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List Of 25 Greatest NBA Head Coaches

By Salim Prajapati / 3 December 2023 12:55 PM

Source : facebook

Throughout the NBA's rich history, there have been a number of exceptional coaches who have left an indelible mark on the game.

Greatness is not just about winning games or championships it is more about strategic brilliance, leadership skills, and the ability to inspire their players when it comes to coaching in the NBA.

Coaches such as Steve Kerr, Bill Russell, and Doc Rivers have successfully translated their phenomenal playing careers into equally impressive coaching legacies, achieving championship victories both as players and coaches.

On the other hand, Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach stand out as the two most successful head coaches jointly securing 20 NBA titles between them.

In the following topic, we will delve into the legacies of these outstanding individuals who have shaped the game and elevated the NBA to new heights. The list comprises of 25 best head coaches in alphabetical order.

1. Bill Russell

Source : theguardian

  • NBA Coaching Record: 341-290 (.540)
  • 2x NBA champion (1968, 1969)
  • Basketball Hall of Fame as coach

Bill Russell is an NBA legend and former Boston Celtics superstar who transitioned to a coaching profession following his retirement from active play.

Russell, an 11-time NBA champion as a player, coached three teams, the Celtics, the SuperSonics and the Kings. Under his coaching, Boston achieved consecutive NBA championships in 1968 and 1969.

Throughout his two-decade coaching career, he won 341 games losing 290 to maintain a winning percentage of 0.540.

Teams Coached

  • 1966-1969: Boston Celtics
  • 1973-1977: Seattle SuperSonics
  • 1987-1988: Sacramento Kings

2. Billy Cunningham

Source : twitter

  • NBA Coaching Record: 454-196 (.698)
  • 1x NBA champion (1983)
  • 4x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1978, 1980, 1981, 1983)

Billy Cunningham is the 1967 NBA champion player with the Philadelphia 76ers who continued his success as a manager leading the Sixers to victory once again in 1983.

In his brief tenure as NBA coach, Cunningham was with the 76ers for eight seasons from 1977 to 1985. Apart from the 1983 title win his career highlights include four NBA All-Star head coach selections.

Besides, Billy, one of the top NBA coaches, recorded 454 wins out of 650 games he managed.

Teams Coached

  • 1977-1985: Philadelphia 76ers

3. Chuck Daly

Source : facebook

  • NBA Coaching Record: 638-437 (.593)
  • 2x NBA champion (1989, 1990)
  • NBA All-Star Game head coach (1990)
  • Basketball Hall of Fame as coach

Chuck Daly is a former Detroit Pistons head coach who was active in the NBA for two decades. Daly gave back-to-back championship wins to the Pistons in 1989 and 1990.

He was also selected to be the head coach of the 1990 All-Star game. Besides NBA listed Chuck on the list of best basketball coaches of all time.

Teams Coached

  • 1978-1981: Philadelphia 76ers (Asst)
  • 1981-1982: Cleveland Cavaliers
  • 1983-1992: Detroit Pistons
  • 1992-1994: New Jersey Nets
  • 1997-1999: Orlando Magic

4. Doc Rivers

Source : britannica

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1097-763 (.590)
  • 1x NBA champion (2008)
  • 3x NBA All-Star Game head coach (2008, 2011, 2021)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (2000)

Doc Rivers is one of the few active NBA head coaches who has earned a place among the greatest NBA coaches of all time.

Rivers, a former point guard, has so far managed four NBA franchises. Although he was crowned the Coach of the Year in 2000, his only championship win came in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Teams Coached

  • 1999-2003: Orlando Magic
  • 2004-2013: Boston Celtics
  • 2013-2020: Los Angeles Clippers
  • 2020-2023: Philadelphia 76ers

5. Don Nelson

Source : bleacherreport

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1,335-1,063 (.557)
  • 3x NBA Coach of the Year (1983, 1985, 1992)
  • 2x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1992, 2002)

Don Nelson comes second among the NBA winningest coaches only behind Gregg Popovich. Nelson has 1,335 wins from 2,398 matches as a manager.

Though he has triumphed five Larry O'Brien trophies as a player, the Michigan native was not able to repeat the success during his coaching career

Teams Coached

  • 1976-1988: Milwaukee Bucks
  • 1988-1995, 2006-2010: Golden State Warriors
  • 1995-1996: New York Knicks
  • 1997-2005: Dallas Mavericks

6. Erik Spoelstra

Source : reddit

  • NBA Coaching Record: 714-499 (.589)
  • 2x NBA champion (2012, 2013)
  • 2x NBA All-Star Game head coach (2013, 2022)

Erik Spoelstra was placed on the esteemed list of 15 best coaches in NBA history. Spoelstra was appointed the head coach of the Miami Heat in 2008.

Four years after his appointment, he led Miami to their second-ever NBA championship victory. Similarly, the following year, Erik guided the Heat to another trophy making it two in a row.

Teams Coached

  • 1997-2008: Miami Heat (Asst.)
  • 2008-present: Miami Heat

7. Flip Saunders

Source : usatoday

  • NBA Coaching Record: 654-592 (.525)
  • 2x NBA All-Star Game head coach (2004, 2006)

Flip Saunders has coached three NBA teams during his coaching career. His 0.525 winning percentage also puts him in the top 25 all time winningest NBA coaches.

Saunders began his NBA journey with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995 and finished his career with the Wolves in 2015. He also had the privilege to manage to NBA All-Star games in 2004 and 2006.

Teams Coached

  • 1995-2005, 2014-2015: Minnesota Timberwolves
  • 2005-2008: Detroit Pistons
  • 2009-2012: Washington Wizards

8. George Karl

Source : threads

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1,175-824 (.588)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (2013)
  • 4x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1994, 1996, 1998, 2010)

George Karl has a total of 1,175 career victories as a coach. He was a former San Antonio Spurs player who began his coaching career in 1978.

After two years of working as an assistant at the Spurs, he had his first head coaching experience in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Teams Coached

  • 1984-1986: Cleveland Cavaliers
  • 1986-1988: Golden State Warriors
  • 1992-1998: Seattle SuperSonics
  • 1998-2003: Milwaukee Bucks
  • 2005-2013: Denver Nuggets
  • 2015-2016: Sacramento Kings

9. Gregg Popovich

Source : cnn

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1,366-773 (.639)
  • 5x NBA champion (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)
  • 4x NBA All-Star head coach (2005, 2011, 2013, 2016)
  • 3x NBA Coach of the Year (2003, 2012, 2014)

Gregg Popovich is widely regarded as one of the best NBA coaches all time. He has 1,366 career wins as the Spurs manager, making him the winningest NBA coach of all time.

Besides, Popovich has five NBA championships and was awarded the Coach of the Year thrice.

Teams Coached

  • 1988-1992: San Antonio Spurs (Asst.)
  • 1992-1994: Golden State Warriors (Asst.)
  • 1996-present: San Antonio Spurs

10. Jack Ramsay

Source : facebook

  • NBA Coaching Record: 864-783 (.525)
  • NBA champion (1977)
  • NBA All-Star Game head coach (1978)

Jack Ramsay helped the Portland Trail Blazers win their one and only NBA championship in 1977.

Nicknamed "Dr. Jack", Ramsay earned high regard as one of the most influential coaches in NBA history. He was also honored with induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

In his three-decade-long coaching profession, Ramsay had one opportunity to coach in the All-Star game in 1978.

Teams Coached

  • 1968-1972: Philadelphia 76ers
  • 1972-1976: Buffalo Braves
  • 1976-1986: Portland Trail Blazers
  • 1986-1988: Indiana Pacers

11. Jerry Sloan

Source : theguardian

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1,221-803 (.603)
  • Basketball Hall of Fame as coach

Jerry Sloan was a legendary NBA coach whose career spanned over 30 years from 1978 to 2011. Sloan was the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz.

Although he was unable to win any championships, he currently holds the 4th spot in the hierarchy of the winningest coaches, with an impressive count of 1,221 victories.

Teams Coached

  • 1978-1979: Chicago Bulls (Asst.)
  • 1979-1982: Chicago Bulls
  • 1985-1988: Utah Jazz (Asst.)
  • 1988-2011: Utah Jazz

12. KC Jones

Source : twitter

  • NBA Coaching Record: 552-306 (.643)
  • 2x NBA champion (1984, 1986)
  • 5x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1975, 1984-1987)

KC Jones is without a doubt among the most accomplished NBA championship coaches. Jones boasts an impressive total of 14 NBA championships both as a player and coach. 

He has won eight finals with the Celtics as a player, two as an assistant coach and two as a head coach. Besides, Jones's record of .643 winning percentage is the third best in the league's history.

Teams Coached

  • 1973-1976: Washington Wizards
  • 1983-1988: Boston Celtics
  • 1990-1992: Seattle SuperSonics

13. Larry Brown

Source : facebook

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1,098-904 (.548)
  • NBA champion (2004)
  • 2x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1977, 2001)
  • Coach of the Year (2001)

Larry Brown is the 2001 NBA Coach of the Year who has managed a number of NBA teams during his coaching career.

Starting with the Nuggets in 1974, his last NBA franchise was the Charlotte Bobcats (presently Hornets). Out of all the years of coaching his most successful period occurred in 2004 when he guided Detroit to the NBA glory.

Teams Coached

  • 1974-1979: Denver Nuggets
  • 1981-1983: Brooklyn Nets
  • 1988-1992: San Antonio Spurs
  • 1992-1993: Los Angeles Clippers
  • 1993-1997: Indiana Pacers
  • 1997-2003: Philadelphia 76ers
  • 2003-2005: Detroit Pistons
  • 2005-2006: New York Knicks
  • 2008-2010: Charlotte Hornets

14. Lenny Wilkens

Source : thedailyworld

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1332-1155 (.536)
  • NBA champion (1979)
  • 4x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1979, 1980, 1989, 1994)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (1994)

Lenny Wilkens has achieved the status of being one of the top NBA coaches of all time. He won the championships as a coach in 1979.

Wilkens stands in fourth place among the coaches with the most wins in NBA history, notching a remarkable 1,332 triumphs in his 35 years of coaching profession.

Teams Coached

  • 1969-1972, 1977-1985: Seattle SuperSonics
  • 1974-1976: Portland Trail Blazers
  • 1986-1993: Cleveland Cavaliers
  • 1993-2000: Atlanta Hawks
  • 2000-2003: Toronto Raptors
  • 2004-2005: New York Knicks

15. Nate McMillan

Source : si

  • NBA Coaching Record: 760-668 (.532)

Nate McMillan is a former NBA guard who ventured into a coaching career following his retirement from play.

McMillan has been the head coach of four clubs since beginning his journey in 1998 with the SuperSonics. The latest addition to his portfolio was the Atlanta Hawks where he stayed for two years as a head coach before departing in 2023.

Teams Coached

  • 1998-2000: Seattle SuperSonics (Asst.)
  • 2000-2005: Seattle SuperSonics
  • 2005-2012: Portland Trail Blazers
  • 2013-2016: Indiana Pacers (Asst.)
  • 2016-2020: Indiana Pacers
  • 2020-2021: Atlanta Hawks (Asst.)
  • 2021-2023: Atlanta Hawks

16. Pat Riley

Source : facebook

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1,210-694 (.636)
  • 5x NBA champion (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2006)
  • 9x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1982, 1983, 1985-1990, 1993)
  • 3x NBA Coach of the Year (1990, 1993, 1997)

When talking about the greatest NBA coach of all time, one cannot exclude Pat Riley from the conversation.

Apart from five championships as a coach, Riley's 1,210 wins is fifth all-time and his 0.636 winning percentage is seventh all-time best in the league.

Teams Coached

  • 1979-1981: Los Angeles Lakers (Asst.)
  • 1981-1990: Los Angeles Lakers
  • 1991-1995: New York Knicks
  • 1995-2003, 2005-2008: Miami Heat

17. Phil Jackson

Source : nytimes

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1,155-485 (.704)
  • 11x NBA champion (1991-1993, 1996-1998, 2000-2002, 2009, 2010)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (1996)
  • 4x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1992, 1996, 2000, 2009)

Phil Jackson has a record-breaking 11 championship titles which puts him at the top of NBA coaches with most rings.

Surprisingly, despite his tremendous success, Jackson was only awarded the NBA Coach of the Year once in his coaching career.

Teams Coached

  • 1978-1981: New Jersey Nets (Asst.)
  • 1987-1989: Chicago Bulls (Asst.)
  • 1989-1998: Chicago Bulls
  • 1999-2004, 2005-2011: Los Angeles Lakers

18. Red Auerbach

Source : britannica

  • NBA Coaching Record: 938-479 (.662)
  • 9x NBA champion (1957, 1959-1966)
  • 11x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1957-1967)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (1965)

Red Auerbach is regarded as one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA annals with nine championships to his name.

Although he was in charge of three teams in his career, he only had success with the Boston Celtics. During his era, the Celtics were the most dominating team in the league.

Teams Coached

  • 1946-1949: Washington Wizards
  • 1949-1950: Atlanta Blackhawks
  • 1950-1966: Boston Celtics

19. Red Holzman

Source : twitter

  • NBA Coaching Record: 696-604 (.535)
  • 2x NBA champion (1970, 1973)
  • 2x NBA All-Star Game Coach (1970, 1971)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (1970)

Red Holzman was recognized as one of the top 10 Coaches in NBA History in 1996. His contribution to the league also granted him with the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a Coach in 1986.

Under Holzman's coaching, the New York Knicks claimed their first NBA championship in 1970. Three years later, he guided the Knicks to their second title.

Teams Coached

  • 1953-1957: Atlanta Hawks
  • 1967-1977, 1978–1982: New York Knicks

20. Rick Adelman

Source : twitter

  • NBA Coaching Record: 1,042-749 (.582)
  • 3x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1991, 2001, 2003)

Rick Adelman holds the 10th position among NBA head coaches who have achieved more than 1000 victories.

Adelman, a former player for the Trail Blazers, also began his managerial career with Portland in 1983 as an assistant. He went on to coach five NBA franchises earning three NBA All-Star game selections.

Teams Coached

  • 1989-1994: Portland Trail Blazers
  • 1995-1997: Golden State Warriors
  • 1999-2006: Sacramento Kings
  • 2007-2011: Houston Rockets
  • 2011-2014: Minnesota Timberwolves

21. Rick Carlisle

Source : instagram

  • NBA Coaching Record: 903-794 (.532)
  • NBA champion (2011)
  • NBA All-Star Game head coach (2004)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (2002)

Rick Carlisle is a former basketball player and current head coach of the Indiana Pacers. Carlisle became an NBA champion as a manager with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.

His 903 career wins as of November 2023 put him on the reputable list of NBA coaches with the highest number of victories.

Teams Coached

  • 2001-2003: Detroit Pistons
  • 2003-2007: Indiana Pacers
  • 2008-2021: Dallas Mavericks
  • 2021-present: Indiana Pacers

22. Rudy Tomjanovich

Source : nba

  • NBA Coaching Record: 527-416 (.559)
  • 2x NBA champion (1994, 1995)
  • NBA All-Star Game head coach (1997)

Rudy Tomjanovich guided the Houston Rockets to secure consecutive NBA titles in 1994 and 1995, during the peak of the Chicago Bulls' dominance era.

Initially, Tomjanovich acted as the Rockets's assistant coach from 1983 to 1992. He was then promoted to the head coaching role in 1992. After spending 11 seasons with Houston, Rudy joined the Lakers for a season in 2004-05.

Teams Coached

  • 1992-2003: Houston Rockets
  • 2004-2005: Los Angeles Lakers

23. Steve Kerr

Source : facebook

  • NBA Coaching Record: 473-245 (.659)
  • 4x NBA champion (2015, 2017, 2018, 2022)
  • 2x NBA All-Star Game head coach (2015, 2017)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (2016)

Steve Kerr orchestrated the Golden State Warriors' four NBA championship triumphs in the last ten years.

According to Statmuse, Kerr currently boasts a record of 473 wins with 245 defeats which accounts for a 65.9 winning percentage. Presently, he occupies the fifth position among the highest Win% coaches in history, right above Gregg Popovich. 

Teams Coached

  • 2014-present: Golden State Warriors

24. Tom Heinsohn

Source : deadline

  • NBA Coaching Record: 427-263 (.619)
  • 2x NBA champion (1974, 1976)
  • 4x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1972-1974, 1976)
  • NBA Coach of the Year (1973)

Tom Heinsohn spent his entire career with the Boston Celtics. Prior to coaching the team from 1969 to 1978, he also played for the Celtics for nine seasons.

As a player, Heinsohn won eight NBA championships whereas, he led Boston to two NBA Finals victories as a coach in 1974 and 1976. Throughout his coaching career, Tom recorded 427 wins out of 690 matches.

Team Coached

  • 1969-1978: Boston Celtics

25. Tyronn Lue

Source : instagram

  • NBA Coaching Record: 261-186 (.584)
  • NBA All-Star Game head coach (2016)
  • NBA champion (2016)

Tyronn Lue was just 39 years old when he helped the Cleveland Cavaliers to secure their first NBA championship in 2016.

The victory made Lue one of the youngest NBA head coaches to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy. It also provided him with the chance to serve as a coach in the 2016 NBA All-Star game.

Teams Coached

  • 2016-2018: Cleveland Cavaliers
  • 2019-2020: Los Angeles Clippers (Asst.)
  • 2020-present: Los Angeles Clippers

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