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25 greatest coaches in NBA history

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A team can have all the greatest talent in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to win. A great coach is needed for a team to become successful. This is what the greatest NBA coaches of all time did throughout their careers – they transformed teams into perennial playoff contenders while guiding players to become the best version of themselves.

Greatest NBA coaches of all time

Coaches are an integral part of the team due to their experience, guidance, and ability to make team adjustments offensively and defensively. Some of these coaches even played in the league before moving on to coaching their own teams.

Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, and Pat Riley are some of the best minds we have seen on the sidelines. They have applied their own philosophies to their strategies which translated to success both in the regular season and the playoffs.

Great minds such as Steve Kerr and Erik Spoelstra are some of the active coaches who had already made the list due to what they have accomplished so far. These coaches might even go up in the rankings should they add more accomplishments to their resumes.

Here are the best NBA coaches ranked…


25. George Karl

Regular season record: 1175-824 (.588)
Playoff record: 80-105 (.432)
1 x Coach of the Year

George Karl was a solid regular-season coach with 1175 wins and a winning percentage of .588. He coached different teams such as the Cavaliers, Warriors, Sonics, Bucks, Nuggets, and Kings. He helped his teams reach the playoffs on 22 different occasions.

However, Karl only had one Finals appearance throughout his coaching career. This was in 1996 with the Sonics where they ultimately lost to the Bulls.

Karl made it up for his lack of playoff success by racking up eight division titles and three 60-win seasons. He was also named the Coach of the Year in 2013.

24. Tom Heinsohn

Regular season record: 427-263 (.619)
Playoff record: 47-33 (.588)
2 x NBA champion


The 1957-1969 Celtics wouldn’t have been successful without Tom Heinsohn. He was a huge part of their offense as he posted solid numbers of 18.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game throughout nine seasons. He was also a six-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA, and eight-time NBA champion.

Five years after his retirement as a player, Heinsohn started coaching for Boston. A true Celtic for life, he coached there for nine seasons and won two championships with them while posting a winning percentage of .619 in the regular season and .588 in the playoffs.

23. Mike Budenholzer

Regular season record: 426-293 (.592)
Playoff record: 55-44 (.556)
1 x NBA champion
2 x Coach of the Year

A part of Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree, Mike Budenholzer proved that he’s already one of the best NBA coaches ever. In just nine seasons, he is already a two-time Coach of the Year and a one-time NBA champion.

Coach Bud transformed the Hawks into a powerhouse team with players like Al Horford and Paul Millsap at its core. Budenholzer has only missed one postseason throughout his coaching career, and that happened in his last year in Atlanta.

Currently, he’s coaching the Bucks where he won a championship in 2021. Expect him to bring more success to Milwaukee behind one of the best players in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

22. Dick Motta

Regular season record: 935-1017 (.479)
Playoff record: 56-70 (.444)
1 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

Dick Motta may not have the best records and percentages, but he has done enough to warrant a spot on this list. He took on tough assignments as the head coach of struggling teams and yet this didn’t matter to him.

Motta coached for 25 seasons with different teams such as the Bulls, Bullets, Mavericks, Kings, and Nuggets. He took his teams to the playoffs on 14 different occasions and even won a championship with the Bullets in 1978. Washington was underdogs at the time but they still beat the heavily-favored Sonics in seven games.

21. Billy Cunningham

Regular season record: 454-196 (.698)
Playoff record: 66-39 (.629)
1 x NBA champion

One of the best NBA coaches that were players is Billy Cunningham. He was a legend in Philadelphia. During his playing years, he averaged 21.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game and won the league MVP in 1973. He was also a five-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA, and an NBA champion.

After playing for the Sixers, Cunningham immediately took on the reigns as the head coach. He helped the Sixers reach the Finals three times and win the championship in 1983. His .698 regular season record is the second-best winning percentage by a coach of all time.

20. K.C. Jones

Regular season record: 552-306 (.643)
Playoff record: 81-61 (.570)
2 x NBA champion

Like Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones was part of the Celtics dynasty in the 60s and won eight championships with them. He was an integral part of the roster due to his scrappy defense and hustle. After his playing career, he immediately advanced to coaching.

Jones coached for different franchises before finding a home with the Celtics in 1984. Once again, he was part of another dynasty in Boston. He had a winning percentage of .643 in the regular season and .570 in the playoffs. Ultimately, Jones helped the C’s win two championships with Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale at its core.

19. Rick Adelman

Regular season record: 1042-749 (.582)
Playoff record: 79-78 (.508)

Rick Adelman was an integral part of Portland’s success back in the day with Clyde Drexler as his superstar. He led the Blazers to Finals appearances in 1990 and 1992.

Adelman coached 23 seasons in the NBA and led the Blazers, Kings, and Rockets to the playoffs on 16 occasions. He won 1,042 games throughout his coaching career. He didn’t win a championship or even a Coach of the Year award but he deserves to be among the greatest NBA coaches of all time for setting the bar high at every team he coached.

18. Bill Fitch

Regular season record: 944-1106 (.460)
Playoff record: 55-54 (.505)
1 x NBA champion
2 x Coach of the Year

Struggling franchises turned to Bill Fitch to turn their hopes around. It didn’t matter to Fitch as he still accepted the head coaching job for lowly teams such as the Cavaliers, Nets, and Clippers. He still managed to win 944 games throughout his coaching career.

Fitch earned the nickname “Captain Video” since he was an innovator in taping games and practices to analyze his players and opponents. This dedication translated to success—helping his teams reach the playoffs in 13 seasons and winning a championship with the Celtics in 1981. He was also a two-time Coach of the Year.

17. Rick Carlisle

Regular season record: 861-746 (.536)
Playoff record: 63-70 (.474)
1 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

The 2011 Mavericks is one of the most underrated postseason runs in NBA history. The man behind that run is no other than Rick Carlisle. He took the aging Dallas roster to the playoffs and beat the stacked Lakers, Thunder, and Heat. That single championship immortalized Dirk Nowitzki as one of the best players of all time.

Overall, Carlisle amassed a regular season record of 861-746 and a postseason record of 63-70 so far. He also won a Coach of the Year award during his time with the Pistons in 2002.

16. Jack Ramsay

Regular season record: 864-783 (.525)
Playoff record: 44-58 (.431)
1 x NBA champion

Also called “Dr. Jack” since he had a doctorate degree, Jack Ramsay coached a lot of different teams such as the 76ers, Braves, Trail Blazers, and Pacers and took them to the playoffs in 16 different seasons. He piled up 864 wins over 1647 games throughout his coaching career.

Ramsay rose to the top and became one of the most respected coaches when he coached the Blazers. There, he took a losing Portland team with no playoff experience or even a winning record to the Finals. He immediately turned the franchise around and even won a championship in his first season there.

15. Doc Rivers

Regular season record: 1043-735 (.587)
Playoff record: 104-100 (.510)
1 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

Doc Rivers started his coaching career with the Magic in 1999. There, he won the Coach of the Year award after taking a struggling Orlando team to a 41-41 record. But perhaps his greatest feat as a coach is when he won the NBA championship with the Celtics in 2008 against their biggest rival, the Lakers.

Aside from the Celtics, Rivers coached another powerhouse team, the Lob City Clippers consisting of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. Now, he is coaching the Sixers with Joel Embiid at its core.

Overall, he has gathered 1043 total wins and a winning percentage of .587.

14. Rudy Tomjanovich

Regular season record: 527-416 (.559)
Playoff record: 51-39 (.567)
2 x NBA champion

“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” This line came from Rudy Tomjanovich‘s interview during Houston’s second title run. This is one of the most iconic lines from a coach in NBA history.

Rudy Tomjanovich may not have a long coaching career compared to Lenny Wilkens or Larry Brown, but he made his name known in the 90s during when the Rockets won back-to-back championships.

In his 13-year career, Tomjanovich compiled a 527-416 record in the regular season and a 51-39 record in the playoffs. He coached all-time greats, including Hakeem Olajuwon and Kobe Bryant.

13. Erik Spoelstra

Regular season record: 660-453 (.593)
Playoff record: 96-65 (.596)
2 x NBA champion

It doesn’t matter what the roster looks like. Whether his team is full of G-League and undrafted players, Erik Spoelstra will find a way to win games. That’s a trademark of the greatest NBA coaches of all time.

In his early coaching years, he won two championships with a talented roster centered around LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. But perhaps his greatest feat as a coach is when the Heat reached the Finals in 2020. Miami was considered underdogs at the time, beating powerhouses such as the Celtics and Bucks.

Spoelstra has been coaching the Heat for 14 seasons now. He has corralled a regular season record of 660-453 and a playoff record of 96-65. It’s scary what he can accomplish the rest of the way as a coach since he’s still young.

12. John Kundla

Regular season record: 423-302 (.570)
Playoff record: 60-35 (.632)
1 x BAA champion

4 x NBA champion

John Kundla’s greatness goes back to the BAA. He served as the head coach of the first ever dynasty, the Minneapolis Lakers, from 1949 to 1959 and won one BAA championship and four NBA championships.

He had a regular season record of 423-302 with a winning percentage of .570. Meanwhile, he had a 60-35 playoff record with a winning percentage of .632, fourth-best among those who have coached at least 50 postseason games.

11. Don Nelson

Regular season record: 1335-1063 (.557)
Playoff record: 75-91 (.452)
3 x Coach of the Year

Even without a single championship, Don Nelson is one of the winningest coaches of all time. He won 1,335 out of 2,398 games, the second-most regular-season wins by a coach of all time.

One of Nelson’s most memorable moments as a coach is during the time he coached the We Believe Warriors. He led his eight-seeded Warriors to pull off an upset against the first-seeded Mavericks.

Although he didn’t have that playoff success, he was still a three-time Coach of the Year.

10. Jerry Sloan

Regular season record: 1221-803 (.603)
Playoff record: 98-104 (.485)
1 x Coach of the Year

Jerry Sloan was a great player in the NBA, most notably during his time with the Bulls. He averaged 14 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists throughout his playing career. Sloan was also a two-time All-Star and six-time All-Defensive selection.

After playing for Chicago, Sloan immediately moved on to coaching. Sloan was a legendary coach for the Jazz where he coached for 23 straight seasons and gathered 1221 wins.

Under his helm, they made the playoffs for 15 straight seasons with many notable players, led by John Stockton and Karl Malone. If not for Michael Jordan, Sloan could have gotten at least one championship for Utah.

9. Lenny Wilkens

Regular season record: 1332-1155 (.536)
Playoff record: 80-98 (.449)
1 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

Lenny Wilkens is one of the best former players to become an NBA coach. He averaged 16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists throughout his playing career in the NBA. Wilkens was also a nine-time All-Star.

Wilkens coached various franchises such as the Sonics, Blazers, Cavaliers, Hawks, Raptors, and Knicks. He brought these teams to the playoffs for 20 different seasons.

Throughout 32 seasons, Wilkens gathered 1,332 wins, making him the third-best in all-time regular season wins. To top it off, he won the NBA championship in 1979 with the Sonics and the Coach of the Year award in 1994 with the Hawks.

8. Red Holzman

Regular season record: 696-603 (.536)
Playoff record: 58-47 (.552)
2 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

New York was a city of champions back in the 70s when Red Holzman was the head coach. They won two championships in 1970 and 1973, the only titles in franchise history.

Holzman collected a record of 696-603 in the regular season and 58-47 in the postseason throughout his coaching career.

He coached in other cities before finding a home in New York. It was during his time with the Knicks that he was immortalized as one of the best NBA coaches ever. He coached there for 14 straight seasons and won the Coach of the Year award in 1970.

7. Chuck Daly

Regular season record: 638-437 (.593)
Playoff record: 75-51 (.595)
2 x NBA champion

After the Lakers-Celtics rivalry in the 80s, the Pistons quickly rose to the top. They played a new brand of rugged and physical basketball which gave them the nickname “Bad Boys”. The mastermind behind it was Chuck Daly.

Chuck Daly helped Detroit win back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990 on the back of performances from Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, and Joe Dumars.

He amassed a 638-437 record in the regular season and a 75-51 record in the postseason. He was also known for coaching the original Dream Team in 1992.

6. Larry Brown

Regular season record: 1327-1011 (.568)
Playoff record: 120-115 (.511)
1 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

Larry Brown made a huge impact on different franchises in the NBA. He transformed losing teams into playoff contenders.

Throughout his coaching career, Brown coached 2000+ games and won 1327 of them with a winning percentage of .568. In the playoffs, he had a record of 120-115. He also won the Coach of the Year award in 2001.

Brown is the only coach in history to win an NCAA title and an NBA championship. His only championship with the Pistons was worth a lot more since he managed to win a title against a stacked Lakers squad with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

5. Steve Kerr

Regular season record: 429-200 (.682)
Playoff record: 93-34 (.732)
4 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

After winning his fourth championship with the Warriors, Steve Kerr deserves to be included in the top five of the best NBA coaches ranked list. Why? Because he’s already sixth all-time in championships won and it’s just his ninth season.

Despite being relatively new compared to other names on this list, Kerr isn’t entirely new when it comes to winning. As a player, he won three championships with the Bulls and another two titles with the Spurs.

Kerr already has a solid coaching resume after nine seasons in the league. He is a four-time NBA champion and former Coach of the Year. Expect him to add more achievements in the next few seasons.

4. Pat Riley

Regular season record: 1210-694 (.636)
Playoff record: 171-111 (.606)
5 x NBA champion
3 x Coach of the Year

When it comes to utilizing the strengths of his players, no one comes close to Pat Riley. He adapted to his players’ styles and applied them to his coaching style and strategies. This is why he won five NBA championships and three Coach of the Year awards.

Riley was famous for coaching one of the best NBA dynasties ever, the Showtime Lakers in the 80s. Under his tutelage, four titles were brought to Los Angeles as Riley maximised the duo of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Two decades later, Riley won another title with the Heat with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal.

3. Red Auerbach

Regular season record: 938-479 (.662)
Playoff record: 99-69 (.589)
9 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

Red Auerbach was the coach of one of the best NBA dynasties of all time, the 1957-1969 Celtics. He helped Boston win nine out of eleven championships during that era, including eight straight titles from 1959 to 1966.

Auerbach was a force to be reckoned with both in the regular season and the playoffs. He had a regular-season record of 823-426 and a playoff record of 91-60. He was also awarded the NBA Coach of the Year in 1965.

Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Tom Heinsohn were some of the all-time greats he coached during this era of dominance. Russell, Jones, and Heinsohn went on to become head coaches after their playing careers.

2. Gregg Popovich

Regular season record: 1344-701 (.657)
Playoff record: 170-114 (.599)
5 x NBA champion
3 x Coach of the Year

While still active as the head coach of the Spurs, Gregg Popovich is clearly one of the best NBA coaches ever. In the 2021-22 season, he passed Don Nelson for the top spot all-time in coaching wins. Now, Popovich holds the record the all-time record for most coaching wins in the regular season with 1,344 and still counting.

In the postseason, Popovich also proved that he’s one of the best. He led San Antonio to the playoffs for 22 straight seasons and won five championships in that span while coaching all-time greats such as David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Popovich’s greatness transcends his own records and accolades. Notable names such as Ime Udoka, Mike Budenholzer, Monty Williams, Taylor Jenkins, and Steve Kerr were all on his coaching staff before. Thanks to Popovich’s mentorship, their own teams are flourishing in the NBA.

1. Phil Jackson

Regular season record: 1155-486 (.704)
Playoff record: 229-104 (.688)
11 x NBA champion
1 x Coach of the Year

No one comes close to Phil Jackson when it comes to winning championships. Jackson is the most winningest coach in NBA history with a postseason record of 229-104 and a whopping 11 titles under his belt. He won two three-peats with the Bulls in the 90s, one three-peat with the Lakers in the 00s, and a back-to-back title with the Lakers in the ’09 and ’10. There’s not much debate that he deserves to sit atop the greatest NBA coaches of all time.

Jackson was also the king of the regular season—having a record of 1155-486 (.704). The best season he had was during the 1995-96 Bulls where Chicago finished with a 72-10 record, the second-best regular season record of all time.

What made Jackson even more prominent is that he coached two of the greatest players ever—Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

He also coached other Hall of Famers in Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Shaquille O’Neal.

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