Not even success was enough to save Doug Collins' job.
Collins, who led the Chicago Bulls into the Eastern Conference finals last season for their best postseason showing in 14 years, unexpectedly was fired as coach Thursday.
"We know this will be an unpopular decision, but we truly believe this will be in the best interests of all parties," team owner Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement released by the club.
Collins, who replaced Stan Albeck before the 1986-87 season, had one year remaining on his contract. He had a 137-109 record in regular-season play and was 13-17 in the playoffs, highlighted by this season's run that ended with a loss to eventual champion Detroit.
It was only the third time in team history, and the first since 1975, that the Bulls had gotten as far as the conference finals.
"We appreciate the effort Doug has given over the past three years; however, through the years, philosophical differences between management and Doug, over the direction the club was going, grew to a point where the move was required," Reinsdorf said.
The statement also said the Bulls hoped to be able to offer the job "to our first choice in the near future." Team officials declined to comment further on Collins' firing or plans for hiring a successor.
Collins, 37, was one of the youngest coaches in the National Basketball Assn., and his tenure on the bench reflected the fiery temperament that marked his playing career--first at Illinois State, then as a member of the U.S. Olympic team and finally during an eight-year stint with the Philadelphia 76ers that included four All-Star selections.
But in a statement accompanying the one released by the Bulls, Collins said simply: "When hired three years ago, I willingly accepted the challenge of leading the Bulls back to the type of team this city richly deserves.
"I'm proud of the fact that each year the team has taken another step toward an NBA championship, and played with intense pride and determination. . . . Words will not describe the void I will feel not being a part of the Chicago Stadium and this great team."
Collins came to the Bulls after four years as a color analyst for CBS. Before that, he served for two years as an assistant coach at Arizona State.
Star player Michael Jordan, interviewed at a basketball clinic in his native North Carolina, said of the firing: "It's something between management and Doug Collins. I don't know what happened and the reason for it, but my job is to perform on the basketball court and let the rest of the guys do their jobs."
The firing seemed especially abrupt on the heels of the team's playoff showing and one of the best college drafts in franchise history.
The three players acquired by the Bulls in last week's draft--Oklahoma's Stacey King, Iowa's B.J. Armstrong and Georgia Southern's Jeff Sanders--were expected to help ease the scoring burden on Jordan and relieve some of the dissatisfaction he had expressed both with management and Collins.