Phil Jackson Is not the Greatest Coach in Professional Sports

As soon as the Lakers were swept away by the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon, a lot of folks in the sports media (especially Michael Wilbon and Mike Tirico) waxed poetic over how Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson is the greatest coach not only in the NBA, but in all of sports.

I almost puked the remainder of the Mother’s Day brunch I had with my wife.

People in all walks of life seem to be prisoners of the moment.  They fail to remember and appreciate history while fawning over the present.

Jackson is not the first multi-winning championship coach in all of sports.

In fact, Jackson is the greatest FRONT-RUNNING coach in sports history.  I mean, in Chicago dude had the opportunity to coach Michael Jordan in his prime and Scottie Pippen entering his, winning the first three championships.  That same Chicago team also had Horace Grant doing the dirty work and John Paxson nailing threes.  Jackson won his last three rings with the Bulls with Dennis Rodman doing the dirty work and Steve Kerr nailing threes – with Jordan and Pippen.

Then Jackson takes his act to L.A. and wins three more championships with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in their primes, and two more with Bryant and Pau Gasol in his prime.  I’m sorry but color me unimpressed.

To me, being a great coach means building and maintaining a winning program instead of walking into a great situation with parts already present.  Jackson was never a builder as much as he was a REFINER.

Here are the coaches I would put ahead of Jackson on my list of greatest coaches in all of sports:

  • Vince Lombardi
  • Chuck Noll
  • Red Auerbach
  • John Wooden
  • Mike Krzyzewski
  • Bob Knight
  • Jim Calhoun
  • George Halas

All of those coaches have won at least three championships on any level while building and maintaining winning programs.

By the way, me being a Knicks fan does not have anything to do with my opinion on Jackson.  It’s the same reason Yankees manager Joe Torre (one of my favorite managers) is not on this list.

Torre, like Jackson, was a refiner instead of a builder.  He walked into a great situation with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettite in their primes.  Buck Showalter built it, and Torre refined the product.

Jackson is a great coach – after all, he did win 11 championships.  Let’s not confuse a great coach with being a great front-runner.

Categories: NBA, sports story

2 replies

  1. 1) I would include Dean Smith in your list, even though he only won 2 titles.

    2) Being a ‘refiner’ should not exclude one from being one of the greatest coaches. Walking into a great situation is fine and good. What one does with that great situation can make or break a person. Phil Jackson did, in some sense, build and maintain a program in Chicago. By bringing aboard great assistants and instituting a groundbreaking offense in Chicago, they went to the next level from very good to great. He then took his program to LA, where he helped the Lakers get back to prominence. We will never know if Kobe and MJ would be among the greatest players of all time without Phil Jackson, but we do know that they became among the greatest players of all time because of Phil Jackson.

  2. What PJ did is very impressive. It’s not easy to win multiple titles in this day and age of swelled egos, salary caps, free agency and being under the microscope. If it were so easy, then Doug Collins and Del Harris would have won with those players before Phil got there. Look at the ’85 Bears. People call that the greatest football team ever assembled. That had dynasty written all over it. One title.

    However, I agree with you in that Phil never built a squad from the ground up. We will never know if he can do that or not. Why should he? Once he established his rep, he would only take jobs when the cupboard was full. I don’t blame him. Most coaches who start with weak teams end up at the unemployment office.

    I can’t call him the greatest coach either due to this missing aspect on his resume. Now, if he comes back in a year or two and gets the flawed Knicks to a title, then he’s got my attention!


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