NBA Coaches, Contemporary and Historical

I compiled this anecdotal list to see if there was an obvoius correlation between CBA experience and NBA championships or wins.

NBA Coaches, Contemporary and Historical

The following list of nineteen coaches comprises the past thirty years of NBA championship winning coaches, current and former NBA coaches mentioned here, or in the case of Red Auerbach one of the best.  I have listed their pre-NBA head coaching experience, the number of championships, and their records as a head NBA coach.  The primary information source was Wikipedia (I'm being lazy) and when Wikipedia failed,  The list is sorted by NBA championships and no sorting past that (two coaches with the same number of championships are not ordered alphabetically).  I checked for championship winning teams at (  Although at the BAA years are listed as "NBA Finals" I've counted Red Auerbach's BAA years as "other professional experience."  Coaches with ABA experience have also been counted as "other professional experience."

Name Championships Record (W-L) Pre-NBA Head Coach Wikipedia Entry
Phil Jackson 10 1083-448 CBA, other pro, Asst NBA
Red Auerbach 9 938-479 College, BAA
Pat Riley 5 1210-694 Asst NBA
Gregg Popovich 4 686-330 College, Asst NBA
Chuck Daly 2 713-488 College, Asst NBA
Rudy Tomjanovich 2 527-416 Asst NBA
KC Jones 2 522-252 College, Asst NBA, ABA
Larry Brown 1 1065-866 College, ABA
Doc Rivers 1 401-348 None
Bill Fitch 1 944-1106 College
Billy Cunningham 1 454-196 None
Jack Ramsay 1 864-783 College
George Karl 0 933-642 CBA
Jerry Sloan 0 1136-747 College, Asst NBA, CBA
Rick Adelman 0 847-531 College, Asst NBA
Stan Van Gundy 0 223-126 Asst NBA
Flip Saunders 0 587-400 CBA
Mike Brown 0 254-128 Asst NBA,_born_1970)
Nate McMillian 0 360-363 Asst NBA
  39 (2.1 per coach) 13747-9343 (.5954)    


Pre-NBA Head Coaching Breakdown

Coaches are counted in as many categories as they fit. Chuck Daly, for example, is counted in both the assistant NBA and college categories.

Category Number of Coaches Championships Championships per Coach Record
Other professional experience (CBA, BAA, ABA) 7 22 3.1 6264-3834 (.6203)
Assistant NBA 11 25 2.3 7561-4523 (.6257)
College 9 20 2.2 7715-5582 (.5802)
None 2 2 1.0 855-544 (.6112)


Outliers and Exceptional Cases

Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach can really skew the results.  Together they comprise roughly one third of all championships listed at  Removing Phil Jackson from the assistant NBA category reduces the championships per coach from 2.3 to 1.5.  I give that case as an example, because Phil only coached as an assistant for one year.  I feel even one year is enough to list his previous experience as an assistant, but some may disagree and the potential for distortion in such cases should be remembered.

In the top four coaches (ordered by number of championships) only Red Auerbach did not have previous NBA assistant experience.  He was part of a very different era of basketball.  Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, and Greg Poppovich all coach(ed) after the three point line was instituted and many other dramatic rule changes since the time of Auerbach.  Those three constitute roughly two thirds of all championships since 1980 and each had prior experience as an assistant NBA coach.

Correlations Between Previous Experience and Success

With this limited and anecdotal data set previous professional experience correlates to an increase in career winning percentage and championships when compared to non-professional past experience.  Of the four previous experience categories, previous NBA assistant experience and CBA head coaching experience are four percentage points above previous college head coaching in career winning percentage.  The none category has too few coaches to take into account for comparison.  Coaches with previous professional experience average ~35% more championships relative to coaches with previous assistant NBA coaching or college head coaching experience.

There is a correlation between CBA experience, as well as assistant NBA experience, and greater success as a coach.

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