In my observation, the greatest coaches in history are always leaders first and basketball minds second. The coaches who influence teams and win games tend to focus on what truly makes a team successful, which oddly enough doesn’t revolve around how many jump shots are taken within 16 feet of the basket, or whether a full-court or half-court press is initiated after half time. Of course it’s unintelligent to dismiss game strategy as altogether unimportant. No one is suggesting every coach in the NBA should completely throw X’s and O’s out the window to achieve maximum efficiency, but strategies and tactics can only get a head coach so far in the NBA. In my opinion, a coach’s leadership style and ability to motivate players influences success more than what’s scribbled on the whiteboard during a 30 second timeout. Just ask Doc Rivers.
Great coaches are 1/3 psychologist, 1/3 army general, and 1/3 teacher. If you take a close look at the greatest coaches in NBA history you’ll notice a few attributes in common: They manage the emotional and mental ups and downs of their players well, they lead and inspire players to make themselves better and fulfill a role to help the team achieve victory, and they offer constructive criticism to improve the overall game of players without causing undue frustration or permanent damage to egos. If those requirements aren’t met within a specified period of time, a coach’s season and career usually go up in smoke. Just ask Vinny Del Negro.
I’m totally convinced no team can win without a great coach. Great players are important, but even the most talented NBA stars need an authority figure to guide them through the tough days when everything looks bleak. A great coach knows the right things to say and the right time to say them. He also knows when to close his mouth and let his players figure out their own problems. Just ask Tom Thibodeau. He’s done a fantastic job with Nate Robinson.
The issue is—great coaches are hard to find. Once you find the right coach (the one players will do battle with), you have to fight to keep him. There are always more attractive offers being shoved at them from every which way, or some life passion other than basketball just waiting to be fulfilled. But a great coach never leaves before his time. He stands by his players even when failure seems imminent and success looks impossible. If you’re a player blessed with the opportunity to learn the game of life and basketball from one of these coaching legends, you’ll be forever changed for the better. Just ask anyone who’s played for Larry Brown.
Recently I’ve reflected quite a bit on my own sports career (however short-lived), to understand which coaches helped me grow and which made my situation worse. Those reflections inspired me to create my personal list of the top five coaches in NBA history. You can decide whether you agree or disagree, but one thing is for sure—there are five fantastic coaches on this list.
The Jazz certainly have a few questions to answer in the coming year, one of those questions being, “Who is the coach of the future for the Jazz?” Since Jerry Sloan’s departure the Jazz record has been less than impressive and the team has only made the playoffs once in the past three seasons, a playoff run that ended in a four game sweep. No matter what happens during the offseason or in training camp, the clock is clearly ticking for the coaching staff and even the players. Maybe we’ll add the current coach to the all-time greatest coaches list 15 years from now. Either that or he’ll be fired by this time next year. Who knows? Just ask Ty Corbin.