How Hard Is It to Replace a Legendary Coach? A Sport-by-Sport Look

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How Hard Is It to Replace a Legendary Coach? A Sport-by-Sport Look
Associated Press
David Moyes has faced a tall order, trying to replace Sir Alex Ferguson (right).

It must not be easy replacing a legend.

The "Sacking of David Moyes" sounds more like a chapter on English battles in a history book than a present-day soccer inevitability at Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson was a legend among legends; there may not have been a man more difficult to replace in the history of professional sports.

Moyes' predicament in his first season at United had us thinking about the fate of successors to the legends of American sports, both at the professional and college levels. That fate often varies and depends on many different circumstances.

Moyes not only had to follow Sir Alex, but he had to do it the year after that legend won yet another English Premier League title. United's struggle through a disappointing domestic campaign and the prospect of an earlier-than-hoped ouster in European competition has pundits wondering what United would look like if Fergie took over again.

Yet when you replace a legend—especially one who shows up to every match and sits in view of every camera in the stadium—that’s what you are going to get. 

Looking back at many of the legend-to-replacement transitions in sports history, we found that some successors continued a legacy and some created their own success, but many had very short tenures. It’s hard to replace a legend. Moyes is finding out what many before him already did. 

 

Legends of the National Football League

There are several storied franchises in professional football, some of which predate the creation of the NFL. For the purposes of this comparison, we looked at a dozen coaches with varying degrees of legendary status, both in their respective cities and around the rest of the country. Their successors didn’t have much success.

NFL Coaching Legends
Legend Team Years Record Coach Years Record
George Halas Bears '20- 67 318-148-31 Jim Dooley '68- 71 20-36
Curly Lambeau Packers '21- 49 209-104-21 Gene Ronzani '50- 53 14-31-1
Paul Brown Browns '46- 62 158-48-8 Blanton Collier '63- 70 76-34-2
Vince Lombardi Packers '59- 67 89-29-4 Phil Bengtson '68- 70 20-21-1
Tom Landry Cowboys '60- 88 250-162-6 Jimmy Johnson '89- 93 44-36
Bud Grant Vikings '67- 85 158-96-5 Jerry Burns '86- 91 52-43
Chuck Noll Steelers '69- 91 193-148-1 Bill Cowher '92- 06 149-90-1
Don Shula Dolphins '70- 95 257-133 Jimmy Johnson '96- 99 36-28
Bill Walsh 49ers '79- 88 92-59-1 George Seifert '89- 96 98-30
Joe Gibbs Redskins '81- 91 124-60 Richie Petitbon '93 4-12
Mike Ditka Bears '82- 92 106-62 Dave Wannstedt '93- 98 40-56
Marv Levy Bills '86- 97 112-70 Wade Phillips '98- 00 29-19

Pro-Football-Reference

Don Shula has the most coaching victories in NFL history (328), 257 of which came with the Miami Dolphins. Shula won two of his three championships with Miami, but he had not made it to the Super Bowl for more than 10 years by the time he retired.

The Dolphins replaced him with Jimmy Johnson, a man who had carved his own legacy after winning two Super Bowls in Dallas. Johnson lasted just four years in Miami, with three trips to the playoffs and no division titles.

Earlier in his NFL career, Johnson took over for another legend in Tom Landry. Landry was the head coach of the Cowboys from 1960-88 before being fired by owner Jerry Jones. Landry’s two titles in Dallas were equaled by Johnson, who had to rebuild a decimated Dallas roster before winning his two.

Replacing a legend is easier when you have legendary players to coach.

Paul Sakuma/Associated Press
Bill Walsh's successor—George Seifert—thrived, while Don Shula's—Jimmy Johnson—did not.

George Halas was a legendary part of the Chicago Bears organization, winning six titles in his time as coach from 1920-67. After winning the 1963 NFL Championship, the Bears won no more than nine games in any of Halas’ last four seasons. Jim Dooley, a former first-round draft pick of the Bears, took over for Halas in 1968, lasting until 1971 with a 20-36 overall record.

Speaking of the Bears, Mike Ditka won just one Super Bowl in his 11 years in Chicago, but he certainly was, and is, a legend in that city.

Ditka won 106 games while in Chicago, but he led the Bears to a 5-11 year his final season. Dave Wannstedt, who replaced Ditka as head coach, won no more than nine games in any of his seasons with Chicago (1993-98).

From one mustachioed coach who replaced a legend to another. Chuck Noll, who won four titles in Pittsburgh, left the game after the 1991 season and was replaced by Bill Cowher. Unlike Wannstedt, Cowher thrived in the shadow of a legend, winning 149 of his 240 games as the head coach of the Steelers, including one Super Bowl.

Dozier Mobley/Associated Press
After four decades leading Chicago, George Halas handed off a mediocre Bears team to Jim Dooley, who lasted four seasons.

Bud Grant was a contemporary of Noll while with the Minnesota Vikings, and though he was never able to win a Super Bowl in Minnesota, Grant did technically lead the Vikings to the 1969 NFL Championship before losing in Super Bowl IV.

Minnesota replaced Grant in 1986 with Jerry Burns, who coached the team for six years, getting to one NFC title game and winning just one division title.

Oh, and speaking of legends who never won a Super Bowl, Marv Levy (no relation) took the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls before ending his coaching career.

Wade Phillips took the Bills to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, losing in the Wild Card Round both times. He lasted just one more season. The Bills have not been back to the playoffs in any year since.

Let’s go from a few coaches who never won a title to a few who won, well, most of them.

Stephan Savoia/Associated Press
Joe Gibbs was succeeded by Richie Petitbon, who lasted one season.

Joe Gibbs won three titles for the Washington Redskins. After his first departure in 1992, the Redskins replaced him with Richie Petitbon, who went 4-12 in his only year as head coach, a season removed from making the playoffs and two years removed from winning a Super Bowl.

Bill Walsh won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, which included a championship in his final season. The Niners replaced him with George Seifert, who not only won the title in his first year, but won another five years later. It’s amazing, really, that Seifert never escaped the shadow of Walsh, despite two titles and a significantly higher winning percentage while with the Niners.

Even success can’t always escape a legend’s shadow.

Paul Brown is one of the biggest legends in the history of the game and from 1946-62 won seven AAFC and NFL titles with the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland replaced him with Blanton Collier, who coached the Browns for eight years. His team made the playoffs in five seasons, including two trips to the NFL Championship, winning one.

And somehow we’ve gotten this far in the NFL legend conversation without talking about the Green Bay Packers.

Associated Press/Associated Press
Vince Lombardi won a Super Bowl in his final season coaching the Packers, whose next Super Bowl victory came almost 30 years later.

Curly Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921-49, winning 209 games and bringing home six NFL championships. During Lambeau’s final two years, however, the Packers won a combined five times in 24 contests. When Gene Ronzani took over in 1950, he was hardly standing in the shadow of a legend on the field. Still, Ronzani lasted just more than three seasons, as Green Bay let him go after he compiled a 14-31-1 record.

The other legendary Packers coach left under more glorious conditions, at least in terms of success on the field. Vince Lombardi won three straight titles before leaving Green Bay, replaced by Phil Bengtson, who lasted just three seasons, winning 20 of the 42 games he coached.

 

Legends of Major League Baseball

There are many legends in the game of baseball, so even limiting this list to the best of the best in terms of managerial success was difficult. While others warrant inclusion, the names on this list—some of whom have coached a much different sport than Sir Alex Ferguson at a very similar time—certainly belong in the discussion of managerial legends.

MLB Coaching Legends
Legend Team/Club Years Record Successor Years Record
Connie Mack A's '01- 50 3,582- 3,814 Jimmy Dykes '51- 53 208-254
John McGraw Giants '02- 32 2,583- 1,790 Bill Terry '32- 41 823-661
Joe McCarthy Yankees '31- 46 1,460-867 Bill Dickey/ Johnny Neun '46 57-48/ 8-6
Casey Stengel Yankees '49- 60 1,149-696 Ralph Houk '61- 73 944-806
Walter Alston Dodgers '54- 76 2,040-1,613 Tommy Lasorda '76- 96 1,599-1,439
Sparky Anderson Reds '70- 78 863-586 John McNamara '79- 82 279-244
Tommy Lasorda Dodgers '76- 96 1,599-1,439 Bill Russell '96- 98 173-149
Sparky Anderson Tigers '79- 95 1,331-1,248 Buddy Bell '96- 98 184-277
Bobby Cox Braves '90- 10 1,883-1,386 Fredi Gonzalez '11- 13 279-207
Joe Torre Yankees '96- 07 1,173-767 Joe Girardi '08- 13 564-408
Tony La Russa Cardinals '96- 11 1,408- 1,182 Mike Matheny '12- 13 185-139

Baseball-Reference

From 1902-32, John McGraw won nearly 2,600 games for the New York Giants as a player-manager and then full-time manager, earning 10 pennants and three World Series titles.

In 1933, the Giants replaced McGraw with another player-manager in Bill Terry, who won the World Series in his first season at the helm of the club. He stayed with the Giants after retiring as a player, managing the club for 10 years, winning two additional NL pennants.

Of course by that time the crosstown Yankees had begun dominating the headlines.

Associated Press/Associated Press
Casey Stengel was one of a long line of successful Yankees managers.

Joe McCarthy served as the manager of the Yanks from 1931-46, winning eight AL pennants and seven World Series titles in that span. He left the Yankees just 35 games into the 1946 season, replaced by Bill Dickey and ultimately Johnny Neun.

The Yankees finished third in 1946 but bounced back a year later with Bucky Harris as manager, winning the World Series in 1947 over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harris, however, lasted only one more season in the Bronx.

The Yanks replaced Harris with Casey Stengel, who won the World Series in his first season. And his second. And third. And fourth and fifth, and two more times between 1949 and 1960.

Stengel was then replaced by Ralph Houk, who won the World Series in his first two seasons in the Bronx as well.

Gosh, those Yankees teams won a lot.

And from the winningest team to the winningest manager, Connie Mack won and lost more games than anyone in the history of baseball. After 53 years as a manger that included nine American League pennants and five World Series titles with the A’s, Mack was followed in 1951 by Jimmy Dykes.

Dykes lasted just three years in Philadelphia before moving to Baltimore for a year and bouncing around the league for a few years after that.

From the time Mack retired, the A’s franchise, which moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland, did not have one manager last more than three seasons until Tony La Russa took over during the 1986 season.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
The Cardinals have been just fine since Tony La Russa retired.

Speaking of La Russa, replacing him hasn’t seemed too difficult for Mike Matheny, who took the St. Louis Cardinals to the playoffs in his first two seasons as manager, including a trip to the 2013 World Series.

Joe Girardi replaced Joe Torre—a member of the same Hall of Fame class as La Russa this year—a few years earlier in New York and finished third in the AL East his first season before winning the World Series in his second year.

United fans surely hope Moyes follows this trajectory.

The last of the 2014 managerial legends entering the Hall of Fame is Atlanta’s Bobby Cox, who was replaced by Fredi Gonzalez after retiring in 2010. Gonzalez has finished no worse than second in the NL East, making two appearances in the playoffs.

It remains to be seen if Matheny, Gonzalez or even Girardi will go down as legendary managers. The last young manager to replace a legend and become a legend himself is probably Tommy Lasorda, who won nearly 1,600 games and two titles for the Dodgers after replacing Walter Alston in 1976. Alston, himself, won more than 2,000 games and four titles in seven trips to the Fall Classic.

Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the replacement for Lasorda did not fare as well, as Bill Russell lasted less than two full seasons in Chavez Ravine.

 

Legends of the National Basketball Association

From one Bill Russell to another.

There have been some fantastic NBA coaches, but many of them have bounced around so much that it’s difficult to chronicle how their replacements have fared. Let’s limit this list to the cream of the NBA coaching crop with Phil Jackson, twice, Pat Riley in Los Angeles and Red Auerbach. (Note: Jerry Sloan could be on this list. Gregg Popovich will be on this list the second he leaves San Antonio.)

NBA Legends
Legend Team Years Record Successor Years Record
Red Auerbach Celtics '50- 66 795-397 Bill Russell '66- 69 162-83
Pat Riley Lakers '81- 90 533-194 Mike Dunleavy '90- 92 101-63
Jerry Sloan Jazz '88- 11 1,127-682 Tyrone Corbin '10- 14 109-131
Phil Jackson Bulls '89- 98 545-193 Tim Floyd '98- 02 49-190
Phil Jackson Lakers '99- 11 610-292 Mike Brown '11- 13 42-29

Basketball-Reference

Of the 67 championships awarded in NBA history, Jackson, Auerbach and Riley have won 25 of them.

Auerbach may be seen as the most legendary of the group, winning nine titles in 10 years in Boston, making the finals the only year he didn’t win it all. The Celtics replaced Auerbach with none other than Bill Russell, who served as a player-coach in his last three seasons in the NBA.

Russell won 60 games in his first year as head coach but was knocked out of the playoffs by Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. The next two years, Russell’s last two in Boston, he won two titles.

Greg Foster/Getty Images
Red Auerbach was replaced by his best player—a legend for a legend.

Riley won four NBA titles in Los Angeles and made the finals in seven of the nine years he was on the bench for the Lakers. The year after Riley left, he was replaced by Mike Dunleavy, who managed to bring the Lakers back to the NBA Finals in his first year but lasted just one more season in Los Angeles.

That’s better than any of Jackson’s successors can say.

In Los Angeles, Jackson won three NBA titles in his first three seasons with the club. Then, after two years of missing out on a title, Jackson left, replaced by Rudy Tomjanovich. When Tomjanovich was unable to complete his first season in Los Angeles, he was replaced by Frank Hamblen.

That did not go well.

The next year, Jackson was back, winning two more titles in three trips to the finals. When he left the second time, he was replaced by Mike Brown, who lasted one lockout-shortened season and five games into the next.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Who was harder to replace? Phil Jackson or Pat Riley?

In Chicago, Jackson won six titles before moving on, a departure that coincided with a drain of nearly all of the team’s talent (read: Jordan, Michael), leaving nothing but NBA scraps for Tim Floyd to pick up.

Floyd won 49 games in Chicago...in just more than three seasons.

It’s hard to replace a legend. It’s really hard to replace Phil Jackson.

 

Legends in the National Hockey League

The legends in hockey feel a tad insular, in that Montreal won a ton of Stanley Cups in the '50s, '60s and '70s.

NHL Legends
Legend Team Years Record Successor Years Record
Hap Day Leafs '40- 50 259-206-81 Joe Primeau '50- 53 97-71-42
Dick Irvin Canadiens '40- 55 450- 319-152 Toe Blake '55- 68 500- 255-159
Toe Blake Canadiens '55- 68 500-255-159 Claude Ruel '68- 71 95-49-31
Punch Imlach Leafs '58- 68 365-270-125 John McLellan '69- 73 126-139-45
Scotty Bowman Canadiens '71- 79 419-110-105 Bernie Geoffrion/ Claude Ruel '79/'79- 80 15-9-6/ 77-33-20
Al Arbour Islanders '73- 86 552-317-169 Terry Simpson '86- 89 81-82-24
Glen Sather Oilers '76- 89 442-241-99 John Muckler '89- 91 75-65-20
Scotty Bowman Red Wings '93- 02 410-193-88 Dave Lewis '02- 04 96-41-21

Hockey-Reference

In his last five seasons in Montreal, Dick Irvin went to five finals, winning one. Toe Blake won eight titles in his 13 years, including five in his first five seasons after replacing Irvin.

Claude Ruel replaced Blake in 1968 and won the Cup in his first year. Two years later, Al MacNeil took over after 23 games and won the Cup that year as well. Scotty Bowman then led the way a year later, in 1971, and won the first of his five titles with Montreal in his second season.

It did take Montreal seven seasons and five head coaches after Bowman to win another title. The team has won just two since he left.

Bowman won three titles with Detroit, leaving after winning his last in 2002. Dave Lewis took over for Bowman, but he lasted just two years before Mike Babcock unseated him.

Babcock is in his ninth season in Detroit, thus proving it’s often better to be the guy after the guy who comes after "The Man."

PAUL WARNER/Associated Press
Scotty Bowman won a Stanley Cup in three of his five coaching stints.

Oh, and remember how I said the NHL is insular? Yeah, well, before Irvin won three Stanley Cups with Montreal, he coached Toronto for nine years, winning a title in his first season and losing in the finals six other times with the Maple Leafs.

When Irvin left Toronto, he was replaced by Hap Day, who won five titles in 10 seasons. Toronto won the Cup the year after Day left, with Joe Primeau at the helm. Primeau lasted just three years as Toronto’s coach.

The next Cup that Toronto won came 11 years later, the first of four Cups won by Punch Imlach. Imlach led Toronto to the title in 1967 and left the team two seasons later. Toronto has not won a Stanley Cup championship since.

Steve Babineau/Getty Images
The Oilers won a title the year after Glen Sather left.

There have been other legendary coaches, for sure. Glen Sather won four titles in Edmonton before giving way to John Muckler, who won the title in his first of only two years in charge of the Oilers.

Al Arbour took the New York Islanders to four championships in a row in the early 1980s before a hiatus in which Terry Simpson took over for just more than two seasons before Arbour returned. After that stint, Lorne Henning got one season before being replaced by Mike Milbury.

It’s been a litany of disasters for the franchise ever since.

 

Legends in College Football

Let’s say this: It’s not easy replacing a legend in college football. It doesn’t seem difficult to maintain a certain level of program success, perhaps, as nobody on this list of coaches had what might be considered a disastrous tenure. That said, there haven’t been many who have been able to follow a legend with their own legendary success.

College Football Legends
Legend Team Years Record Successor Years Record
Woody Hayes Ohio State '51- 78 205-61-10 Earle Bruce '79- 87 81-26-1
Bear Bryant Alabama '58- 82 232-46-9 Ray Perkins '83- 86 32-15-1
Joe Paterno Penn State '66- 11 409-136-3 Bill O'Brien '12- 13 15-9
Bo Schembechler Michigan '69- 89 194-48-5 Gary Moeller '90- 94 44-13-3
LaVell Edwards BYU '72- 00 257-101-3 Gary Crowton '01- 04 26-23
Tom Osborne Nebraska '73- 97 255-49-3 Frank Solich '98- 03 58-19
Bobby Bowden Florida State '76- 09 315-98-4 Jimbo Fisher '10- 13 45-10
Lou Holtz Notre Dame '86- 96 100-30-2 Bob Davie '97- 01 35-25
Steve Spurrier Florida '90- 01 122-27-1 Ron Zook '02- 04 23-14

Sports-Reference

Sure, there is Earle Bruce to Woody Hayes and Gary Moeller to Bo Schembechler. While there have been some bowl success here and there, nobody has really been able to get out of the shadow of those they replaced.

Except maybe Jimbo Fisher, who is off to a great start, winning a national title in his fourth season after replacing Bobby Bowden at Florida State.

Bill O’Brien, for what it’s worth, did amazing work in his short stint at Penn State after replacing Joe Paterno.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Joe Paterno proved to be irreplaceable for many different reasons.

Others…not so much.

Ray Perkins did win three bowl games at Alabama in four seasons, but 15 losses in four years is probably not going to cut it if Bear Bryant was your predecessor.

Bob Davie won just 35 of his 60 games at Notre Dame after replacing Lou Holtz. Davie went to three bowl games, but he lost all three before going into television.

Frank Solich went to five bowl games, winning two, after replacing Tom Osborne at Nebraska. That was never going to be good enough for Cornhuskers fans.

Oh, and Steve Spurrier was replaced by Ron Zook at Florida. We cannot forget that.

 

Legends in College Basketball

From John Wooden to Adolph Rupp to Dean Smith to Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary names in college basketball rival any other sport in the world.

The guys who replaced the legends…not so much.

College Basketball Legends
Legend Team Years Record Successor Years Record
Adolph Rupp Kentucky '30- 72 876- 190 Joe B. Hall '72- 85 297-100
John Wooden UCLA '48- 75 620-147 Gene Bartow '75- 77 51-10
Dean Smith UNC '61- 97 879-254 Bill Guthridge '97- 00 80-28
Bob Knight Indiana '71- 00 659-242 Mike Davis '00- 06 115-79
Denny Crum Louisville '71- 01 675-295 Rick Pitino '01- 14 336-116
John Thompson Georgetown '72- 99 596-239 Craig Esherick '98- 04 103-74
Lute Olson Arizona '83- 07 587-190 Kevin O'Neill '07- 08 19-15 (Vacated)
Jim Calhoun UConn '86- 12 629-245 Kevin Ollie '12- 14 44-17
Roy Williams Kansas '88- 03 418-101 Bill Self '04- 14 323-67
Eddie Sutton Okla. St. '90- 06 368-151 Sean Sutton '06- 08 39-29

Sports-Reference

Coach K, Jim Boeheim and the likes of Roy Williams are still filling up the career accolades page of their biographies, but some of the coaches to come after the big historic names haven’t exactly extended the pipeline of success.

Mike Davis took Indiana to a Final Four after Bob Knight was fired, but aside from that, his tenure with the Hoosiers was incredibly forgettable. Bill Guthridge took over for Smith and actually managed to take North Carolina to two Final Fours, but, given his age, Guthridge didn’t even make it through one recruiting cycle before retiring himself.

John Wooden left UCLA after recording 620 wins and 10 titles in 16 trips to the Final Four, passing the reigns to Gene Bartow. He, like the others named before, did take UCLA to a Final Four but lasted just two years with the Bruins.

Al Bello/Getty Images
John Wooden is a legend among legends, and UCLA has never been the same since he left.

Come to think of it, that’s a lot of guys who took the previous coaches’ talent, got to a Final Four or two and then got out of town shortly thereafter. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

Oh, and it sometimes gets even better.

Denny Crum won two titles at Louisville and was replaced by Rick Pitino. Williams left Kansas without a title and was replaced by Bill Self, who won one in his fifth season. Williams, it should be noted, replaced Larry Brown at Kansas the year after Brown won a national title.

Joe B. Hall replaced Rupp at Kentucky and won nearly 300 games, including three trips to the Final Four and one national title. He was replaced by Eddie Sutton, who was eventually replaced by Pitino. Wow, Kentucky has a lot of legends.

Replacing a legend with a legend, or a least a great coach, doesn’t always work.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Pitino followed Denny Crum at Louisville.

Sutton’s departure from Oklahoma State gave the keys to his son Sean, who had a 39-29 record in his short time with the Cowboys. John Thompson was replaced by Craig Esherick at Georgetown. Lute Olson was replaced at Arizona by Kevin O’Neill, who won 19 games in his only year with the Wildcats, all of which were vacated by the NCAA.

The key, it seems, is to replace the legend while the talent is still at the program.

What does that say about Moyes then?

 

Legends of World Football

Moyes, of course, is not the first soccer manager to replace a legend, so while we've looked mostly at American coaches, it's interesting to look at some of the other international football managers who have replaced legends.

World Football Legends
Legend Team/Club Years Record Successor Years Record
Matt Busby Man Utd '45- 69 565-263-292 Wilf McGuinness '69- 70 32-32-23
Bill Shankly Liverpool '59- 74 407-198-178 Bob Paisley '74- 83 380-131-70
Miguel Munoz R'l Madrid '60- 74 352-126-117 Miljan Miljanic '74- 77 67-36-31
Bob Paisley Liverpool '74- 83 380-131-70 Joe Fagan '83- 85 71-36-24
Alex Ferguson Man Utd '86- 13 895-338-267 David Moyes '13- 14 23-8-11

B/R Research

Bill Shankly led Liverpool for 15 years, from 1959-74, amassing a ridiculous 407 victories en route to three league titles and one UEFA Cup. Shankly was replaced by Bob Paisley, whose legendary run at Anfield eclipsed his predecessor, winning 380 matches in far less time, while bringing Liverpool six league titles, three European cups and two UEFA Cups, among other domestic accolades.

Paisley’s successor, Joe Fagan, continued Liverpool’s success by winning the treble in his first season, one of just two for the club, before making way for Kenny Dalglish.

Success following success is indeed possible in English football. What about elsewhere in Europe?

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Sir Alex Ferguson retired on top.

One of Shankly’s contemporaries in Spain was Real Madrid manager Miguel Munoz, who won more than 350 matches in his time at Madrid, capturing nine La Liga titles and two European cups. After a brief stint by caretaker manager Luis Molowny following Munoz’s sacking halfway through the 1974 season, Miljan Miljanic took over at Real in 1975, fundamentally changing the way the team trained.

The fans were not pleased, reportedly upset with his change in style to a less exciting brand of football—sound familiar, United supporters?—but the plan worked as Miljanic won both the league and cup titles in his first year. Still, the success, and Miljanic’s tenure, were both short-lived as he resigned just one match into his fourth season.

Back to England, it would be imprudent to chronicle football managerial legends while talking about Manchester United and not discuss Matt Busby, the United manager from 1945-69. Busby won more than 560 matches in his time with United, including five league titles, two FA Cup titles and one European Cup.

Busby was replaced by Wilf McGuinness in 1969, a former United player and reserve team manager who was given the keys to the ship at age 31 when Busby moved into the club’s front office.

McGuinness lasted just 87 matches as manager, besting his successor Frank O’Farrell by six matches. O’Farrell was sacked midway through the 1972-73 season, replaced by Tommy Docherty, who presided over a United team that was sent down to the Second Division in his second year.

From the time Busby left the manager’s chair until the time Ferguson was hired in 1986, United won just six trophies, including two Charity Shields, three FA Cups and the Second Division title.

United fans must hope another long drought between legends isn’t in the cards this time around.

 

Matej Divizna/Getty Images

Can the Sports Relate?

Pardon the “what does this all mean” moment, but it’s worth looking at all of these instances to see if they do say something bigger than a random collection of coaching facts.

Does replacing a coach in one sport foretell anything about replacing a coach in another?

In a word: no. No it does not.

But it was fascinating to look at some of the legends in coaching to see what happened to the coach who came after them. In many, many cases, there was a period of success immediately after the legend left, thanks in part to a wealth of talent left behind.

At United, Moyes may still prove that he is the right man for the job. So far, however, he’s proven to be a disappointing choice to replace the one who came before him. That’s not to suggest Moyes is not a fantastic manager. Any Everton supporter can tell you how great he is at developing young talent and running an undeniably competitive—if not championship-caliber—system.

"It's early days and there have been a lot of changes," Ferguson told reporters earlier this month. He (Moyes) needs time. I was there for 27 years, so with a new manager, it takes time. But they'll be okay."

The problem for Moyes may have been more about timing than tactics.

It’s easy to get players to buy in to a new system when the old one isn’t working, but with Manchester United winning the title just last year, it made Moyes’ job that much more difficult in his first season at Old Trafford.

Truth be told, whatever comes of Moyes at Old Trafford—recent rumors have vacillated between him receiving a positive backing from ownership to being given no more than 12 matches to turn the Red Devils’ fate around—Moyes put himself in an untenable situation by agreeing to coach in the still-fading shadow of Ferguson.

Moyes has all of the talent Ferguson employed to win a title last year, and while much of it has been on the sidelines this year—Robin van Persie’s injury has done more damage to the first season for Moyes than any system changes ever could—the opportunity for success has been there. In short, United should be much better than they are.

Whether Moyes is sacked, history does show that the guy who replaces him should have a much easier go of it.

By the looks of history, it’s pretty clear that following a legend comes with an incredibly high standard, and even those who have seen success rarely have the kind of longevity their predecessors enjoyed. Certainly by the returns of this first season at Old Trafford, Moyes will have a lot to do if he expects to stay anywhere near as long as Fergie.

Or, you know, through the season.

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