Coaches Who Are Always Looking for a Fight
Nobody wants a pushover for a head coach.
Pushovers just don't work. When the head coach lets the inmates run the prison, you end up with something like the historically-terrible 2012 Boston Red Sox. There is nothing worse than a coach who offers the illusion that he doesn't care, or he's not willing to fight for his players (or against them), or to fight for a championship.
So even though the guys on this list may get a bad rap for being too confrontational or too rude or too mean, they're actually giving their players and fan bases what they deserve: someone who cares so much about winning that they are willing to make unabashed fools of themselves.
You know what they say. There's no room for nice guys in coaching.
Honorable Mention: Billy Martin
He's one of the most famous Yankees ever, and also one of the most infamous. And though he's an honorable mention, he fought more than anyone ever. So he still deserves a top-tier ranking.
Billy Martin won five World Series rings, either as a player or as a manager. He was one of those coaches who could transform a team from a cellar-dwellar into a champion, and for that, he will always be beloved in Yankee lore.
But he'll also be beloved for his altercations, on and off the field.
Martin was a heavy drinker, and it got him to frequent trouble—like on his 29th birthday, when he engaged in a brawl with random people with the help of teammates Hank Bauer, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Martin also infamously fought a variety of fellow players, travel secretaries, fans, cab drivers, sportswriters and bouncers. There was literally no one Martin wasn't willing to fight.
But he won (on the field). And that's what mattered.
19. Mike Leach
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Mike Leach has spent a lot of time during his college coaching career fighting with people, but his two primary targets have been officials and, unfortunately, his own players.
Let's start with the officials. Leach is the proud owner of the biggest fine in Big 12 history, levied against him because after his Red Raiders lost to Texas in 2007, he spent the majority of his postgame news conference suggesting that the officiating crew favored the Longhorns because they were either from Austin, or they preferred the Longhorns to play in a BCS bowl, or because they were just dumb.
Not OK. As such, the Big 12 fined Leach $10,000, and he was threatened with suspension.
Then, there were the issues with his players. In 2009, Leach was suspended by Texas Tech for the alleged mistreatment of Adam James. An investigation revealed that James suffered a concussion, and after being told not to practice, he was forced to stand in "a dark place near the practice field" to "make him uncomfortable." Further video evidence was released of Leach cursing at James and kicking him out of practice.
When Leach refused to apologize to James, he was fired.
18. Mike Singletary
Apparently, San Francisco is just a glorious, vast land filled with psychotic head coaches.
Before we had Jim Harbaugh, we had Mike Singletary. Singletary really set the trend in the Bay Area. He showed his successor how it was done. Singletary showed him how to go off on the media and really make it count.
It may be hard to remember in light of their recent success, but just a few years ago, the 49ers were bad. Really bad. And it was Singletary who had to answer for them at the podium after the game—except after San Francisco got destroyed by Seattle in 2008, Singletary didn't feel like making excuses. He decided to tell it like it was.
His victims? His own players.
Singletary has had plenty of scuffles with his players, including this one with Troy Smith. But what he's most well-known for is one of the most legendary news conference tirades of all time. Singletary put his whole team on blast, but he saved his most lethal venom for Vernon Davis. You can see the whole thing above, but this quotation should give you the gist of it:
"Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can't do it. I want winners. I want people that want to win."
17. Jim Schwartz
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Ah, NFL handshakes. They should mean so little and yet they always end up meaning so much.
It is rare that you hear about the possibility of a fine being levied because two coaches didn't engage in the proper handshaking procedures following a game, but in the universes of Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz, nothing is impossible.
Which is how this happened.
In 2011, after his 49ers beat the Lions 25-19, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh (who makes his own appearance much farther up on this list) appeared to slap Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz's hand and "mouth an expletive" instead of simply being a good sport and shaking the guy's hand like a normal human being.
But Harbaugh wasn't the only one to blame. Instead of letting Harbaugh just go ahead and be a crazy person, Schwartz attempted to follow his counterpart off the field and got in a few verbal jabs of his own before the two were pulled apart.
Also, when you have a rule named after you because you admittedly get so emotional that you forget when and when not to throw the challenge flag, you definitely deserve a spot on this countdown.
16. Tommy Tuberville
It's one thing to fight with the media, or an opposing coach, or anyone who isn't on your side.
It's another thing to make one of your own assistant coaches your primary target.
We already know Tommy Tuberville isn't a guy with all that strong of a moral compass. This is a guy who disappeared in the middle of a dinner with Texas Tech recruits in order to accept a job with Cincinnati and never return to the table.
But this is something else entirely.
Last season, Tuberville became so enraged with an assistant coach—whose mistake led to a penalty on fourth down—that he screamed in the coach's face before knocking him in the head and ripping his headphones off.
Quality guy right here.
15. Joe Maddon
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Joe Maddon is sneaky-confrontational. He kind of manages to stay under the radar, but if you really look into it, you will realize that he likes to turn everything into a controversy.
Sure, he gets thrown out of games every so often, like every other fiery baseball manager in the world, and he's never afraid to argue a call, especially when umpire Joe West is involved. But Maddon always takes it a step further. He is a pro at airing his grievances with the media and he has the special skill of knowing the exact right thing to say to get under the skin of his target.
Take, for example, the controversy he engineered with Red Sox pitcher John Lackey earlier this month.
There was some jawing between Lackey and Tampa Bay's Matt Joyce during a game in early June before Lackey drilled Joyce with a pitch in the back in the sixth inning. Both dugouts cleared, but there was no brawl—until after the game, when Maddon unleashed his fury.
The Rays manager—who had coached in L.A. when Lackey was still a member of the Angels and even called Lackey "a friend"—told The Boston Globe he thought Lackey was being a "bad teammate." Most likely, he said it because he knows his friend Lackey prides himself on being a good teammate.
Now that's bush league.
14. Mike Gundy
Mike Gundy was ready for this fight. Like, really ready. You could tell that he spent all week practicing what he was going to say in the mirror, in the car, in his head before he fell asleep.
All that practice paid off. This is the man who gave us perhaps the greatest tirade in the history of college football.
Gundy isn't just a one-hit wonder, either. He did try to block one of his quarterbacks from transferring out of Oklahoma State. But what he is most famous for is the following.
Gundy took issue with the fact that a reporter had written an article one week that was critical of demoted quarterback Bobby Reid. So a few days later, when that reporter popped up in the postgame press room after Gundy's Cowboys had beaten Texas Tech, Gundy absolutely unleashed.
His intentions were good. He just wanted to stick up for his player. But in the real world, prominent players are going to get picked on by the media when they don't perform. It's life, and this was a fight Gundy certainly didn't need to pick.
Having said all that, though, hearing him bellow, "Come after me! I'm a man! I'm 40!" was just a gift.
13. Rex Ryan
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There is no bigger instigator in the NFL than good old Rex Ryan.
Rex Ryan is great for a couple of reasons. The first is that he doesn't coach my team, so I have the luxury of being able to be amused by him. The second is that he has absolutely no filter, and while that can be catastrophic for a team that is actually interested in winning, it is a revelation for the media.
Judging by the things that come out of his mouth, Ryan spends his days trying to find ways to piss people off.
Like by spending his time trash-talking the Patriots instead of devising a game plan that will help the Jets defeat them. Or by predicting a Super Bowl victory for New York pretty much every year. Or by allowing Tim Tebow to become a part of his team and thus rendering his self-doubting starting quarterback completely ineffective.
Ryan loves to stir up controversy. It almost always results in train wrecks, but at least they are hilarious train wrecks.
12. Rick Pitino
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You have to give Rick Pitino credit. He isn't scared of anyone. Not even the rabid Boston fanbase, as he proved during his brief time as the head coach of the Celtics.
He also proved, however, that he's always willing to pick a fight.
As Bruins fans like to say, don't poke the bear. Boston fans will riot if you provoke them. Perhaps that's why Pitino only lasted four years in Beantown. He criticized the fanbase for criticizing him, famously decreeing, "Larry Bird is not walking through that door. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door. … All the negativity in this town sucks."
And with that, it was on.
Pitino has solidified his reputation as being a no-nonsense, sarcastic, curmudgeonly coach, and it's worked for him in college basketball, where he's won two national titles, including the most recent. And he even has gotten a free pass when it comes to criticizing his collegiate colleagues, like Gordon Gee.
11. Will Muschamp
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Yikes. There is nothing scarier than being the recipient of a side-eyed, gritted-teeth, full-on psychopathic meltdown, courtesy of your head coach.
Welcome to the lives of the Florida Gators.
Muschamp is notoriously angry about everything all the time, which isn't even necessary. Though he got off a rocky start in Gainesville, he rebounded nicely with a 11-2 campaign in 2012. But if his team dared to make a mistake—or lose a lead—beware. Just beware.
He has had plenty of memorable meltdowns, including one directed at the officials during Florida's bout against Auburn in 2011. But this truly spectacular GIF came during the Gators' only loss of the regular season against Georgia on Oct. 27. All you can do is laugh and praise Jesus that you're not the player on the receiving end of this epic tirade.
GIF via Gifulmination.com
10. Josh McDaniels
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Well, he brought Tim Tebow to New England. There's no way you can call yourself a pacifist and still be a proponent of Tim Tebow playing on your NFL team.
Josh McDaniels is the kind of coach who knows what he wants (or thinks he does) and will stop at nothing to get it. Normally, this is a good thing—except when you end up throwing your biggest stars out the window to get what it is you think you want, especially if it's Kyle Orton.
When McDaniels took over in Denver in January 2009, Jay Cutler was the quarterback. That lasted about three months, which was about three months longer than McDaniels would have preferred. He made no secret of the fact that he wanted Cutler out, preferably for Matt Cassel, and all that did was make Cutler not want to be there either. By April, Cutler was gone and was replaced with Orton.
McDaniels' tyranny didn't stop there. In an effort to run every single good player out of Denver, he moved on to his next target, Brandon Marshall, whom he dispatched following the 2009 season.
And one year later, he was fired. Which is a well-deserved fate for anyone willing to fight for Kyle Orton.
9. Don Zimmer
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Don Zimmer will look anywhere for a fight. No really—anywhere. Even in the opposing team's dugout.
Age ain't nothing but a number to Zimmer, which is perhaps the only way to explain why, at the age of 72, he decided to engage in a physical altercation with Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez.
He definitely had some practice during his younger years. You might remember this memorable blowup when he was managing the Cubs in 1989.
The then-Yankees bench coach—who won six world championships either as a player or as a coach—will never back down when he feels like his players are being targeted. That is why, during the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox, he was quick to jump off the bench and into the action when a benches-clearing brawl erupted.
Manny Ramirez thought Roger Clemens was throwing high at him, and earlier, Martinez had hit New York's Karim Garcia in the back. That must have been fresh in Zimmer's mind because he made a beeline right for the Sox pitcher. Sadly, though, he lost the battle.
But it's still good to know that his spark will never fade.
8. Nick Saban
It's only fair to admit that sometimes coaches really do have to answer dumb questions by reporters. It's probably tiresome, especially when the questions come in the middle of a tight game.
But Nick Saban is one of those coaches who will look for any opportunity to belittle a reporter, even when his or her question wasn't even dumb.
Obviously Saban isn't a pillar of morality. There was, after all, the way he became Alabama's coach. And even dating back to 2008, he's had plenty of practice belittling reporters for reasonable requests.
The most recent and best example came early in the 2012 season, when Saban made it clear he was willing to fight anyone (with his words)—even a female.
ESPN's Heather Cox made the mistake of asking Saban a reasonable question about his running back situation at halftime of an eventual season-opening 41-14 win over Michigan. Instead of treating her like a human, Saban took the opportunity to get defensive over nothing an act like a jerk.
Come on, Saban. Reporters have jobs to do, too.
7. John Tortorella
Until very recently, John Tortorella was the (very polarizing) coach of the New York Rangers. Ever since being fired on May 29, after his team lost in five games to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he is just an angry guy with a new group of reporters to terrorize.
Throughout Tortorella's tenures behind the Rangers and Lightning benches, there was never any love lost between him and the media. Though he has, in fact, won a Stanley Cup in his career, he is most recognized for being surly and rude in the face of reporters.
Tortorella is one of those people with the rare skill of making anyone feel like whatever they say is incredibly stupid, no matter what it is. He has perfected the facial expression, the tone of voice, the sarcasm. He is downright uncivilized.
And he doesn't reserve his ire just for the media. If another player says something Torts doesn't like about his team, he will fire at that player. Just ask Joe Thornton.
He's just being himself. And he hates you.
6. Rich Rodriguez
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Most of the coaches on this list have done their fighting with their words and with their passive-aggressive tendencies.
But Rich Rodriguez chose to do his fighting against his own players while he was at Michigan. Needless to say, he didn't last long in Ann Arbor.
Rodriguez—who left his post at West Virginia amid controversy right before the Mountaineers' Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2008—was sanctioned by Michigan after his own players complained that he was overworking them. A group of anonymous players told the Detroit Free Press (among other news outlets) that Rodriguez forced them into working out more hours than permitted by NCAA rules, and several players even transferred.
Free Press journalist Michael Rosenberg wrote:
Rodriguez's staff uses some of the foulest, most degrading language imaginable. I know coaches curse, and I'm no prude, but this goes way beyond a few dirty words. He belittles his players. This is a big part of why offensive lineman Justin Boren left the team. He felt his dignity was at stake.
Rodriguez was fired in 2011.
5. Jim Boeheim
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The Big East (was) just full of coaches who were perpetually ready to fight, wasn't it?
Jim Boeheim is a no-nonsense kind of fella. He likes to win and he likes his players to play hard. He would prefer to not ever deal with the media, but considering it's a contractual obligation, he'll do it. But don't ask him to be nice about it.
When Boeheim loses—which does happen occasionally, despite the fact that he has won nine Big East titles with the Orange as well as a national championship—he gets angry. It's best not to feed that anger by asking him dumb questions during news conferences.
Boeheim already has a reputation for acting like his team is being picked on, even if the Orange were being investigated for very good reason. But he truly had his own Jim Calhoun moment earlier this year, and ESPN college basketball guru Andy Katz was the victim.
What we learned was that if you try to mess with him, he will make you pay. He will embarrass you in front of the whole world. He will make sure everyone knows that you are not to be trusted.
Earlier this season, Katz tried to ask Boeheim a question during a postgame press conference. Later, we learned that Boeheim refused to answer because the season prior, Katz had allegedly tried to get him to talk about the Bernie Fine scandal on camera and kept pushing him to a point that was unacceptable.
But at the time, it was hilarious to see Boeheim call Katz "an idiot" and "a disloyal person," seemingly apropos of nothing.
4. Jim Harbaugh
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Jim Harbaugh is one of those awesome, rare coaches who will have an absolute meltdown over anything and everything.
He is not your typical eye-rolling, mumbling, irritated head coach. Harbaugh goes all-out. He will throw his clipboard. He will jump up and down like a petulant child. He will fall to his knees in utter disgust. He will give you a show, and that is why he is so great.
We've already been over the Jim Schwartz Handshake Scandal. But as far as in-game hysterics go, the former quarterback and current 49ers coach is very well-known for conducting some of the most epic temper tantrums an NFL sideline has ever seen.
There are so many to choose from, but perhaps none more accurately sum up his childlike tendencies than this one, which came after he challenged a third-down catch by Falcons wideout Harry Douglas during this year's NFC championship:
If you couldn't tell, Harbaugh lost the challenge.
GIF courtesy of USA Today.
3. Jim Calhoun
Jim Calhoun was one of the surliest men not only in college basketball, but in sports as a whole. Mostly, it was because he hated losing, and that's a valuable trait for any head coach to have.
But did Calhoun take it a little too far on occasion? Probably.
It's no coincidence that plenty of the guys on this list have multiple championship rings, and Calhoun is no exception. The Hall of Famer won three national championships during his time with the Huskies, and his teams have produced 27 NBA stars.
But perhaps it was Calhoun's tough love that got them there.
It was never rare to see Calhoun unleashing strings of expletives or angry tirades from the sideline, and he's already been accused of verbally assaulting referees. It was also never rare to hear him verbally assault reporters during postgame news conferences.
One of the most infamous instances was in February 2009, when a reporter baited Calhoun with a senseless question about how he was the highest-paid state employee in the midst of an enormous budget deficit.
Don't instigate a fight with someone who loves to fight. That's how you provoke someone like Calhoun into saying, "You're not really that stupid, are you? My best advice to you: Shut up. You're welcome."
2. Bob Knight
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Bob Knight isn't as lovable a curmudgeon as some of the others on this list—probably because he has a few borderline-abusive incidents under his belt.
But one thing is for sure: You don't throw chairs out onto a court unless you're looking for a fight.
Throughout the course of his Hall of Fame coaching career, Knight proved himself as being utterly unable to control his temper. Not only was he rude and confrontational on a regular basis during interviews (ask Jeremy Schapp about that), but he was rude and confrontational on the court, on the sideline, in the locker room—everywhere.
He's been accused of choking and punching an assistant and a player. He has threatened and verbally annihilated his teams during practices. He pretended to whip his players. His laundry list of controversies is so long, it's impossible to give each and every one its due.
But make no mistake: This is a guy who has never and will never back down from a fight, even now that he's a senior citizen.
1. Gregg Popovich
First and foremost, Greg Popovich is one of the greatest professional basketball coaches ever. He's won four titles and was about 30 seconds away from earning his fifth this year before Ray Allen and the Heat got in the way.
But the other thing Pop is most well-known for—aside from his coaching acumen—is his temper.
To say that Pop is a man of few words is an understatement. If you have the unenviable task of conducting a mid-game interview with him, or a post-loss interview with him, you will most likely be the subject of sarcasm, intimidation and flat-out cruelty.
They don't pay you to be pleasant. And when you win as much as he does, you can pretty much say and do whatever you want. Check out the video above for some of his greatest hits, but this statement (from The Big Ticket in Miami via Deadspin) pretty much sums it all up:
"The quarter ends, you just got outscored by 12 points, they had eight offensive rebounds so the question will be, 'You just got out-rebounded by X amount so what are you going to do about it?' I don't know. Am I going to make a trade during the timeout? I don't know."