Monday, May 16, 2011

Coaching Experience Vastly Overrated

When I read that Jerry Sloan and Jeff Van Gundy declined interviews to coach the Golden State Warriors, I can't help but think they did Golden State a favor.

And to me Mike Brown is little more than Keith Smart with glasses.

Sloan had ample opportunity to win a championship in Utah and never got it done. And Van Gundy had his chances in New York and Houston and never brought home any championship hardware either.

And that is where Golden State got lucky because history tells us that a coach who doesn't win it all on his first job will probably never do it on his second job or later.

Going all the way back to the early days of the NBA, first-time coaches rule.

John Kundla, who coached the first dynasty in NBA history, had no head-coaching experience when he took over the Minneapolis Lakers in 1948.

The same can be said for Phil Jackson and Pat Riley.

Experience wasn't necessary when they took over Chicago and Los Angeles and led them to 10 championships.

With the number of first-hire championships in parentheses, here is the list of first-time coaches who won multiple titles on their first job: John Kundla (4), Bill Russell (2), Tommy Heinsohn (2), Pat Riley (4), Phil Jackson (6), Rudy Tomjanovich (2), Gregg Popovich (4).

Only 22 titles in NBA history have been won by coaches on their second hire or later after they didn't win one the first time around, nine of those by Red Auerbach.

You have to go all the way back to Chuck Daly in 1990 to find a coach who won more than one title after failing to win one on his first job, although Larry Brown and Doc Rivers came close, losing Game 7s on the road in 2005 and 2010.

Multiple championship winners after failing to win one on the first hire are as follows: Red Auerbach (9), Red Holzman (2), KC Jones (2), Chuck Daly (2).

Bill Sharman, Jack Ramsay, Dick Motta, Lenny Wilkens, Bill Fitch, Larry Brown and Doc Rivers all won one championship on their second hire or later.

First-time coaches who won one title the first time include Les Harrison, Al Cervi, George Senesky, Alex Hannum, Larry Costello, Al Attles, Paul Westhead and Billy Cunningham.

All other championships were won by coaches who won at least one on their first hire and others on their second or later.

Put it all together and 39 of the 61 NBA titles (63.9%) have been won by the coaches who started by winning one on their first job after being hired with no head-coaching experience in the NBA.

The same model holds true in the NFL.

Paul Brown, Weeb Ewbank, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Don Shula, John Madden, Tom Flores, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Mike Ditka, Jimmy Johnson and George Seifert (pretty much all of the greatest coaches in NFL history) had never been head coaches in the NFL but went on to win championships during their first hires.

Mike Shanahan and Bill Belichick are the only coaches to win multiple Super Bowls after failing to win one with their first team.

This isn't to say that no experienced coach should ever be hired again, only that inexperienced ones shouldn't be overlooked simply because they don't have the experience.

Inexperienced coaches who are in over their heads can be public relations nightmares, so teams tend to hire experience out of "CYA" more than anything else.

But we have more than a half century of history in two different sports which tells us that first-time coaches are the best coaches, particularly for teams which want to win multiple championships.

Jerry Sloan and Jeff Van Gundy don't want to coach Golden State?

The Bay Area should be so lucky.

Note: NBA coaching data is from Basketball NFL coaching data is from Pro Football Here is a quick reference to NBA champion coaches.

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