Top 5 NBA Coaches Of All-Time

The NBA has long been a sport that’s been dictated by the star players. But behind just about every great dynasty is an all time great head coach. Ranking coaches is a difficult task because you have to judge the rosters, winning, eras, and impact on the game. I went through some of the games very best and narrowed it down to a top 5.

5. Larry Brown

Larry Brown is the only coach to win an NCAA and NBA title, with the 1988 Kansas Jayhawks and 2004 Detroit Pistons, respectively. Even with the only to accomplish that feat, Brown will be remembered as perhaps the game’s greatest teacher and team builder.

Every head coaching job Brown took, the team improved under his guidance. Well except the New York Knicks but let’s not hold him accountable for that because well it’s the Knicks. Brown has over 1,000 victories in the NBA, and nearly 1,500 victories when you add in his days in the NCAA and ABA.

Career Record: 1,098-904

4. Red Auerbach

Unless you are big into the history of the game, the name Red Auerbach probably means nothing to you. Auerbach was the head coach of the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1950’s and 60’s. He was the architect of eight consecutive NBA championship teams, and 9 out of 10.

His impact on the game may be bigger than the actual accolades. Auerbach played an essential role in integrating the NBA. The Boston Celtics had the most black players on the team, and the face of the franchise was Bill Russell. When he decided to retire, Auerbach handed over the coaching job to Russell, who accepted the role, while still being a player.

The only reason for holding Auerbach this low on the list is the era he dominated. The amount of teams in the league had yet eclipsed double digits, and his success has not been, and never will be duplicated. That shows that the era played a huge role in his overall coaching success.

Career Record: 938-479

3. Pat Riley

Today’s generation knows Pat Riley as the architect that assembled the Miami Heat Big 3. But Riley was an all-time great coach during the 80’s and 90’s.

The Miami Heat Big 3 isn’t even the best team Riley has put together. He coached the Showtime Lakers led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. He coached the Lakers to 4 NBA titles in 7 seasons, easily being the best coach of the 1980’s.

Riley also had tremendous success on the East coast with the New York Knicks. In his 4 years coaching in New York, Riley led the Knicks to the 1994 Eastern Conference Championship. He then took his talents to South Beach to coach and later be the President of basketball operations.

Career Record: 1,210-694

2. Phil Jackson

When clicking on the link to this article, you probably assumed I would have Phil Jackson as the best coach of all time. There is a true argument to be made with his 11 rings as a head coach. He coached Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s Bulls dynasty of the 90’s. Later he took the reigns in Los Angeles and three seated with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. He once again returned to the Lakers to coach Kobe Bryant to another 3 NBA Finals appearances, winning 2 of them.

Jackson’s triangle offense transcended two different decades, rule changes, and remained effective. His best trait is his ability to connect too and manage superstar players. He commanded the attention of Jordan, Kobe and Shaq, 3 top 10 players of all time. Jackson was able to connect to Dennis Rodman, understanding the most unique player to ever play in the league. Just look at The Last Dance series and you’ll understand Jackson’s greatness.

It sounds ironic to hold the greatness of his system and players against him, but the next guy on the list was able to be successful without the consistency of a single system.

Career Record: 1,155-485

1. Gregg Popovich

Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the Golden State Warriors on March 19, 2016 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Gregg Popovich is the only active coach on the list, but deserves to be the top spot. Popovich was promoted to the Head Coach of the San Antonio Spurs in 1996-97. The rest is history.

In just his 3rd year as a NBA Head Coach, Popovich led the San Antonio Spurs to a NBA championship, the first of five. The impressive thing about Popovich, which sets him apart from the rest, is his ability to adapt and win with different systems and rosters.

We think about the Spurs Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker as the reason for the championships. No doubt that they carried the load for much of the dynasty. But when you consider how different each of the championship teams played, you find a new respect for Popovich.

In the early days with Duncan and David Robinson, Popovich’s system was inside out, and heavily reliant on defense. By the 2003 championship, Duncan was the focal point, and Manu Ginobili was playing a huge role. Fast forward to 2007 and the system completely changed. It was pick and roll dominant with Parker as the focal point. By the fifth title in 2014, the Spurs were a ball moving, three point shooting team, filled with international players.

Regardless of the pace of play, teams strengths and weaknesses, and age, Popovich always put the Spurs in a position to win. It can be seen by his 22 year streak of making the playoffs, something unheard of in modern sports.

Career Record: 1,272-611

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