The 30 Greatest American Sports Coaches of All Time
They are leaders, coaches, motivators, influences and teachers. And for the small few who have known them on the sideline or on the hardwood or in the arena, athletes have gained from their knowledge and inspiration.
As coaches, they are legends.
This list of the greatest coaches of all time comes with many interpretations and many questions about who was added and who was left off. They span many sports and different eras. But all of them have proven to be winners at what they do.
While they are in a numeric order, there is no real way to tell which coach is the best of all time, however there are enough greats to read about that you can formulate your own ideas.
So in the festive spirit of the holidays. enjoy.
30. Tom Coughlin
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He is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in the game today. And he could still claim his third Super Bowl title before he retires.
And he could be on the hot seat again if the Giants do not make the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl last year.
Oh, such is the life of a head football coach.
Coughlin's toughness and dictatorial style proved in the end he could win the big game—TWICE.
And he could also best one of his coaching colleagues, Bill Belichick, in the process.
29. Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno
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I linked them together for a myriad of reasons. Despite all the hoopla and controversies under which they left the game of college football, it cannot be disputed they were two of the greatest.
Joe Paterno coached at College Station like his life depended on it. Joe Pa was Penn State football and the men who graduated under him (Matt Millen, Paul Posluszny, Todd Blackledge) all moved on to the NFL.
The reason for this ranking has nothing to do with the circumstances under which he was fired.
Bowden left FSU under controversy, as well. His coaching style, a laid-back country-boy style, was easy to adapt to when he came to the homes of recruits.
He won the hearts of mothers who were promised their children would get a good education and play football the right way.
Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks and Charlie Ward all prospered in his program.
28. Rick Pitino
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He built a program at Providence, and then helped Kentucky and Louisville make their programs even greater.
And maybe the greatest thing he has done for college basketball is produce one of the best coaches in the game today in Billy Donovan.
Pitino is doing the same great things he always has at Louisville. While he still may be most remembered for his time at Kentucky, he is building a winning program along the lines of Denny Crum and others before him.
27. James Naismith
We wouldn't really have college basketball without him. The man who invented the game also proved to be a pretty good coach.
According to about.com, the "Canadian-born Naismith, a physical education teacher at the YMCA, took a soccer ball and a peach basket into the gym and invented basketball."
In 1893, James Naismith replaced the peach basket with iron hoops and a hammock-style basket. It was about 10 years later that the nets were cut to be open ended to look like they do today.
26. Geno Auriemma and Jim Calhoun
One put Connecticut Women's Basketball on the map. The other made men's basketball important in the state of Connecticut.
Both are equally important to the growth of the predominantly basketball-driven school.
According to uconnhuskies.com, Calhoun, "won three NCAA National Championships (1999, 2004, 2011) at Connecticut, and four appearances in the Final Four, while earning basketball's highest honor while still an active coach, election into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame."
He served as head coach at the school for 26 years.
Auriemma's success is just as great, if not better.
The information on uconnhuskies.com states that he "has won seven national titles, 13 Final Fours, four perfect seasons (1995, 2002, 2009, 2010) and 37 BIG EAST titles, all since Auriemma's arrival in 1985."
25. Joe Gibbs
He looks like he should be your grandfather. He was successful in professional football, and took that success to NASCAR where he has won multiple championships.
He served as head coach for the Washington Redskins from 1981–1992 and 2004–2007. He is a three-time Super Bowl Champion. He also won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.
In addition to running Joe Gibbs Racing, he still serves as an adviser to the Redskins.
24. Scotty Bowman
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He is the greatest hockey coach of all time.
Bowman has won nine Stanley Cup Titles with Canadiens (1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979), Penguins (1992) and Red Wings (1997, 1998 and 2002).
He also won 1,244 regular season wins and 223 playoff wins. He currently serves as the Senior Adviser of Hockey Operations for the Chicago Blackhawks.
23. Tom Osborne
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That's "Doctor Osborne" to you and me.
No one represents Nebraska football like Tom Osborne. He has coached the best from Tommie Frazier to Irving Fryar to Mike Rozier to Eric Crouch.
One of the best ever to coach in the Midwest, and one of the reasons Nebraska/Oklahoma was one of the best rivalries of the 1980s and early 1990s.
He ran up against some tough competition in 1983 against Miami and in 1993 against FSU, but he also beat Florida for the national title.
A true class act.
22. John Heisman
According to georgiaencyclopedia.org, "John Heisman was the head coach at Georgia Tech from 1904 to 1919. He led Georgia Tech to the first of its four national championships in 1917 and posted a career record of 102-29-7 in sixteen seasons."
The website goes on to say, "Heisman's career winning percentage of .779 remains the best in school history by a wide margin. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954."
We would be remiss if we did not include the man, who helped put college football on the map, on this list. After all, the most coveted trophy in college sports bears his name.
21. Marv Levy
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He created a dynasty we all talk about as a total failure. When it comes to coaching, Marv Levy is one of the greatest to even roam a sideline.
All Levy did was take arguably one of the greatest teams of all time to the Super Bowl four times in a row.
And while this team lost, it remains a fact that doing this is something not accomplished by any other team.
Levy had great talent around him like Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed to help him create a dynasty like no other.
20. Herb Brooks
What he did to help cement American hockey as a staple in Olympic lore is something to behold.
"The Miracle on Ice" in 1980 remains the greatest feat in American Winter Olympics History.
He was also a pretty good coach in the NHL. From 1981 to 1985, he coached the New York Rangers, where he became the first American-born coach in Rangers' team history to win 100 games. He also spent time with the Minnesota North Stars, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins.
While he enjoyed success on the professional level, it was his winning ways on the international stage that made him a legend.
19. Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes
Two men who will always be linked together in college football history. Both rose to their height of success with the help of each other.
You cannot talk about Ohio State football without talking about Woody Hayes, and the same can be said for the University of Michigan.
The rivalry between the two Big 10 powerhouses has not been the same since the two left the college game.
In his 21 seasons as the head coach of the Wolverines, Schembechler's teams amassed a record of 194–48–5 and won or shared 13 Big Ten Conference titles.
Hayes was just as crucial to the success of "The Ten Year War (1969-1978)" as Schembechler. Prided on the fact that his hatred for the state of Michigan ran deep, he and Schembechler were friends until the two stood on opposite sides of the stadium.
Over his career in Columbus, Hayes won five national championships (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, 1970), captured 13 Big Ten Conference titles and amassed a record of 205–61–10.
There may not have been a better rivalry over a decade span than this one.
18. Tom Landry
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The famous hat and the big star in the middle of Texas Stadium. Nothing spoke football in Texas like Landry and his great Cowboys teams.
He was the first coach of the team and the only one until he was replaced by Jimmy Johnson when Jerry Jones bought the team.
Landry was known as a stoic on the sidelines, and one who coached the likes of Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Bob Lilly and Randy White.
Landry has two Super Bowl Titles to his credit and spent 29 years as coach of "America's Team."
17. Jim Boeheim
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He just keeps producing winners. When the Big East ruled college basketball in the mid-1980s, his Syracuse teams were right there with Georgetown, Villanova and St. John's as the best in the land.
Boeheim has outlasted his coaching colleagues and continues to bring the program to new heights. During his tenure, he has guided his teams to nine Big East regular season championships, five Big East Tournament championships and 28 NCAA Tournament appearances.
The team also made appearances in the national title game. The Orange lost to Indiana in 1987 and Kentucky in 1996 before beating Kansas in 2003.
He has coached the likes of Rony Seikaly, Carmelo Anthony, Nate "Pearl" Washington and Fab Melo.
16. Chuck Noll
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He created the Steelers Dynasty. Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw, The Steel Curtain defense; all successful under his watch.
The Steelers have a habit of finding gems and letting them take the reins and run. Noll did that to the tune of four Super Bowl Titles in a six-year span. And to think his first team was 1-13.
He is inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his achievements.
15. Paul "Bear" Bryant
You didn't think he would be left off this list, did you? Bryant still is one of the world's greatest college football coaches.
He led the Crimson Tide to six national championships, 24 bowl games, 14 conference titles and three undefeated seasons. He finished his career with 323 victories.
While at Alabama, Bryant coached Joe Namath, Ken Stabler and Lee Roy Jordan, all NFL greats.
He retired from football in 1982 and passed away shortly thereafter.
14. Bill Parcells
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He not only coached great teams, he won with three different organizations as a head coach.
And his coaching tree is quite impressive.
Parcells is outspoken, makes his point and moves on. He even tried to make it work with Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones.
Parcells is most famous for his work with the New York Giants' Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Mark Bavaro and company.
From his teachings, current head coaches Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick have won Super Bowl titles.
He also coached the New York Jets and New England Patriots.
13. Bobby Knight
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The fiery one promised kids would graduate and learn fundamental learning skills.
Forget about the chairs being thrown or the harsh coaching tactics he was known for, Knight could take boys and and make them men. His success includes his 1975–76 Indiana University team producing a perfect 32–0 record and won the NCAA championship. In 1984, Knight coached the U.S. men's basketball team to Olympic gold.
He coached at Indiana from 1971 through 2000, until he became the head man at Texas Tech from 2011-2008.
He retired with 902 career wins.
12. Bill Belichick
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He could still add to his three Super Bowl Titles in the NFL.
And to think he once coached the Cleveland Browns. But "Captain Hoodie" has proven every coach has to start somewhere.
To his credit, the Patriots have won three Super Bowl titles. Belichick seems to be able to get the most from what he has and has shown he can adjust his roster with players who have little or no experience.
And he has won everything in Boston with a sixth-round draft choice in Tom Brady.
Just like in years past, Belichick has his team primed to make a serious Super Bowl run.
11. Bill Walsh
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Made the San Francisco 49ers relevant in the early 1980s and helped create a dynasty on the west coast.
And the "Father" of the West Coast Offense made superstars out of Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Roger Craig and some guy named Jerry Rice.
Everything Walsh touched turn to gold and the 49ers, along with the Giants and Redskins, owned football royalty in the mid- to late-1980s.
Coaches like Andy Reid, Dennis Green, Jim Fassel and George Seifert all coached under him before becoming head coaches.
10. Pat Summitt
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She is the greatest women's coach of all time.
As the leader of the Lady Vols, Summitt taught her girls a winning attitude and style that spanned decades; actually, 38 years.
She also has eight National Titles and 32 SEC Championships to her credit. That proves how dominant she has been.
While Tennessee's men's team has been decent over a course of time, the female team certainly proved more dominance on the hardwood.
9. Vince Lombardi
Just the name makes some football fans tear up.
Lombardi moved mountains in the NFL, and in an era before the NFL was established.
He claimed the first two Super Bowl titles for the Green Bay Packers, and showed why the NFL was the truly dominant league of its time.
His play calling and coaching maybe Bart Starr a hero, a superstar and a Hall of Fame quarterback.
If there was a coach who ruled with an iron fist, it was Lombardi. Players played for him because they feared him.
8. Red Auerbach
Before there was Phil Jackson, there was Arnold "Red" Auerbach.
No one before Jackson helped to revolutionize the game from the coach's seat like the former Celtics head coach.
Only Phil Jackson has more NBA titles to his credit.
Auerbach is as famous for his victory cigars as he is for his making key moves that led to NBA titles. Under his watch, the Celtics acquired Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
He also had the privilege of having the great Bill Russell at center for him when the Celtics were the dominant team in the NBA during the 1950s and 1960s.
Auerbach won a total of 16 NBA titles, nine as a coach, seven as team president and general manager.
7. George Halas
Another one of the old guard whose image struck fear in opponents. Maybe his players, as well.
Halas did a little bit of everything. He founded the Decatur Staleys, and was the only person associated with NFL throughout first 50 years. He also coached the Bears for 40 seasons and six NFL titles. His record mark of 324 coaching wins stood for nearly three decades before it was broken by Don Shula.
He coached some of the greats including Mike Ditka, Bobby Douglass and Gayle Sayres.
6. Dean Smith
Picking between Dean Smith and Coach K is like picking between the Homecoming Queen and the Prom Queen. You are lucky to have both of them at your side.
Dean Smith, the man who made Michael Jordan a household name, was North Carolina basketball.
From 1961 to 1997, he was the stick everyone was measured by, which included two national titles and 11 Final Four appearances.
When he retired, his 897 victories were the most by any college basketball coach in history in Division I.
5. Mike Krzyzewski
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There may not be another coach like him, ever.
When high school kids come to Duke to play for Coach K, they become men, they learn fundamental basketball and they do something they were taught to do—win.
Coach K is a Bobby Knight student, a national championship winner and proven teacher. Under his watch at Duke since 1980, the Blue Devils have won four NCAA Championships, 11 Final Fours, 12 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular season titles and 13 ACC Tournament championships.
Not too bad. Oh, and he is an Olympic medalist as coach of Team USA.
Not a bad resume at all.
4. Eddie Robinson
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He gets overlooked when we talk about the greatest of all time. Mainly that is a product of coaching at Grambling and not in a national powerhouse program.
But don't let the small school coaching and winning fool you because Robinson's teams played hard and won.
He produced the great Doug Williams and hundreds of other players who called the NFL home. Robinson was the true sense of the word "coach" if there ever was one.
For 57 years, he coached and taught winning like it was as important as eating and breathing.
3. Phil Jackson
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His only drawback to winning all those NBA titles is that Phil Jackson went to ready-made teams. He never took a true "project" and made it great.
Having Michael, Scottie, Shaq and Kobe helps things out.
Eleven NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers in an era where the NBA evolved into the worldwide culture.
Phil Jackson had as much to do with that as anyone.
2. Don Shula
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A man who has 347 NFL wins to his credit, an undefeated season and could draft no-name players and make them stars.
That's a resume anyone would be jealous of. Don Shula won with Bob Griese, Don Strock, David Woodley, Dan Marino and Ron Jaworski.
Don Shula demanded perfection and his players knew it. A throwback coach from the Weeb Ewbank days and someone who could compete with Halas and Lombardi.
1. John Wooden
The dean of college basketball.
The way he coached, the way he taught the likes of Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and a free spirit named Bill Walton to play the game proved his greatness. Two centers from different styles that someone with an even-temper like Wooden could meld into a superstar.
His run at UCLA with 10 National Titles will never be duplicated again.
As Bill Walton wrote upon Wooden's death, as seen on coachwooden.com, "I thank John Wooden everyday, for all his selfless gifts, his lessons, his time, his vision, and especially his patience."
You cannot say anything else that speaks to his greatness.