NBA Rankings: The Five Best Coaches Not in the Hall of Fame
Depending how you look at it, being a head coach in the NBA is extremely difficult or not as hard as it appears. While they get to lead exceptional athletes towards victory, getting them there can be a chore.
There has been just six coaches in the history of the NBA with over 1,000 victories. While some of that reason can be attributed to the increase of games played in each season, longevity is the key. Not may NBA coaches last long enough to even come close to that, due to the grind of the game and profession.
Here are five coaches that came close to the mark, as well as making a substantial impact on the game itself. True legends who have yet to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame but should be there already.
Shue was a legend at Maryland University as an All-American guard before the Philadelphia Warriors made him the third overall pick in 1954. He was traded to the New York Knicks after just six games, then was traded to the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1956.
He became a star with the Pistons, being chosen an All-Star six straight years while always being amongst the league leaders in minutes played. He returned to the Knicks in 1962, then joined the Baltimore Bullets in 1963 before retiring.
Getting into coaching, the Bullets asked him to take over for Hall of Famer Buddy Jeannette in 1967. The Bullets were a bad team, but Shue got them to improve their win total by seven games in his second year. It improved an additional 21 games in 1969, as the Bullets won their division.
Wes Unseld, one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, was a big reason why in 1969. He became just the second man in NBA history to be named Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. Hall of Famers Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Gus Johnson joined Unseld and Shue was named Coach of the Year.
In his last five years with the Bullets, the team won over 50 games three times. One of the years they didn't saw them reach the NBA Finals before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks and former Warriors teammate Larry Costello.
Shue was replaced by Hall of Famer K.C. Jones in 1973, but he immediately got a job with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers were struggling during this time. They had won just nine games the season before.
It wasn't long before they started to improve greatly under Shue, and Philadelphia made the NBA Finals in 1977 before losing to a red-hot Portland Trail Blazers. Shue was fired six games into the 1978 season, replaced by Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham. He was back in the NBA the next year, leading the San Diego Clippers to a 16 win improvement over the season before when they were the Buffalo Braves.
He left the Clippers after the next season to take the helm of the Washington Bullets. Lasting six years there, the Bullets made the playoffs three times before he was replaced by Kevin Loughery, the man he replaced in Philadelphia.
Shue was named Coach of the Year again in 1982, making him the second coach to win the award more than once. Don Nelson, Bill Fitch, and Cotton Fitzsimmons duplicated the feat since, but the 12 year gap between winning the award is still a record.
He joined the Los Angeles Clippers in 1988, lasting two years before retiring to become the general manager of the 76ers for two years.
He ended up with 784 wins, which was the second most in NBA history then. It is still the 12th most today. It is amazing Shue has yet to be inducted. Let alone the fact he won two awards for coach of the year, Shue turned around the program of almost every team he took over.
Factor in his six All-Star games as a player, his contributions are unmatched by many and worthy of being honored with induction.
Fitch started his coaching career in the college ranks for several years after first becoming a drill instructor for the U.S. Marine Corps.
In 1970, he got his first NBA head coaching job with a expansion Cleveland Cavaliers team that won just 15 times in his first year. Staying there nine years, the team improved each season.
In 1976, known as the "The Miracle of Richfield" to Cavaliers fans, the team made an unexpected playoff run that was also the first postseason appearance in franchise history. Fitch won the Coach of the Year award for his efforts.
Leaving Cleveland in 1979, he was immediately hired by the Boston Celtics and won a league best 61 games with rookie Larry Bird as the star of the club. Boston had won just 29 games the year before, and the 32-win improvement was a record at the time. Bird, who won Rookie of the Year, cites Fitch as a huge influence on his own personal work ethic.
Boston then won the NBA Championship the next year, and Fitch was named Coach of the Year for the second time. Only three other coaches have ever won this award more than once ,and Fitch was the first coach to accomplish this.
After winning a career best 63 games the next year, Fitch left the Celtics after a 56-win year in 1983 and joined the Houston Rockets. After 29 wins in his initial season, Houston won 48 the next year and appeared in the NBA Finals in 1986 before losing to the Celtics in six games.
Fitch left Houston in 1986 despite 46 wins, but resurfaced as the coach of the New Jersey Nets in 1988. The team won 17 games his first year, 26 the next, then 40 in his third and final year before being fired.
After being out of the game several years, the Los Angeles Clippers hired him in 1995. After 17 wins his first year, the Clippers won 29 then 36 over the next two, which also included a playoffs appearance. The Clippers reverted to 17 wins in 1998, and Fitch retired from the game with 944 wins.
Though his win total is the sixth most in NBA history, critics point to his 1,106 losses without looking at his career. Every team he coached was lousy the year before he got there, except the expansion Cavaliers. Every team he coached improved dramatically under his guidance.
Bill Fitch should be in the Hall of Fame for more than his Coach of the Year awards, or his championship ring. The man took franchises out of the graves and into the playoffs. He is the epitome of what a coach should be, which should be more than enough to get him inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Fitzsimmons first tasted coaching success in college. He once replaced Tex Winters, the man who perfected the Triangle Offense and mentored Phil Jackson, at Kansas State University.
He joined the Phoenix Suns in 1970, replacing interim coach Jerry Colangelo. Colangelo was the general manager of the Suns, and would later buy the team in 1987. Fitzsimmons won 97 games in two years before moving on to the Atlanta Hawks in 1972.
After almost four years with the Hawks, he took over as coach of the Buffalo Braves for one season before joining the Kansas City Kings in 1979 for six years. Fitzsimmons was named Coach of the Year in his first year, the only one where his team won a divisional title, then led them to the Western Conference Finals two years later.
The San Antonio Spurs hired him in 1985, then fired him after 1986. Phoenix hired him in 1989, and the Suns won no less than 53 games over the next four seasons.
He won the NBA Coach of the Year Award in his first season, making him just the fourth coach ever to win it twice. He retired after 1992 to do television, but was coaxed out of retirement during the 1996 season for 49 games. After the team lost the first eight games of the next year, Fitzsimmons turned the team over to Danny Ainge and retired for good.
The 832 wins he had are still the 11th most in NBA history. The only reasons I can think of his still being excluded for the Basketball Hall of Fame is because none of his teams ever reached the finals, and only one won their division.
It is evident to see Cotton Fitzsimmons was a winner, having won 57 more games than he lost, on a lot of teams not many expected much from.
Excellence in coaching comes from getting the players to maximize their talents. Fitzsimmons did that yearly with mostly positive results, having ten seasons of 45 wins or more. He is certainly worthy of induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Despite never having played organized basketball in high school or beyond, Dick Motta got into coaching the game and first worked his way through the college ranks that culminated in six years at Weber State University.
The Chicago Bulls hired him in 1969, and they improved their win total in each of his first four years with the club. Motta won Coach of the Year in 1971, then a career best 57 games in 1972. In his eight years, the team won more than 50 games four times.
He was fired after the 1976 season, but was immediately hired by the Washington Bullets. The Bullets had already been to the finals twice in the decade, but had failed to won in either year. Led by Hall of Famers Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, the team had talent but had nothing to show for it. That changed under Motta.
The 1978 season saw the Bullets deal with injuries, but they still won 44 games and got into the playoffs. They faced opponents who were favored to defeat them, but the Bullets stormed through the playoffs despite sportswriters continuously predicting their impending end.
While up three games to one against the San Antonio Spurs, a beat writer for the Spurs named Dan Cook wrote "The opera isn't over 'til the fat lady sings". Motta loved the phrase and adopted it for his Bullets as they faced the heavily favored Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After defeating Philadelphia in six games, they faced the favored Seattle Supersonics for the championships. In a closely played battle, Seattle went up three games to two as they headed to Washington. Motta came into town proclaiming "Wait for the fat lady!"
His Bullets responded with a 35-point victory that was a record in margin of victory until 1998. Buoyed by this, Washington then went to Seattle and became become the third team to win the championship in a seventh game on the road.
It was the first championship for the city of Washington D.C. in 36 years, and is the only title the Bullets franchise has ever won.
The Bullets won 54 games the next year, winning their division. They then won two exhausting playoff series against both the Spurs and Atlanta Hawks that went seven games. They reached the finals for the fourth time in the 1970's, but lost to Seattle.
Motta left Washington after 1980 to become head coach of the expansion Dallas Mavericks. After 15 wins in the first year, the team improved each year and won 55 games in his seventh and last season in 1987. It was the most wins in Mavericks history until 2001.
The Sacramento Kings hired Motta in 1990. He lasted just over two years there, then rejoined the Mavericks in 1995 for two more years. The Denver Nuggets hired him in 1996, his last in the NBA before retiring.
The 935 wins that Dick Motta has is the eighth most in NBA history. He showed he could win with a talented team like the Bullets, as well as showed he could improve the Bulls, and take a fledgling Mavericks to new heights. He deserves entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Costello was a great player before he was a coach. A former second round draft choice of the Philadelphia Warriors in 1954, right after Gene Shue was taken in the first round, the point guard went to six All-Star games and won a championship in a 12 year career.
When he retired after winning it all in 1968, he was coaching the Milwaukee Bucks the next year in their expansion season. The Bucks drafted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the next season, then got Oscar Robertson in a trade the following year and won the NBA Championship over Shue's Bullets after winning 66 games and setting a record with 20 straight wins.
He led Milwaukee back to the championship three years later, where they lost in seven games to the Boston Celtics. Jabbar requested a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers and Robertson retired, so the Bucks won less games. After two consecutive 38 win seasons, Milwaukee fired Costello 18 games into the 1977 season.
Costello joined the Chicago Bulls in 1979 and went 20-36 before being fired. After coaching in women's pro basketball, he later coached at Utica College and improved their program greatly before retiring.
In the 730 regular season games he coached, Larry Costello won 430 of them. He also won 37 of 60 postseason games, and won one of two championship appearances.
When you factor in his six All-Star games, two championship wins as both a player and coach, along with a .589 winning percentage, it is evident that Costello belongs in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.