The Role Of Coaching in Championships

Gerard NarendranContributor IJune 5, 2008

Pat Riley does not believe that as a coach he really affects the game. He has gone on record as saying that he has lost as many games as he has won through coaching. Whether or not he believes his words only Riley knows, but the fact remains that he has 5 rings as a head coach of championship teams. In fact, looking at the NBA champions over the past few decades, only one coach in the past 25 years has only one NBA championship. And that man, Larry Brown, is also the only coach in history to have an NBA and an NCAA basketball championship. You would have to go back to 1983 to find a head coach with only one title to his name.

What does this mean? Well it certainly implies that when teams peak they have the potential to win multiple rings and often they do. Many teams have the term 'dynasty' laid upon them and, regardless of whether they deserve the title, almost every team that has won a chip has found a way to secure another one within the next couple of years. The exceptions (in recent history) to this rule include the '06 Miami Heat, the '04 Detroit Pistons, and the '99 San Antonio Spurs, who eventually became dynastic with an entirely different roster (Tim Duncan is the only Spur with 4 rings as a Spur). And those Spurs were interrupted by the triumvirate-bearing Lakers before joining the list of teams with multiple championships.So although there is a trend for teams who win championships to acquire more over the course of time, there are still those that defy the odds and buck the trend.

While teams have become exceptions to the rule, there has not been a coach with only one championship to his name (excluding Larry Brown since we give him credit for his title at Kansas). K.C. Jones, Pat Riley, Chuck Daly, Phil Jackson, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Greg Popovich all have multiple gaudy pieces of memorabilia they can mix and match outfits with whenever they please. Even more remarkable is the history of winning that these coaches have. Pat Riley, despite his failures in multiple locations, has produced champions. Kobe and Jordan never won a championship without Phil Jackson (and vice versa of course). Larry Brown took the 76ers to the Finals with little more than Allen Iverson. Good coaches simply know how to win. Even those that have never quite pushed over and won it all are still valuable to their team. Jerry Sloan might never get that elusive championship, but his winning percentage speaks for itself.

So what does this mean? Well chances are, Mike D'Antoni is not going to get his first ring any time soon. It means that experienced coaches with a history of winning big are more valuable than many teams realize. You cannot expect to replace a championship-caliber coach with a good coach and get the same results. Simply put, coaches play a big role in the success of a team, and often times are the reason teams are able to go as far as they do. So when a team announces they have fired the incumbent and replaced him with an assistant, that team needs to find a quality replacement if their end target is winning. Championship-caliber coaches are not all over the place, and there are very few good coaches as it is. And what happens when one of these upper echelon coaches is challenged by an inferior coaching opponent? Spurs 4, Cleveland 0 (not to say Mike Brown is a bad coach, just that he is not in Pop's zone. Get the man an offensive coach, and let him worry about the defense).

This is not to say that a quality coach trumps a lack of talent, but rather that a combination of the two is necessary for success. Larry Brown failed in New York (and is doubtful to be contending for the chip in Charlotte), Rudy Tomjanovich was a failure outside of Houston even with talented players, and Pat Riley has gone from champion to worst team in the league in just two years. Many of these coaches have faced humiliating defeats (often at the hands of each other), but the fact remains that they are the only coaches with rings, and there's a reason for that. Great coaches are imperative to winning championships.