Special Report

Greatest Coaches of All Time

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All of America’s professional sports teams are loaded with talent. The drafts for the NHL, MLB, NBA, and NFL are designed to make sure that even the worst teams have a better chance at getting impactful players. Yet certain franchises are able to rack up championships, while others miss the postseason year after year — because coaching makes all the difference.

24/7 Wall St. used data from the Sports Reference family of sites on coaches from the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. We considered their regular season records, playoff success, and championships won to determine the greatest coaches of all time. Coaches who were not in charge for the equivalent of at least one full season were not considered. Baseball managers whose careers ended prior to 1903, the start of the World Series era, also were not considered. Competitor leagues like the ABA and AAFC also were not considered.

Arguably, the most important job of a coach is to get the best out of his players. But even the greatest coaches of all time would struggle to win with substandard athletes. Similarly, the greatest players in sports history owe some of their career success to the coaches who put them in a position to succeed by helping them prepare and surrounded them with top-tier teammates. These are the teams with the most Hall of Famers.

Coaches cannot implement their desired strategies and culture overnight. It often takes months and even years. While some coaches are given the freedom to do things their way over the course of several seasons, others work for team owners who have little patience. At many of the worst franchises, coaches are under huge pressure to deliver immediate results. These are the teams that always fire their coaches.

Click here to see the greatest coaches of all time.

Source: Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library / Wikimedia Commons

25. Paul Brown
> Record: 213-104-9
> Championships: 3
> Team(s): Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals
> Career: 1946-1975

Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns were dominant in the NFL’s competitor league the AAFC, but it was unclear how they would fare in the much tougher NFL. Just fine, as it turned out. Brown led Cleveland to six straight championship game appearances in his first six NFL seasons, winning three of them.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

24. Walter Alston
> Record: 2040-1613-5
> Championships: 4
> Team(s): Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers
> Career: 1954-1976

Walter Alston helped make the Dodgers a championship franchise on both coasts — both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. He led the Dodgers to their first four of six titles in franchise history.

Source: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

23. Hap Day
> Record: 259-206-81
> Championships: 5
> Team(s): Toronto Maple Leafs
> Career: 1940-1950

Though Hap Day served as the Toronto Maple Leafs coach for just a decade, he made the most of his time, winning five Stanley Cups in his first nine seasons.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

22. Bill Walsh
> Record: 92-59-1
> Championships: 3
> Team(s): San Francisco 49ers
> Career: 1979-1988

Bill Walsh used his innovative West Coast offense to make the San Francisco 49ers the NFL’s most dominant team of the 1980s. He guided the Niners to three Super Bowl titles in his 10 years in charge.

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Source: APA / Getty Images

21. John McGraw
> Record: 2763-1948-58
> Championships: 3
> Team(s): New York Giants, Baltimore Orioles
> Career: 1899-1932

John McGraw was one of the great player-managers of MLB’s early days. At 32, he helped the New York Giants win the 1905 World Series as manager and an outfielder. After hanging up his spikes, he led the Giants to two more World Series titles in 1921 and 1922.

Source: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

20. Al Arbour
> Record: 782-577-248
> Championships: 4
> Team(s): New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues
> Career: 1970-2008

In Al Arbour’s first season, the New York Islanders were a hapless expansion franchise and one of the worst teams in the NHL. After several years of improvements, the Islanders became a dynasty, winning four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s.

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Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

19. Joel Quenneville
> Record: 890-532-77
> Championships: 3
> Team(s): Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche
> Career: 1996-present

Joel Quenneville turned the Chicago Blackhawks into the first 21st century NHL dynasty, winning three Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015. Though he was fired in 2018 as Chicago decided to rebuild, Coach Q will now have a chance to turn the Florida Panthers into a winning team.

Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

18. Joe Torre
> Record: 2326-1997-6
> Championships: 4
> Team(s): New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers
> Career: 1977-2010

Though he managed five different teams, Joe Torre will be remembered as a New York Yankees legend. Torre led the Bronx Bombers to four World Series titles in five years from 1996 to 2000.

Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images

 

17. Don Shula
> Record: 328-156-6
> Championships: 2
> Team(s): Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Colts
> Career: 1963-1995

To this day, Don Shula remains the only head coach in NFL history to lead a team to an undefeated record throughout both the regular and postseason, as he did with the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Those same Dolphins would repeat as Super Bowl champs in 1973 as well.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. Chuck Noll
> Record: 193-148-1
> Championships: 4
> Team(s): Pittsburgh Steelers
> Career: 1969-1991

Chuck Noll instilled toughness into his Pittsburgh Steelers teams, creating the vaunted Steel Curtain defense that helped Pittsburgh win four Super Bowls in the 1970s.

Source: Greg Fiume / Getty Images

15. Joe Gibbs
> Record: 154-94
> Championships: 3
> Team(s): Washington Redskins
> Career: 1981-2007

Most coaches with multiple Super Bowl titles paired up with a single dynamic quarterback to create a dynasty, but not Joe Gibbs. Gibbs was such a terrific offensive coach that he led the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl victories in the span of 10 years with three different QBs — Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien — at the helm.

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Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

14. Glen Sather
> Record: 497-307-121
> Championships: 4
> Team(s): Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers
> Career: 1976-2004

Glen Sather took over the Edmonton Oilers at just 33 years old, guiding the team in its transition from the World Hockey Association to the NHL. Along with Wayne Gretzky, he took Edmonton from an expansion franchise to powerhouse, winning four Stanley Cups in five seasons from 1984 to 1988.

Source: Win McNamee / Getty Images

13. Pat Riley
> Record: 1210-694
> Championships: 5
> Team(s): Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks
> Career: 1981-2008

Pat Riley’s coaching career got off to an incredible start, leading the Showtime Lakers to the 1982 NBA championship in his first season in charge. He would go on to make the Finals in seven of his first eight seasons, winning four times. Riley would cap his coaching career by leading the Heat to their first title in 2006.

Source: Harry How / Getty Images

12. Steve Kerr
> Record: 322-88
> Championships: 3
> Team(s): Golden State Warriors
> Career: 2014-present

Though he’s only coached for a handful of seasons, Steve Kerr has already distinguished himself as one of the most successful NBA coaches of all time. He revolutionized the way NBA offenses are run, with the help of sharpshooters Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, winning three titles in five consecutive NBA Finals appearances.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

11. Casey Stengel
> Record: 1905-1842-19
> Championships: 7
> Team(s): New York Yankees, Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Mets
> Career: 1934-1965

No MLB manager has won more World Series championships than Casey Stengel. Though his other stops as manager of the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets were unsuccessful, his Yankees teams of the late 1940s and 1950s were some of the best of all time, winning seven titles.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

10. Curly Lambeau
> Record: 226-132-22
> Championships: 6
> Team(s): Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins, Chicago Cardinals
> Career: 1921-1953

Curly Lambeau is the epitome of Green Bay Packer football. He served as the team’s owner, general manager, coach, and tailback over the course of his decades in football. In his 29 seasons coaching the Packers, the team won six NFL titles.

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Source: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

9. Gregg Popovich
> Record: 1245-575
> Championships: 5
> Team(s): San Antonio Spurs
> Career: 1996-present

A master motivator and tactician, Gregg Popovich has made the San Antonio Spurs a legitimate title threat each of his 23 seasons in charge. Before Pop, the Spurs had never even been to an NBA Finals. But his impact was almost immediate, winning his first of five titles in his second full season in charge.

Source: The Sporting News Archives / Jack O'Connell / Wikimedia Commons

8. Red Auerbach
> Record: 938-479
> Championships: 9
> Team(s): Boston Celtics, Tri-Cities Blackhawks
> Career: 1946-1966

Red Auerbach helped set the Boston Celtics apart from the rest of the NBA in the early days of the league, transforming a losing team into a perennial powerhouse. After six straight seasons of playoff losses to start his Celtics career, Auerbach’s teams went on to win nine titles in 10 seasons from 1957 to 1966.

Source: 97453745@N02 / Flickr

7. Vince Lombardi
> Record: 96-34-6
> Championships: 5
> Team(s): Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins
> Career: 1959-1969

The namesake of the Super Bowl trophy, Vince Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowl games. Before that, Lombardi and the Pack won three NFL titles in the early 1960s, before the NFL and AFL champs played one another. Lombardi needed just nine seasons to bring those five titles to Titletown.

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Source: The rakish fellow / Wikimedia Commons

6. George Halas
> Record: 318-148-31
> Championships: 6
> Team(s): Chicago Bears
> Career: 1920-1967

One of the founding fathers of the NFL, George Halas is famed for his success as well as his longevity. Halas coached his beloved Chicago Bears for 40 seasons, winning six championships in four different decades — one in 1921, one in 1933, three in the 1940s, and one in 1963.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

5. Toe Blake
> Record: 500-255-159
> Championships: 8
> Team(s): Montreal Canadiens
> Career: 1955-1968

Toe Blake presided over the dominant Montreal Canadiens of the 1950s and 1960s. He began his career winning five straight Stanley Cups before rounding out his career with another three in his final four seasons.

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Source: Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress

4. Joe McCarthy
> Record: 2125-1333-29
> Championships: 7
> Team(s): New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox
> Career: 1926-1950

Joe McCarthy is tied with fellow Yankees great Casey Stengel for the most World Series titles for any manager, with seven. In 24 seasons with the Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox, McCarthy never had a losing season.

Source: Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

3. Bill Belichick
> Record: 265-123-12
> Championships: 6
> Team(s): New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns
> Career: 1991-present

After two decades of dominance in New England, Bill Belichick has set himself apart as the greatest coach in NFL history. Belichick’s Patriots have been to nine Super Bowls in his 19 full seasons at the helm, winning six of them. That is tied for the most Super Bowls won by any franchise and the most for any single coach — and Belichick is showing no signs of slowing down.

Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

2. Phil Jackson
> Record: 1155-485
> Championships: 11
> Team(s): Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers
> Career: 1989-2011

In major American sports history, no coach has guided his team to more championships than the Zen Master Phil Jackson. He was able to manage the personalities of players like Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman and win six titles in his time with the Chicago Bulls before taking over a Los Angeles Lakers team with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. He won five more titles in his 11 seasons in Los Angeles.

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Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

1. Scotty Bowman
> Record: 1244-573-314
> Championships: 9
> Team(s): Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues
> Career: 1967-2002

Over his 30-year career, Scotty Bowman won nine Stanley Cups — five with the Montreal Canadiens, three with the Detroit Red Wings, and another with the Pittsburgh Penguins — the most of any coach in NHL history. He also holds the NHL record with 1,244 victories. No other coach has even reached 900.

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