In all, more than 300 men have been head coaches in the NBA. Most haven't lasted long. In a league that churns through coaches like Elizabeth Taylor through husbands, a select few have enjoyed successful careers spanning more than a decade. FOXSports.com NBA editor John Galinsky lists his top 10 with a number of criteria in mind — wins, winning percentage, championships and impact on the game. Honorable mention: Rick Adelman, Billy Cunningham, Red Holzman, George Karl, Doc Rivers, Rudy Tomjanovich.
Lenny Wilkens (1,332-1,155, 53.6%)
It's easy to dismiss his NBA record for coaching wins (since surpassed by Don Nelson) as the result of mere longevity. After all, he only had one title to show for his 32 seasons with six teams, and he had 11 losing seasons — or 11 more than Phil Jackson. It's also hard to think of any coaching innovation or particular style that defined his coaching career. Still, it's unfair to devalue longevity in a pressure-cooker profession that has burned through (and burned out) many capable men. Indeed, it was Wilkens' calm and unflappable demeanor that made him such a successful coach for the long term. Just as he kept his cool on the court as a nine-time All-Star, he did the same on the sideline. That's why he's one of three men to make the Hall of Fame as a player and as a coach. (John Wooden and Bill Sharman are the others.)
Don Nelson (1,335-1,063, 55.7%)
Nelson, who was pushed out the door by Golden State's new owners, is probably done coaching at the age of 70. He never won a title in 31 seasons, but he didn't have the luxury of coaching any Bill Russells either. Instead, he did a remarkable job with small lineups — most notably his Run-TMC trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin in Golden State — and he was an innovator. In Milwaukee, he created the "point forward" concept that many teams use today, and he was the first to embrace "Hack-a-Shaq". Not everyone is a fan of "Nellie Ball," of course, but his teams usually won — he's No. 1 on the all-time victories list — and were always been fun to watch. That should count for something.
Jerry Sloan (1,221-803, 60.3%)
There's a reason "NBA job security" is an oxymoron for coaches. Many reasons, in fact. Impatient owners and fans. The tendency of players to tune out coaches after a while. Even for successful coaches, there's the lure of other jobs and, given the stress of the profession, the temptation to call it quits. But Sloan stayed in Salt Lake City longer than most NBA owners. During those 22-plus years, he had exactly one losing season and never changed his hard-edged, no-nonsense style. His teams always played hard. They never tuned him out. And they won, which is why Sloan had the same job security as a Supreme Court justice until finally resigning last season.
John Kundla (423-302, 58.3%)
Kundla (far right) directed the NBA's first dynasty, leading the Minneapolis Lakers to five championships in six years from 1949-55. Of course, that team was loaded with six future Hall of Famers, including big men Clyde Lovellette (34) and George Mikan (99). But hey, Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson needed great players to produce their dynasties too. There's something to be said for not screwing up a good thing.
Chuck Daly (638-437, 59.3%)
In his first stint as a head coach, Daly went 9-32 with the Cavaliers before getting fired midway through the 1981-82 season. Despite that inauspicious start, the Pistons put him in charge two years later, and Daly never had another losing record in 13 seasons in Detroit, New Jersey and Orlando. He won titles with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990, revelling in the team's "Bad Boys" image, and his firm stewardship helped the 1992 Dream Team avoid any of the ego problems that plagued later versions.
Larry Brown (1,098-904, 54.8%)
Despite being one of the biggest winners in basketball history, with nearly 1,500 victories as a college, ABA and NBA head coach, Brown seems permanently displeased. He frowns. He frets. He complains. Why? The man's a perfectionist. Given his exacting standards for how the game should be played, few of his many teams (nine pro, two college) made him happy, but all improved under his guidance. (With the notable exception of the 2005-06 Knicks, who were a lost cause.) The only coach to win an NCAA and NBA title, with the 1988 Kansas Jayhawks and 2004 Detroit Pistons, respectively, he'll be remembered as perhaps the game's greatest teacher and team builder once he decides to retire for good.
Gregg Popovich (797-383, 67.5%)
As general manager of the Spurs in 1996, Popovich was heavily criticized for firing Bob Hill and hiring someone with no experience as an NBA head coach — himself. No one in San Antonio is complaining now. Tim Duncan's arrival the next season ended up creating a perfect pairing of star player and coach. Even more than Russell and Auerbach in Boston, or Jordan and Jackson in Chicago, Duncan and Pop have been soulmates in terms of their temperaments and approach to the game. No flash, all substance — a quiet excellence that has resulted in four championships so far.
Pat Riley (1,210-694, 63.6%)
With his Armani suits, slicked-back hair and year-round tan, Riley's always been known for his style as much as his substance. But nothing should overshadow this fact: The guy could flat-out coach. He won with finesse (the Showtime Lakers), then won with power (Pat Ewing's Knicks and Alonzo Mourning's Heat). His fifth championship, with Dwyane Wade and Shaq in 2006, was a mix of the two styles. If anything, his flashy persona enhanced his coaching career. It helped him get the attention and earn the respect of his star players. And when you work in Los Angeles, New York and Miami, looking good never hurts.
Red Auerbach (823-426, 65.9%)
There are those who try to diminish Auerbach's coaching legacy by saying he rode Bill Russell's coattails to nine championships in 11 years, much as Phil Jackson is said to have benefited from the likes of Michael, Shaq and Kobe. That's nonsense, for it was Red who — in an age of offensive basketball — best understood the importance of defense and thus orchestrated a pre-draft trade for Russell, still the greatest defensive center in league history. He also stressed conditioning more than his contemporaries and instilled a team-first dynamic that never wavered, regardless of personnel. If you include his four decades in Boston's front office as an expert talent evaluator, Red tops any list of the most influential non-players in the history of the game. But on a list strictly based on coaching achievements, he's No. 2.
Phil Jackson (1,155-485, 70.4%)
Jackson retired with 11 championships, two more than Red Auerbach, but it's not only those rings that separate him from the other 300-plus coaches in NBA history. Sure, he coached enormous talent, but he also managed enormous egos and earned ultimate respect from his players — the toughest part of being a coach in the modern era. His motivational techniques were as effective as they were unorthodox, and his tactical abilities (especially the adjustments he made during playoff series) were far underrated. Combine his Zen Master persona with his unmatched success, and you have a coach who's truly one of a kind.