Sports

When it comes to coveted coaching jobs, big names are winning out over qualifications


X’s, O’s, rings, and experience. They all matter, some more than others apparently.

X’s, O’s, rings, and experience. They all matter, some more than others apparently.
Illustration: Shutterstock

It seems like almost every other day there’s an announcement that a former NBA player is joining the high school or college coaching ranks.

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This past week, former NBAers Ray Allen and Bonzi Wells both were announced as head coaches. Wells got the gig at Lemoyne Owen College in Memphis. Allen was named basketball director at Gulliver Prep in Miami, and will also serve as the high school’s boys’ varsity basketball head coach.

Former NBA star Rasheed Wallace recently joined head coach Penny Hardaway at the University of Memphis.

For sure, the news of well-known former players accepting these positions makes a splash and grabs headlines.

There’s just one problem: Not everybody is celebrating.

Enter no-name coaches who have been in the trenches and paid their dues, especially Black basketball coaches.

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They have been waiting for years to get a shot at running their own programs.

And many of them hope to rise in the ranks and eventually get to coach. The ultimate dream, for some, is to even make it to the NBA, even if they made it to that level without ever playing in The Association.

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There have been a number of very successful NBA coaches who never suited up in the league. In fact, only 14 former NBA players have won titles as coaches. Many coaches who never set foot in the league were able to deliver titles, including Red Auerbach’s nine with the Boston Celtics.

Currently, Spurs coach Greg Popovich (five) and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (two) highlight those successful coaches who never wore an NBA uniform.

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Enter frustration.

“This is why it’s getting harder for real coaches like myself to move up and get a job,” said Jay Smith, who was an assistant basketball coach at Reinhardt University in Georgia, and before that at Fisk University in Nashville. “They are hiring by names and not resumes and skills.”

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This is not to say that former players don’t deserve opportunities to coach the game they mastered. You have to have some knowledge and skill in the game to make it to the NBA.

Plus, in certain situations, colleges like to tab former players to turn their alma maters around — Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, Juwan Howard at Michigan and Chris Mullin at St. John’s. We get it.

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In Wells’ case, he played 10-plus seasons in the NBA and abroad. From there, he went on to train and help develop the basketball skills of the youth. He also served as an assistant coach for his former high school, Muncie Central in Indiana.

Still, it’s a crapshoot for athletic directors to pick a former player with little to no formal coach training.

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The reality is just because you were a great basketball player doesn’t mean you will be able to coach. There have been many stars that went into coaching and failed miserably. One of the first names that come to mind is Hall of Fame guard Magic Johnson. His coaching career was short-lived with his former team the Los Angeles Lakers.

In the 1993-94 season, Magic coached the Lakers’ last 15 games of the season, going 5-10 and seeing L.A. miss the playoffs for the first time since 1976. Magic was done on the sidelines after that.

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Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas struggled as well after a fast start in coaching. His Indiana Pacers were a .500 team, but his New York Knicks won just 56 games — over the course of two seasons. Here are some other greats whose records weren’t exactly stellar when they got into coaching: Wes Unseld (202-345), Kurt Rambis (56-145), Bill Cartwright (51-100), Elgin Baylor (86-135) and Willis Reed (82-124).

It’s not just in the NBA. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky failed as a coach. So did MLB Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Things didn’t work out for Pro Football HOFer Mike Singletary in the NFL in the coaching ranks, either.

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For whatever reasons, the powers-that-be are in love with stars and big names. Be it former athletes or rap stars-turned actors. They keep getting jobs whether they have experience or are qualified.

And not just in sports. Former athletes are taking jobs from trained journalists on TV. A former NFL wide receiver was just given an anchor job on CBS This Morning, pushing veteran newsman Anthony Mason out of his gig.

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Many actors complain about rappers — with no formal training — taking movie roles from them.

Good for the stars and all their opportunities. But remember, some hardworking no-name was trampled over in the process. And that’s a reason not to celebrate.

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