Former NBA Stars Who Flopped as Head Coaches

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2013

Former NBA Stars Who Flopped as Head Coaches

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    With the Brooklyn Nets showing interest in Jason Kidd to potentially fill their coaching vacancy, as reported by Sam Amick of USA Today, it's got to bring up other NBA stars who became head coaches and fell flat on their faces.

    You see, there's not a definite correlation between success on the floor in shorts and success on the sidelines in pants.

    Some of the best head coaches of all time were mediocre players in the NBA, or never even made it to the big time as players. On the other end of the spectrum, there have been plenty of terrific, smart players who ended up flopping as head coaches.

    Of course, there are guys who were successful in both ventures. Guys like Larry Bird, Billy Cunningham, Tommy Heinsohn and Bill Russell were all able to produce on the court and as head coaches.

    If there's a single player who was active this past season in the NBA who has the tools to become a fine head coach, it's Jason Kidd. But jumping right to the top job on the sidelines and succeeding would be a bit surprising.

    Just so he knows what he's up against, here are a handful of the best NBA players who just couldn't hack it as head coaches.

8. Dave Debusschere

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    Head-Coaching Record: Three seasons, 79-143

    Dave DeBusschere was put into one of the strangest positions a young man could find himself in, so I can't give him too much flak for an unsuccessful coaching run.

    You see, the Detroit Pistons drafted DeBusschere in 1962 and then had the bright idea to make him the player-coach two years later at the start of the 1964-65 season.

    DeBusschere coached the team and played for the next three years before the team put Donnie Butcher in charge for the last eight games of the 1967 season.

    It was an odd situation, but the Pistons were dreadfully unsuccessful under DeBusschere's guise, if there's anything to be taken from a 24-year-old trying to coach a basketball team.

7. Isiah Thomas

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    Head-Coaching Record: Five years, 187-223

    Isiah Thomas stumbled into a lucky position in 2001, taking over the Indiana Pacers after Larry Bird decided he was done as a coach despite taking Indiana to the NBA Finals in 2000.

    Thomas was fine as the Pacers' head coach, but it can't be ignored that they were little more than a .500 team when he was in control of the team. In 2000, the year before Thomas took over, Indiana won 56 games, and the year after he left they won 61.

    Thomas' foray with the Knicks was an interesting two seasons. While those seasons would likely be better off forgotten for Knicks fans, they're rather unforgettable. He replaced Larry Brown in 2006 right in the middle of what was the steepest portion of the downward spiral for the mid-2000 Knicks.

    Thomas' Knicks won 56 games, but that was over the course of two seasons.

6. Bob Cousy

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    Head-Coaching Record: Five seasons, 141-207

    What's most strange about Bob Cousy's time as the head coach of the Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City-Omaha Kings is that he left a job at Boston College, where he was very successful, to coach a franchise in flux.

    Oscar Robertson was 31 when Cooz took over, and the Royals hadn't made a trip above .500 since 1966.

    Cousy ended up playing a few games for Cincinnati in his first season as the team's head coach, but that didn't last long, nor did his head-coaching career in the NBA.

    He spent four seasons and part of a fifth as the team's head coach before stepping down, missing the playoffs every year. His team never finished above third in its division.

5. Willis Reed

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    Head-Coaching Record: Four seasons, 82-124

    The big man may know how to make an entrance, but he never quite could get a handle on coaching a team after he finally did retire in 1974.

    It was just three years later that he took over the New York Knicks, coaching them to a fine 43-39 record in his first season before getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

    Reed got out of the coaching game just 14 games into the next season. He spent the next few years bopping around the college ranks.

    When he did return to the NBA, it was to coach the New Jersey Nets in the late '80s, a stint in which he went just 23-77

    He did build a playoff contender for the Nets in the early '90s, but that was after he stopped coaching the team and became its general manager.

4. Elgin Baylor

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    Head-Coaching Record: Three Seasons, 86-135

    Elgin Baylor was an amazing player for the Los Angeles Lakers, but it seems like everything he did after his playing career ended was a complete disaster. Much noted is his failure as an executive with the Los Angeles Clippers, but he was so bad at that job that it has almost overshadowed how bad a head coach he was.

    Baylor coached a single game for the New Orleans Jazz in 1975 (which he lost), but he got a second chance at coaching the team after Butch van Breda Kolff was fired 26 games into the 1977 season.

    It was Elgin's team from there through the end of the 1979 season, and he ended up finishing in fifth place or worse in the division each season.

3. Bill Cartwright

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    Head-Coaching Record: Three seasons, 51-100

    Batting .300 may get you into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but as a head coach in the NBA, a .300 record gets you canned.

    Generally speaking, most guys who coach a team that wins one in three games don't last past a season or two, but Bill Cartwright was lucky enough to hang around for parts of three seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

    His team constantly underachieved, never came close to even a .500 record, and disappointed Bulls fans every step of the way.

    The only saving grace for Cartwright was the fact that he followed up Tim Floyd, a guy who can be considered right up there with the worst head coaches in the history of the NBA, or professional sports for that matter.

2. Kurt Rambis

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    Head-Coaching Record: Three seasons, 56-145

    Kurt Rambis got his first chance at coaching during the lockout year of 1999, and it wasn't horrible. Coaching Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal for the Los Angeles Lakers generally seems like a simple job.

    Of course, they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs and Phil Jackson was brought in the next season. Rambis was kept on as an assistant.

    Rambis eventually branched out and found another head-coaching job in 2009, taking over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    In two seasons with Minnesota, Rambis won just eight more games (32) than he won in the lockout season with the Lakers (24).

1. Wes Unseld

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    Head-Coaching Record: Seven seasons, 202-345

    Why the Washington Bullets kept Wes Unseld on their sidelines for so long despite his horrible coaching record is beside me. It must be that there was some sort of dedication to the guy who dominated the glass to grab them a title back in 1978.

    Unseld's first two seasons were actually moderately successful. He took over for Kevin Loughery in 1987 and went 30-25, as well as 40-42 in the following season.

    Over the course of the next five years, Unseld's Bullets won just 132 games. That's just 26 wins a year if you're keeping track at home.


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