Ranking the NBA's 10 Greatest Coaches
Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson won an unprecendented 10th NBA Championship. Here I count down the NBA's Top 10 coaches of all time, in my eyes. See where Phil ranks. See if your favorite was picked. Here are some honorable mentions; we refer to them as "The Best of the Rest."
-Lenny Wilkens: All-time winningest and wosingest Coach in NBA History
-Bill Fitch: NBA's reclamation project coach, won the 1981 championship with the Boston Celtics
-Rudy Tomjanovich: Guided Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995
-Jerry Sloan: When you think Utah Jazz; you think in this order: Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Jerry Sloan.
No. 10: Dr. Jack Ramsay
Most of the younger generation know him as ESPN's NBA analyst, but Dr. Jack was the doctor of the hardwood. His major career started out at his alma mater St. Joesph's College, where he led the Hawks to seven Big 5 crowns and 10 postseason berths in 11 seasons. Ramsey would jump to the pro ranks with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967.
In 1967, Ramsay worked in the Sixers front office, and the Sixers enjoyed great success and won the NBA championship.
Ramsay returned to the pro bench in 1968 with the Sixers and coach them for four seasons. There, Ramsay seemed to be a capable coach, guiding them to three postseason berths. But where Ramsay wasn't capable was in the front office. He traded Sixers legends Wilt Chamberlain and Chet Walker without getting much in return.
After coaching the Buffalo Braves to similar results from 1973-1976, Ramsay joined the Portland Trail Blazers. There, Ramsay was united with Bill Walton, and in their first season together they won the NBA Championship.
Throughout the many major injuries to Bill Walton, Ramsay always kept the Trail Blazers in contention. At the time of his retirement from coaching, he would finish second behind only Red Auerbach in all-time coaching victories.
Though one of his weaknesses still lingered in Portland on personnel: Ramsey elected to draft Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan.
No. 9: Don Nelson
Don Nelson is the only coach on this list that has not coached a team to an NBA championship. The impact "Nellie" has had on the game, however, cannot be questioned.
Nelson is credited with inventing the concept of the point forward, a tactic which is frequently employed by teams at every level today. His brand of basketball is often referred to as "Nellie Ball."
At the end of the 2008-2009 NBA season, Nelson had a win-loss record of 1,307-1,009. Lenny Wilkens is the only other coach with 1,300-plus victories.
No. 8: Gregg Popovich
A man who started out as maybe one of the most unpopular coaches in his town into one that is now referred to as "Coach Pop."
Its easy to transform from hated to loved with you coach your team to four NBA Championships.
After serving as an assistant to Larry Brown form 1988 to 1992, Popovich returned to San Antonio as the GM/VP of Basketball Operations in 1994. One of the first trades Pop made was to trade Dennis Rodman to Chicago for Will Perdue.
The controversy heated up at the start of the 1996-1997 season, when the Spurs fired successful coach Bob Hill. Hill's 3-16 start was not necessarily the fault of himself, but the rash of injuries the Spurs had. Injuries to David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Vinny Del Negro, and Chuck Person put the Spurs behind the eight-ball. Popovich didn't fair better, going 17-47.
Many fans and the media in San Antonio blasted Popovich for firing a popular coach, and not really doing any better than Hill.
Popovich got a gift from the basketball gods, winning the "Tim Duncan Lottery."
Popovich help mold the Spurs in two phases. One was the "Twin Tower" attack of Duncan and Robinson. The second phase was the Tim Duncan-Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker runs.
No. 7: Chuck Daly
Chuck Daly is known for two things in basketball:
-Guiding "The Bad Boys" to two consecutive NBA Finals, winning three championships in 1989 and 1990/
-Coach of "Dream Team I" possibly the greatest collection of talent ever assembled in basketball history.
Daly is the only Hall of Fame coach to win both an NBA Championship and Olympic Gold Medal.
No. 6 John Kundla
Quick...name the first dynasty in NBA History??
Most people likely will say Red Auerbach's Celtics were but that is a popular misconception.
John Kundla guided the Minneapolis (now Los Angeles) Lakers to five NBA Championships in six seasons. Coaching the George Mikan-led Lakers to a 423-302 record
No. 5: Red Holzman
One of the NBA's most influential coaches, Red Holzman coached basketball in the mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden.
Phil Jackson and Pat Riley both cite him as influences
During his career as coach of the New York Knicks he won 613 games, a number that is retired at the Garden. In 1969, he led the Knicks on an 18-game winning streak, a then-NBA record. He guided the Knicks to NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973.
He was also NBA Coach of the Year in 1970. Holzman finished his career with 696 victories.
No. 4: Larry Brown
Larry Brown is a enigma to players, coaches, fans, and owners alike. No one really knows how this man ticks, and why this man does the things he does.
But there is one thing for certain the man knows how to coach basketball like no other.
When Allen Iverson says he is "the best coach in the world," you know he knows how to reach players.
Brown has coached in the NCAA, ABA, and NBA. If you combine all his victories, he has more than 1,200 victories.
Brown is the only coach to win the NCAA Division I-A Basketball Championship (with Kansas in 1988) and the NBA Championship in 2004. Brown has lead an NBA record seven different teams to the postseason.
No. Pat Riley
"Coach Slick," or "Mr. GQ" and the man who patented the term "three-peat," Pat Riley is a basketball coaching god.
Riley lead the "Showtime" Lakers to four NBA Championships in the 1980s. He recently recorded his fifth NBA crown coaching the Miami Heat in 2006.
Pat Riley is the only coach in NBA History to coach two different squads (1984, 1988 Lakers and the 1994 Knicks)) to Game seven appearances in the NBA Finals.
Riley's style in the Armani's can not be ignored. Neither can his 1,210-694 record.
No. 2: Red Auerbach
Probably where controversy gets started on this list. The Celtics and Lakers rivalry will explode right here.
It is tough to deny the greatness of Red Auerbach. His impact is still felt today and will be for years to come.
What I am not here is to rate the impact Red Auerbach had OUTSIDE of coaching.
What he did inside the coaching ranks was to innovate the "fast break" attack. Auerbach didn't believe in color barriers—he believed in talent. He landed Chuck Cooper, Bill Russell, and K.C. Jones.
From that point on the Celtics would win nine of 10 NBA Championships from 1956 to 1966 and set the gold standard for coaches in the NBA with 938 wins and nine NBA Championships
No. 1: Phil Jackson
When you win more games and more championships than Red Auerbach, it is easy to put you No. 1 in that sense.
What Phil did was translate success in a tougher era to do so in. Red Auerbach didn't have to put up with large egos, free agency, mass media, and more competition than Phil did.
While Red was able to sustain great success with his Celtics, Phil had the opportunity to match Red and was able to do it in difference phases.
Phil Jackson could have guided Chicago to a matching eight-peat like Boston had not Michael Jordan decided to step away from the game. So he had to settle for six championships
Arguements can be made that anyone could win with Michael Jordan or he had all those great players.
Remember Red had the same great players as well.
For every Jordan, Kobe, Shaq there is a John Paxson, Rick Fox, and Derek Fisher.
Phil came to L.A. and did another three-peat from 2000-2002 with a team headlined by Shaq and Kobe. Remember outside the 2006 Championship, Shaq has not won an NBA title.
Phil was able to mold egos and his 10th championship might be his greatest triumph has he guided a more mature Kobe Bryant and probably a lesser cast than any other championship he won.
If there was to be a worthy successor to Red's title has "Greatest Coach" no one could possibly be a better fit than Phil Jackson.