Ranking the 10 Greatest New York Knicks Coaches of All Time
The New York Knicks are one of the most storied franchises in basketball history. They have had their share of historic players and coaches over the years to go along with two NBA Championships.
Some coaches spent their entire career coaching with the Knicks, others just made a quick stop in New York. So, who was the best coach for the Knicks?
Here are the rankings for the best Knicks coaches of all time.
10. Dick McGuire
Dick McGuire spent just three years as a Knicks coach, but he brought the team to the playoffs during the one full season he spent there.
When McGuire brought the Knicks to the postseason in 1967, the Boston Celtics bounced them in the first round 3-1.
McGuire had the core of the team that would go on to become one of the best squads of all time once Red Holzman took over for him in the 1967-68 season.
9. Mike D'Antoni
It was an ugly ending to Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks career, but what he accomplished should not be forgotten.
Though D’Antoni never won a playoff series with the Knicks, he helped get them back to being relevant. D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less offense did not work well with the players on the Knicks' roster, but it worked enough to get them to the playoffs.
In D’Antoni’s three-plus seasons as Knicks coach, he brought excitement back to Madison Square Garden and gave the Knicks their first winning season in a decade in 2011.
8. Willis Reed
The Captain spent only one full season (1977-78) as the Knicks' head coach, but did a good job in his role. In his one season, Willis Reed led the Knicks to a 43-39 record and a playoff appearance.
Bob McAdoo and Earl Monroe led Reed’s Knicks, but their strong offense was not paired with good defense. The Knicks ranked last in the league in opponents' points per game.
The poor defense was what led to their defeat in the playoffs, but Willis had done a good job with his team. Reed would only go on to coach 14 games in the ’78-’79 season before Red Holzman returned to take over.
Reed would go on to coach the Nets a number of years later, but will certainly never be anything except a Knick.
7. Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino spent two seasons as the Knicks' head coach and reached the playoffs both times. Now at Louisville, Pitino was just 35 years old when he became the Knicks' head coach in 1987.
Pitino’s team had a very young core led by Patrick Ewing, Gerald Wilkins and Mark Jackson. As the eighth seed in 1998, the Knicks lost in the first round to the Boston Celtics.
The Knicks were able to bounce back in Pitino’s second season and take it a step farther. With the additions of Johnny Newman and Charles Oakley, the Knicks posted a 52-30 record and reached the second round of the playoffs.
After sweeping the Philadelphia 76ers, the Knicks fell to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the second round.
Pitino’s tenure with the Knicks was short, but he was successful in his time. His coaching certainly made an impact on his players, many of whom have become coaches since (Patrick Ewing, Rick Carlisle, Billy Donovan, Mark Jackson, Louis Orr).
6. Hubie Brown
Hubie Brown led the Knicks for over four seasons from 1982-1986, during which he brought them to the playoffs two different times.
Though his time with the Knicks ended with multiple poor seasons, his early years with the team were much more successful.
In 1983, the Knicks beat the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the playoffs, but were then swept by the eventual champion Philadelphia 76ers.
The next season, the playoffs expanded to allow eight teams in each conference to make it to the playoffs. The Knicks, led by Bernard King, reached the playoffs as the fifth seed and knocked out the Detroit Pistons in the opening round.
In the second round, the Knicks brought the Celtics to seven games before losing 121-104 in the deciding matchup. The Celtics went on to win the NBA Championship and the Knicks did not recover for multiple years.
5. Mike Woodson
Mike Woodson has been on the wrong end of a lot of Knicks controversy this season, but what he has done for the franchise should not be ignored.
In his one full season as head coach so far, he brought the Knicks to 54 wins and an Atlantic Division title—something they had not accomplished since 1994.
Woodson also brought the Knicks to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 season.
The Knicks have struggled so far this season. However, with already two playoff appearances under his belt as Knicks coach, making it three straight this year would add to his solid Knicks resume.
4. Jeff Van Gundy
Jeff Van Gundy spent seven seasons as the Knicks' head coach, five of them lasting the entire year. It was a very good time for the Knicks franchise and, had it not been for the contrasting views of Van Gundy and owner James Dolan, he probably would have been around for longer.
JVG brought the Knicks to the playoffs in every season during which he was the coach and even brought them to the NBA Finals in 1999.
The 1999 finals were all Spurs, however. Gregg Popovich and his team beat the eighth-seeded Knicks 4-1 in the series and stopped the Knicks' Cinderella story.
Van Gundy may be best-known for grabbing on to the leg of Alonzo Mourning in a fight, but he was a very good coach for one of the best Knicks teams ever.
Now an announcer at ESPN, it would be awesome to see Van Gundy back on the sidelines as a coach. The Knicks could definitely use the hard-nosed defense seen back when Van Gundy was in charge.
3. Joe Lapchick
Joe Lapchick spent his entire NBA coaching career as head coach of the Knicks and reached the playoffs in every season until 1956 when Vince Boryla took over for him.
Lapchick brought the Knicks to their first NBA Finals appearance in 1951, when they lost in seven games to the Rochester Royals. After being down 3-0 in the series, Lapchick and the Knicks won three straight games to force a seventh contest in Rochester. The Royals went on to win the game 79-75 and take home the championship.
New York would return to the NBA Finals the following season. Again, the series would go to seven games. This time, the Knicks were facing the Minneapolis Lakers. After splitting the first six games, the Knicks traveled back to Minneapolis for the final game and fell just short of a championship once more.
Lapchick was not done yet, though. The Knicks would return to the NBA Finals for a third straight year in 1953, where again they faced the Lakers.
This time, however, the Lakers were just far too much for New York. Minneapolis won the series 4-1 and the Knicks saw themselves lose in the finals for a third straight season.
Lapchick never got the Knicks an NBA Championship, but his reign as coach was absolutely a successful one.
2. Pat Riley
Pat Riley spent four seasons as the Knicks' head coach and they were all extremely successful years. The Knicks won at least 51 games in each of Riley’s seasons at the helm.
After winning Coach of the Year in 1993, his most successful season as the Knicks' coach came in 1994, when they reached the NBA Finals.
The Knicks faced the Houston Rockets in the 1994 finals, a series that they led 3-2 after five games. After dropping Game 6 in Houston on a missed jumper by John Starks, the Rockets had a chance to win it all at home.
The Rockets did just that and the Knicks again came up short in the final game of the NBA Finals.
Riley’s tenure with the Knicks was one of the most dominant the franchise has ever seen and that is one of the many reasons he has been one of the most successful NBA coaches in history.
1. Red Holzman
One of the best coaches of all time and easily the best Knicks coach is none other than Red Holzman. Holzman is the man behind the legendary Knicks teams that brought the franchise its only two championships.
Holzman was the Knicks' head coach for 14 seasons and brought the team to three NBA Finals. The Knicks won two of those three appearances and have Holzman to thank for that.
Holzman stressed teamwork and the Knicks embodied just that. Led by Willis Reed and Walt Frazier, they Knicks possessed an amazingly strong roster. Dave DeBusschere, Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley and Earl Monroe played with Reed and Frazier and produced some of the best team basketball ever.
The Knicks' championships in 1970 and 1973 remain the team's only two and are the reasons for Holzman’s ranking atop this list.