more than Bynum’s health.
After losing Game 7 to Boston last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Philadelphia shook up the roster and made the bold move to acquire the double-double threat from Los Angeles in a four-team trade that cost them Olympian Andre Iguodala, rising star Nik Vucevic and draft picks.
Bynum never played for the Sixers because of bone bruises in both knees. He insisted from training camp he would play this season, only to shut it down for good on March 18 and undergo season-ending arthroscopic surgery on both knees. Bynum earned $16.5 million this season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
“This is a team that could have been great,” forward Thaddeus Young said. “It was built around the big guy in the middle.”
With so many millions of dollars and rehab time invested in the former All-Star center, Harris said the Sixers are still interested in his return.
“A healthy Bynum that’s playing is a needle-mover, a top-15 player,” he said. “But the reality is, he didn’t play a game this season. There’s risk. We’re going to weigh the positives and the negatives and try to make a reasoned assessment of what’s appropriate for Andrew. Certainly we’re open to the prospect of bringing him back.”
Collins pushed for assistant Michael Curry, a former head coach at Detroit, to take over. Harris and general manager Tony DiLeo will make the final decision. Collins joins Julius Erving and former president Rod Thorn as paid consultants. There is no official team president.
Oddly, Collins never informed his players he was leaving, either as a team or during individual exit interviews Thursday.
Collins, a four-time All-Star with the Sixers, returned to the franchise in 2010 and led them to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. A year ago, the Sixers eliminated the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round and fell a win shy of reaching the Eastern Conference finals.
He guided a young Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls from 1986-89, and the Detroit Pistons from 1995-98. He coached Jordan again with the Washington Wizards from 2001-03.
His two seasons with the Wizards had been his only two full seasons in which he did not lead his team to the playoffs. He was fired shortly after Jordan was denied a return to the front office.
Collins worked for TNT after leaving the Wizards and received the Curt Gowdy Media Award at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his work as a broadcaster. Collins said the Sixers left the door open for him to return to the booth.
He averaged 17.9 points in a career marred by injuries. A knee injury forced him to retire in 1981, two years before the 76ers beat the Lakers for the 1983 NBA title.
His son, Chris Collins, was hired as coach at Northwestern earlier this month, after a stint as an assistant with Duke.
“I want to see him grow, I want to see him coach,” Collins said.
Bynum is one of six free agents for the Sixers, who are devoid of any real assets. Jrue Holiday was an All-Star in his third full season and joined Wilt Chamberlain as the two players in the franchise’s 50-year history to average more than 17 points and eight assists for an entire season.
Young and Evan Turner are solid players. But those two — along with Holiday — weren’t enough to help lead the Sixers back to the postseason.
“I certainly see scenarios,” Harris said, “where we’re pretty good next year.”
It’s a stretch. Then again, no one saw the Sixers making the blockbuster move to acquire Bynum, so anything can happen.
“It’s not a dire situation,” Harris said.
Sixers fans can only hope DiLeo has it in him to pull off another deal for a superstar player.
Realistically, they should brace for the worst.
NOTES: Harris said the Sixers have identified a site for a new practice facility. ... He said the team is also in advanced discussions to buy a D-League team.