Most impressive? Shula
For the Bobby Knight story in today’s paper, I made up a list of the coaching leaders (in victories) for each major sport. In my mind, easily the most impressive is Don Shula.
A quick refresher. Knight can hit 900 Saturday in Stillwater, further distancing himself from Dean Smith’s 879. Knight could go all the way to 1,000. But Knight’s record will fall, too, and soon, so long as Mike Krzyzewski’s back holds out. Coach K is closing in on 800 and will catch Knight soon after Knight retires. Four years top.
Besides, college basketball coaches have a lot of victories that are pure exhibitions. Automatic victories. To a lesser extent, same with college football. Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden are tied with 373 wins. But over their phenomenal careers, they’ve had two solid allies: they get to make out much of their own schedules, and they have eternal job security. For much of their careers, Paterno and Bowden coached at schools that were independent, meaning not even a conference schedule they had to face. And they coached under no pressure, since it’s obvious neither will be relieved of their duties for mediocre performance.
That said, I don’t see anyone breaking Paterno’s or Bowden’s record for a very long time. Bob Stoops is 47 and has 96 wins. If Paterno and Bowden retire now, which they’re not going to, Stoops would have to win 10 games a year for 28 years, until he’s 75, to pass them. Not likely, but possible.
So the most impressive coaching records, by default, resort to the pros. NBA? No. Lenny Wilkens is the leader, but that’s still a horse race, because Don Nelson (or Larry Brown, when he comes back, which he will) will pass Wilkens, provided Wilkens doesn’t come back.
In truth, it comes down to this. Connie Mack or Don Shula? Both lead their sports by healthy margins. Mack is almost 1,000 wins ahead of John McGraw in baseball; Mack at 3,731, McGraw at 2,763. Tony LaRussa (2,375) or Bobby Cox (2,255) could pass McGraw. No way will they catch Mack, and no way anyone else does, either. But it’s a little bogus. Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years, and he owned the team. He also was ineffective most of that time. In his last 16 years, Mack finished last in the American League 10 times. He won three pennants his last 36 years, with those glorious 1929-31 teams. He managed til he was 87. You own the team, you can do what you want.
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