Despite having one of the oldest and most successful franchises in the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers haven't gotten a lot of recognition for having great coaches. In fact, only two coaches in the history of the franchise have ever been named the Coach of the Year. Billy Cunningham, the general of those great 76ers teams in the early 1980s, was not one of those coaches. This begs the questions for 76ers fans. Could the 2011-12 season give us the third 76ers coach to be named the best? As a fan I have to say that I think Doug Collins is more than deserving of that honor.
The first 76ers coach to win the award was Dolph Schayes in 1966. He was there when the 76ers moved from Syracuse and started as a player-coach. After two straight seasons without a winning record, Schayes led the 76ers to a 55-25 record and a spot in the Eastern finals. The following year, the 76ers won the NBA title after Schayes had left.
The next coach to earn the honor was Larry Brown in 2001. After a rough decade in the 1990s that saw the 76ers go through so many bad coaches, Brown turned the team around in 1999. The 2000-01 season saw the 76ers dominate the Eastern Conference and finish with 56 wins. The 76ers reach the NBA Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. It was the best season for the team since the early 1980s.
This brings us to Collins. Like Brown, he took over for the 76ers after a string of bad coaches and disappointing seasons. Almost immediately, Collins changed the culture of the team. He led the 76ers to the playoffs in his first season and now has them in a realistic shot to win a division title. He has done that despite not having a superstar player. He has done it with defense and depth, two things that a lot of other NBA teams don't use.
There are certainly other candidates for the coaching award. There is also a long way to go in the 2011-12 season. But at this point, Collins deserves this award. He is in position to lead the 76ers to a division title, something that only a few diehard fans believed was possible. If that happens, it would only be fair to name Collins the third 76ers coach to be named the best in the NBA. If the voting ended today he would deserve that honor.
* - Mark Paul is a Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan. Follow him on Twitter here.