Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Not to be confused with the best or most successful, this is my take on the most recognizable names in coaching among the professional ranks, listed in reverse order.

15. Walter Alston
Alston managed the Brooklyn Dodgers and made the move with the team to Los Angeles. I suppose the two big markets played a large part in spotlighting the relatively mild mannered manager, but probably not as much as his success and multiple World Series battles with another iconic baseball franchise, the New York Yankees.
14. Bill Walsh
Like Alston, Walsh is another even tempered man whose fame can’t be attributed to flamboyant antics. So why do we know him? Three Super Bowl rings helps, but I think it’s his “genius” image that makes Walsh so memorable. Football coaches are generally perceived as foul mouthed tuff-guys capable of delivering a fire-spitting pre-game speech that’ll inspire his team to go out and kick some ass. Walsh looked and acted like an accountant. His teams didn’t beat you up, they out-finessed and out-smarted you.
13. Tommy Lasorda
Unlike Alston and Walsh, this guy could be called gregarious. And successful. His bubbly upbeat personality and love for the Los Angeles Dodgers are what ingrains Lasorda. I’m not sure, but I think he was the one who coined the phrase “bleed Dodger blue”. Ever the optimist, he comes off like the guy you’d see cooking the pasta dinner and pouring the wine while singing Italian songs at a Sunday family gathering.
12. Sparky Anderson
Manager of one of the more iconic teams in baseball - the Big Red Machine. But, other than that I’m not sure why he’s so memorable. I’m thinking a nickname like “Sparky” has something to do with it. He also looked the part, like an elderly “baseball guy”. Even when he wasn’t elderly. I think he was born with grey hair. Not sure, though.
11. Bud Grant
Grant never won a Super Bowl but he came close a couple of times. He was quiet but he had a “steely” look about him that matched the grey skies that usually hovered over Metropolitan Stadium during late season game-days. I think it’s the image of Grant steadily chewing his gum on the sidelines in that setting that sticks. You could just tell he was in charge; someone you didn’t want to screw around with.
10. Pat Riley
The dapper, sharply dressed Riley is still an active member of the NBA today, although not as a coach. Certainly his success in multiple championship series’ between two of the most iconic teams in the NBA contributes to his fame. As does his association with greats like Magic and Kareem. But I think it’s his professionalism and aforementioned dress-code and grooming that stands out. The man presented like a cutting-edge CEO.
9. Casey Stengel
I don’t even know much about this guy but I know his name. Way before my time but I know his name. Why? I’m guessing five straight World Series championships with the most storied franchise in baseball has a lot to do with it. Also guessing he’s one of the bigger reasons why the Yankees are the most storied franchise in baseball.
8. Paul Brown
This guy has a professional football team named after him. And when he got pissed at that team’s ownership, he went out started a whole new team…who named their stadium after him! Brown won three championships but was also known for several innovations. I don’t remember much of him, but it’s impossible to read about the history of the NFL without running across Brown’s name.
7. Don Shula
Winning the most games isn’t necessarily the criteria for this list. But it might be just that that makes Shula so memorable. The all-time winningest NFL coach, including two Super Bowls. There are two other things that stand out though; Shula guided the ’72 Dolphins to the only undefeated season in modern NFL history, and his Baltimore Colts were on the losing side of a historic Super Bowl upset engineered by Joe Namath and the ’68 Jets, a game that legitimized the AFL.
6. Phil Jackson
The man attended Grateful Dead concerts. How many ultra-successful coaches can you say that about? The “Zen Master” holds the record for most NBA championships so it’s likely he’d be remembered for that alone. But it’s his holistic approach to coaching and hippie background that add icing to the cake. 
5. Billy Martin
Martin can be considered successful as manager of the Yankees. But he’s not at the top of any “most successful” lists. It’s his ‘soap opera’ confrontations with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner that make Martin famous. Steinbrenner played the part of the overbearing father, Martin was the alcoholic rebellious son, and Reggie Jackson was Martin’s spoiled kid brother. A veritable sit-com that saw Martin get fired and rehired multiple times.
4. Tom Landry
During his tenure Landry’s Dallas Cowboys were labeled America’s team. And that, for the most part, would make Landry America’s coach. Stoic and commanding, Landry would fail in big games almost as much as he would win. I think the hat helps to ingrain him, but his success and his eighteen year run as the first coach of (quote marks signal with hands) “America’s Team”, is what sticks the most. And it doesn’t hurt that the state of Texas worships football.
3. Red Auerbach
I feel safe in saying Auerbach had the most successful coaching run ever at the professional level. Nine championships out of ten straight seasons, eight in a row. A Boston Celtics legend, he worked in management after he retired as coach and engineered the assembly of even more championship talent. The cigar, the slight arrogance, and the innovations help to ingrain. But in this case, it’s mostly the success that makes this coach famous.
2. George Halas
“Papa Bear”. Founder of the Chicago Bears and integral to the development of the NFL. I don’t remember much of Halas but like Paul Brown, no NFL history lesson is complete without the mention of his name.
1. Vince Lombardi
“Winning is everything”. Lombardi’s quote, and the man himself, are the standards by which competitiveness is measured. Years of success with the Green Bay Packers put him on the map, but his “losing is unacceptable” philosophy is what makes him unforgettable. He was hard on his players but most all of them love him for being fair and unwavering in his demands for self-discipline, and most credit him as a positive life-changing influence. The stories and quotes attributed to Lombardi could almost be considered a coach’s bible.

As I said in the opening, success was not the first criteria for this list. If it were, consideration would have to be given to the following coaches who were very successful but for one reason or another just aren’t as easily recalled. Some of these coaches are still going so the future may yet find them more memorable:
Bill Parcells, George Allen, Chuck Knoll, Red Holzman, Bill Belichik, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Joe Gibbs, Weeb Ewbank, Chuck Knox, Larry Brown, Greg Popovich.
                    And Earl Weaver just missed the cut for top 15. Make Earl #16.

No comments: