Greatest Coaches


Century of Sports

Main Page

Greatest Games

Greatest Moments

Infamy and Heartbreak

Greatest Coaches:

• Vince Lombardi

• John Wooden

Red Auerbach
Dean Smith
Bear Bryant

John McGraw

George Halas

Don Shula

Paul Brown
Knute Rockne

Tom Landry

Scotty Bowman

Greatest Games:

Battle of 18-16
Rumble in the Jungle
Miracle on Ice

Epic in Miami
Thrilla in Manila

Game 6 - 1975 Series

The Ice Bowl

Super Bowl XXIII


Duke-Kentucky, 1992

Simply Perfect

Game 4, '47 Series

NC State Upsets Houston

Game 5, '76 NBA Finals

Super Bowl III

Notre Dame-Army

The Comeback

Game 7 - 1960 Series

2000 U.S. Open

Greatest Game Ever Played

Greatest Moments:

Gibson's homer
Shot Heard 'Round the World

Summit Series

Immaculate Reception

The Called Shot

Owens - 4 world records

Four-Minute Mile

Game 7, '70 NBA Finals

Beamon's Long Jump
Secretariat Wins Belmont

The Drive

Aaron #715

The Catch

Ben Hogan - 1950 U.S. Open

Game 7, 1969 NBA Finals

The Music City Miracle

Young Woman and the Sea

Cotton Bowl, 1984

Game 6, '98 NBA Finals

Cal-Stanford, 1982

Infamy and Heartbreak:

Game 6, '86 Series
Black Sox Scandal

Oilers-Flames, '87

Harvey Haddix Loses No-No

• Ted Williams, 1949

• 1908 Olympic Marathon

Munich Olympics - Basketball

1957 Kentucky Derby

• Ben Johnson Loses Gold

• 1929 Rose Bowl

• "The Heidi Game"

• The Pine Tar Home Run

• Super Bowl XXV

• Yepremian's Imperfect Play

Theismann's Injury

Gehrig's Streak Ends

Game 6, 1947 Series
Ali-Holmes, 1980

Louganis Hits the Board

Packers-Boys, 1965


















































   Written and compiled in conjunction with ESPN staff writers.

1                Vince Lombardi

   He took a Packers team that was 1-10-1 in 1959 and made it into a dynasty - the small town of Green Bay, Wisconsin, soon became known as Titletown, USA.  In Lombardi's nine seasons, the team went 98-30-4, including 9-1 in the postseason.  Among the five championships was a stretch of three straight from 1965-67. No team has matched that streak since.

   Lombardi spent five years at Army as an assistant to Red Blaik and came to regard Blaik as the single greatest influence on his coaching career. Perhaps the biggest lesson he learned from Blaik was the importance of preparation.

   Blaik was one of the earliest coaches to study game film. The task of dissecting much of that film was given to Lombardi, who developed a knack for finding a team's weakness. He also learned from Blaik the value of simplicity; game plans and terminology were kept basic.

   The Pack went 7-5 in Lombardi's first season. In his second season (1960), the Packers won the Western Conference with an 8-4 record, but lost 17-13 to the Eagles in the championship game. Afterwards, Lombardi said that his team would never lose another title game.  He was right.

2                John Wooden

   UCLA's basketball program gained the worldwide reputation of being rated number one. The major reason was head basketball coach John Robert Wooden, who announced his retirement in 1975 after his 27th season as the Bruins' head coach with the winningest record in basketball history.

   Wooden concluded his 40th year as a head coach in 1975 with a record of 885 wins, 203 losses, and a winning percentage of .813 which is unequalled. In his 27 years at UCLA, his teams registered 620 wins against only 147 losses.

   Under Wooden, UCLA won an unprecedented 10 NCAA Championships in 12 years, including seven in a row. Included in that string is one of the most amazing win streaks in sports, 38 straight NCAA tournament victories. 

3                Red Auerbach

   Red Auerbach's coaching philosophy was simple: Only one statistic mattered. At the end of the game, he wanted the number next to his team to be greater than that next to his opponent.

   The individual players weren't the ones who made the difference. It was the team as a whole. Just being a member of a winning team was part of the Auerbach mystique. Regarded as a coaching genius, he was known for picking the right players, coaching them and keeping them in line with his system. Employing a fastbreak that often led to easy baskets, he ran only seven basic set plays throughout his Celtics coaching career.

   He was the first coach to draft a black player - Chuck Cooper, a second-team All-American from Duquesne, in the second round in 1950 - and the first to start five black players in the NBA, as well as the first to hire a black coach (Bill Russell).

   He retired as the winningest coach in NBA history with 938 victories (against 479 defeats) in his 20-year career, the last 16 with the Celtics. Boston fans reveled when Auerbach lit a cigar to signify that another victory was secure.

  Auerbach guided the Boston Celtics through their dynasty, the greatest in NBA history. With Auerbach at the helm as coach or in the front office, the Celtics won 16 championships. They captured nine titles during his last 10 years as coach, including a record eight straight from 1959 to 1966, when Red, at only 48, stepped down to concentrate on being the general manager.

4                 Dean Smith

   The Dean of Coaches retired with 879 victories in 36 years - the winningest NCAA Division I coach of all time. His 64 NCAA Tournament victories tops the list there as well, ahead of UCLA's John Wooden (47) by a country mile. he was ACC Coach of the year in 1967, 1968, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1988, 1993, and had 26 All-Americans play for him at UNC, including Michael Jordan, Larry Miller, James Worthy, Jerry Stackhouse, and Sam Perkins.

   The Tar Heels under Smith finished first, second or third in rugged regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference competition for 33 straight years, beginning back in 1965. During that span, all the other teams in the ACC (with the exception of 1992 newcomer Florida State) have taken turns finishing last at least twice and in some cases five or six times.

   Maybe most amazingly, four ex-Smith players went on to coach in the NBA (Robert McAdoo, Larry Brown, George Karl and John Kuester) and 15 coach at the college basketball level.

5                 Bear Bryant

   "Hell no! A tie is like kissing your sister!" - this from Paul "Bear" Bryant after being asked if he had considered going for a field goal when trailing by three points. The longtime coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide finished 323-85-17 (232-46-9 with the Tide) and won 6 national championships.

   Bryant got his nickname wrestling a bear on stage at a theater in Fordyce, Ark., for a lousy five bucks. But that was far better than the 50 cents he would have made picking cotton that day - see, Bryant grew up dirt poor. He wasn't a great innovator. He never really had the desires to copy Knute Rockne's style. But he was a great tinkerer. He knew how to use the single-wing, the pro-set, and the Notre Dame box. And he refined them, as well as the Wishbone, to perfection. And when he retired, he had more wins than any other Division I coach in history, and the highest winning percentage to boot.

6                 John McGraw

   For three decades John McGraw truly dominated the National League. He invented the hit-and-run, and was a strategic genius with the Giants from 1901 to 1932. He was probably the first manager to truly use relief pitching, and his strategic acumen earned him the nickname "Little Napoleon."

   In his 29 full seasons as Giants manager he finished first or second 21 times, winning 10 pennants and 3 World Series titles. McGraw's managerial style was reminiscent of his antics as a player. He swaggered through every city in the league, battling opposing teams, managers, owners, umpires, and league officials. He had a genius for inciting crowds and the Giants quickly became the most despised team in the league, often dodging rocks and bottles as they left enemy ballparks. In 1906 McGraw arrogantly had "Champions of the World" emblazoned across the front of the team's jerseys.

   He favored the hit-and-run and hated to sacrifice batters in bunt situations. He had a sharp eye for playing talent and traded daringly, getting useful work from drinkers and neurotics other clubs had given up on. And with tips from his many friends in bush leagues across the country, he found bright young stars to replace fading older ones.

   His 2,840 career wins leaves him second all-time behind Connie Mack.

                George Halas

   A pioneer of professional football, he organized, owned, and coached the Chicago Bears.  He coached them from 1920 to 1929, 1933 to 1942, 1946 to 1955, and from 1958 to 1968 - his Bears won six NFL championships.  In the late 1930’s Halas and Clark Shaughnessy helped set the stage for modern, wide-open football by adding the man-in-motion to the T-formation, which was primarily responsible for the team's success in the 1940s.

   He was also a major reason why pro football didn't fold in the 1920s, when financial woes almost sank the game.  He signed the hottest football name in the nation - Harold (Red) Grange, the Galloping Ghost from the University of Illinois - and promoted him successfully to crowds that ranged from good to great. 

   Halas was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1963.

8                 Don Shula

   Perhaps the sharpest football coach ever - he is the winningest coach in NFL history. In 33 years at Baltimore and Miami, Shula compiled a record of 347-173-6 - a winning percentage of .665. he coached in a record six Super Bowls, winning the 1972 and 1973 crowns, and guided the Dolphins to a perfect 17-0 record in 1972, the only undefeated season in NFL history. Shula was the youngest coach to win 100 games, 200 games and 300 games.

   From 1964 through 1985, his teams finished first or tied for first 17 times, and only twice in 33 years did he have a losing season. He coached the Dolphins successfully in the 1970s, when a great defense and powerful running game spurred them to victory. In the 1980s, he successfully adapted to Dan Marino's capabilities and turned his offense into a lethal air game.

   He reached the playoffs 20 times and won 10 or more games 21 times.

                 Paul Brown

   Brown was an exceptionally successful coach at all levels of football.  He coached Ohio St. to national title in 1942, and built the great Cleveland dynasty with a 167-53-8 record - he had four AAFC titles (1946-49), three NFL crowns (1950, 1954 and 1955), and had only one losing season in 17 years.

   He was a revolutionary innovator with many coaching firsts to his credit.  Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame before his Cincinnati Bengals tenure began (he formed the Cincinnati Bengals as head coach and part-owner in 1968, and reached playoffs in '70), the new stadium in Cincy is now named after him.  Already the winner of a major architectural award, Paul Brown Stadium will form the western "bookend" of Cincinnati's "Rebirth of the Riverfront." A new Reds baseball stadium, slated for completion in 2003, will be the eastern "bookend."

10               Knute Rockne

   University of Notre Dame football under Rockne was a powerhouse. As the head coach of the Fighting Irish, from 1918 to 1930, he set the greatest all-time winning percentage of .881.  This mark still ranks at the top of the list for both college and professional football.  During those 13 years as head coach, he collected 105 victories, 12 losses, five ties, and six national championships.  Rockne also coached Notre Dame to five undefeated seasons without a tie.

   On March 31, 1931 this great coach's reign came to an end when an airplane en route from Kansas City to Los Angeles crashed into the Kansas farmlands.  Their were no survivors and Knute Rockne was dead at age 43.

   Rockne was known as one of the most innovative and charismatic coaches of his era.  He was the first football coach to initiate intersectional rivalries and build a national schedule.


   Here is the "Win one for the Gipper speech, in it's entirety:

   "Well, boys ... I haven't a thing to say.  Played a great game...all of you.  Great game.  I guess we just can't expect to win ‘em all.  I'm going to tell you something I've kept to myself for years - none of you ever knew George Gipp.  It was long before your time.  But you know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame...

   And the last thing he said to me: "Rock," he said, "sometime, when the team is up against it - and the breaks are beating the boys - tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper... I don't know where I'll be then, Rock", he said - "but I'll know about it - and I'll be happy." 

11               Tom Landry

   If you played for Tom Landry, you hated Mondays.  The Cowboys' coach called his Monday sessions "film studies" - they were long, grim, and painful, with few heroes and many villains.  Landry stood at the projector with his legal pad of notes, a flashlight to shine on the notes, and his projector control. The entire team was in the room, offense and defense, and Landry went through the game film inch by inch, reviewing every Cowboy on every play. "Chewing butts by the numbers," one player called it.

   The coach didn't curse, except for an occasional "darn." He didn't yell, rarely raised his voice, spoke mostly in a low monotone. But he would shrivel your soul if he hauled out his harshest condemnation, his ultimate expression of contempt: "You're an amateur drawing play."  Rigid and gaunt, colorless and grim with his business hat and business suit, Landry looked more like a Secret Service agent than a coach in an emotionally charged sport.  He built the Dallas Cowboys from scratch, then coached them for three decades — including 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966-1985), 18 playoff appearances, 13 division championships, and five Super Bowls.  This man, who seemed so colorless and so aloof, created, and for 29 years presided over, one of the most colorful, exciting, successful, and controversial teams in football history.

   Landry never was close to his players. He wasn't the kind of coach you drowned in Gatorade to celebrate a big win.  He was aloof and dignified and stern. But he could surprise you:


   Linebacker Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson's first impression of Landry: stodgy, old, bald guy with a distinct limp from an old knee injury.  On the first day of training camp, Landry sent the Cowboys on a torturous two-mile run up a mountain road.  Hollywood took off, a brash rookie determined to show the veterans what he could do. Halfway up the hill, Hollywood got passed by an old, bald guy with a limp.

12               Scotty Bowman

   The all-time winningest NHL coach in both regular season and playoffs over 26 seasons, Bowman coached a record-tying eight Stanley Cup winners with Montreal (1973, 1976-79), Pittsburgh (1992) and Detroit (1997, 1998).  In February 1997, he coached his 1,000th NHL victory, and now has over 1,150 (Al Arbour stands second on the list with 781); in May 1998, he became the first NHL coach to coach three different teams to a Stanley Cup championship.

   He has been blessed with talented players like Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman, and has a legendary ability to motivate by any means necessary.

   Bowman began his career in St. Louis, when he took over the expansion Blues during the 1967-68 season. He would guide that team, which was placed in a conference with five other expansion franchises, to the Stanley Cup final in each of the Blues' first three seasons.  Bowman left St. Louis for Montreal after four seasons, and earned the first of five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens in 1973. His best Montreal team may have been the 1976-77 squad, which set an NHL record with 60 regular-season victories and went 12-2 in the postseason.

   He coached St. Louis for four seasons, Montreal for eight, Buffalo for seven and - after a four-year gap - Pittsburgh for two. Before the 2000 season, he was 1,156-546-296.  Twenty-six of Bowman's former players have coached in the NHL, and several have served as general managers.