5 Best NBA Coaches to Never Win a Championship

Matt JonesAnalyst IApril 4, 2012

5 Best NBA Coaches to Never Win a Championship

0 of 5

    Over the years there have been many coaches who have led an NBA team through a season. Some have coached multiple teams, some have only coached one. Some coaches have had great success, and some have not done very well.

    Regardless of how long or how well each one did roaming the sidelines and yelling at the referees, there is one coaching accomplishment that seems to determine the overall success of many coaches.

    That statistic is the number of NBA championships each has won.

    We all know that before he retired at the end of last season, Phil Jackson won 11. Red Auerbach picked up nine of his own, with eight of those coming in a row.

    John Kundla and Pat Riley each won five, with all but one of those coming with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    San Antonio Spurs' head man Gregg Popovich hoisted the championship trophy four times, and seven others celebrated titles on two occasions.

    Even coaches like Al Attles, Doc Rivers, Bill Fitch, Dick Motta, Jack Ramsey and Paul Westhead have won it all at least once.

    Last season, it seemed that Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra would win his first, but it was not meant to be; Rick Carlisle and the Dallas Mavericks took it instead.

    The following slides will focus on the greatest coaches in the league that have never had the honor of calling themselves an NBA champion as a coach.

Cotton Fitzsimmons

1 of 5

    Teams coached: Phoenix Suns (1970-1972, 1988-1992, 1995-1997), Atlanta Hawks(1972-1976), Buffalo Braves (1977-1978), Kansas City Kings (1978-1984), San Antonio Spurs (1984-1986)

    Overall record: 832-775, .518 win percentage, 21 seasons

    Notable players coached: Connie Hawkins, Pete Maravich, Paul Silas, Artis Gilmore, George Gervin, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash

    As the only coach on this list not to have played in the NBA prior to coaching, Lowell "Cotton" Fitzsimmons spent 13 seasons coaching in college before making the jump to the big leagues.

    After being hired by the Phoenix Suns in 1970, Fitzsimmons spent 21 years as a head coach, including three separate stints with the Suns.

    Although he did not win an NBA championship, Fitzsimmons was the NBA Coach of the Year in 1979 and 1989. He was also named to the National Junior College Hall of Fame and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

Rick Adelman

2 of 5

    Teams coached: Portland Trailblazers (1989-1994), Golden State Warriors (1996-1997), Sacramento Kings (1998-2006), Houston Rockets (2008-2011), Minnesota Timberwolves (2011-present)

    Overall record: 970-646, .600 win percentage, 21 seasons

    Notable players coached: Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber, Yao Ming, Kevin Love

    After a solid career at Loyola Marymount University, where he won the 1968 West Coast Conference Player of the Year, Rick Adelman was drafted in the seventh round of that year's NBA draft by the San Diego Rockets.

    Adelman played for five different teams before starting his NBA coaching career in 1988, when he helped the Portland Trailblazers to later make it to the NBA Finals two seasons in a row.

    The time that Adelman spent in Golden State was a bit difficult, but he later saw his career turn upward again during his time in Sacramento. He was able to push the Lakers in the playoffs and breathe life into a Kings franchise that had not seen that type of success in a long time.

George Karl

3 of 5

    Teams coached: Cleveland Cavaliers (1984-1986), Golden State Warriors (1986-1988), Seattle SuperSonics (1992-1998), Milwaukee Bucks (1998-2003),Denver Nuggets (2005-present)

    Overall record: 1065-727, .594 win percentage, 24 seasons

    Notable players coached: World B. Free, Chris Mullin, Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Carmelo Anthony

    Following a career at the University of North Carolina, George Karl was drafted into the ABA with the San Antonio Spurs. As one of the few players that made the transition from the ABA to the NBA, Karl spent five seasons with the team.

    Karl's first NBA coaching job was in 1984 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since that time, Karl has always had a head coaching position in the NBA.

    His best seasons came with the Seattle SuperSonics. He led his team to the NBA Finals in 1996 where they ran into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. In his seven seasons in Seattle, Karl won 50 games or more each season.

    Karl is a four-time All-Star Game head coach and is the seventh coach to reach the 1,000 win mark for his career.

Don Nelson

4 of 5

    Teams coached: Milwaukee Bucks (1976-1987), Golden State Warriors (1988-1995, 2006-2010), New York Knicks (1995-1996), Dallas Mavericks (1997-2005).

    Overall record: 1335-1063, .557 win percentage, 31 seasons.

    Notable players coached: Alex English, Bob Lanier, Sidney Moncrief, Chris Mullin, Sarunas Marciulionis, Latrell Sprewell, Patrick  Ewing, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki.

    Don Nelson played at Iowa and then was drafted in 1963 by the Chicago Zephyrs in the third round. From 1963 to 1976 Nelson played for three teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.

    As a player, Nelson was a five-time NBA champion and was known as one of the best sixth men in league history at that time.

    A few months after his retirement in 1976, Nelson began coaching for the Milwaukee Bucks. Since that time, he has coached for five different teams over 31 seasons and has become the all-time NBA coaching-wins leader.

    Named the NBA Coach of the Year on three different occasions, Nelson's style of moving players around from team to team via trades became a common practice that he used throughout his career. 

    Nelson is also known for having his teams run an uptempo offense and employing the "Hack-a-Shaq" defense.  

    Despite his win total and success in the league, Nelson never coached a team that reached the NBA Finals.

    Nelson will enter the NBA Hall of Fame this summer.

Jerry Sloan

5 of 5

    Teams coached: Chicago Bulls (1979-1982), Utah Jazz(1988-2011)

    Overall record: 1221-803, .603 win percentage, 26 seasons

    Notable players coached: Artis Gilmore, Reggie Theus, Darrell Griffith, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, Deron Williams

    Known as one of the toughest players to ever play the game, Jerry Sloan finished a successful playing career in 1976 for the Baltimore Bullets and the Chicago Bulls.

    After being taken in the expansion draft by Chicago, Sloan became the "Original Bull" who led the team to the playoffs and to a division title.

    Sloan's head coaching career started in Chicago and then resumed several years later with the abrupt retirement of Frank Layden in the middle of the 1988 season.

    Since that time, Sloan has been one of the most successful coaches in the league. He led the Jazz to six division titles, had 10 seasons with 50 wins or more and made two appearances in the NBA Finals.

    Before his own abrupt retirement last season, Sloan was the longest tenured head coach in any of the major sports. He is the only head coach in league history to win over 1,000 games while coaching the same team.

    He was named to the NBA Hall of Fame in 2009 and entered with arguably the best player he ever coached, John Stockton.


    Statistical and coaching information found on basketball-reference.com and Wikipedia.