The greatest debate in sports might be about the impact of coaches on winning. It’s easy to blame a coach for losing, but few credit the coach when success comes calling. It’s always the star quarterback, the hard-nosed running back or the speedy wide receiver who earns the appreciation when teams win. Most great coaches have a great quarterback alongside them of course, but very few are standout Hall-of-Famers on their own merit.
In honor of National Coaches’ Day this week, we wanted to highlight some of the most impactful coaches from some of our partners. These are the coaches who transcend the players on the field and are legends for their consistent success and the difference they made on the franchise.
Duke: Mike Krzyzewski
There is an honest debate about who the greatest college basketball coach of all-time is, but no coach has more wins than Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,170 victories entering the 2021-22 season, his final on the bench. As Krzyzewski himself likes to joke, his career at Duke might not have lasted long under current conditions after a slow start to his tenure in Durham. But he quickly turned around the Blue Devils program and adapted to the ever-changing landscape of college basketball to create a perennial contender. He’s coached Duke to 10 Final Four appearances and five championships, setting the standard for college basketball coaches for the foreseeable future. He’s been able to recruit and coach some of the best college players of the past four decades, setting up his successor for much success in the near future after he retires following this season.
New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton
In his first season in charge, Payton led the Saints to the playoffs and won a game, doubling the franchise’s total number of playoff victories. Payton has gone on to make the playoffs eight more times with the Saints and led the franchise to the Super Bowl title in 2009, establishing a new tradition of excellence in New Orleans. While many can credit Drew Brees for some of Payton’s success, it’s the head coach who makes decisions like a surprise onside kick to start the second half of a Super Bowl. Payton’s 143 wins and .638 winning percentage entering the 2021 season are both franchise records by a lot, and no coach has done more for the city and inspiring hope than Payton and his Saints teams.
Baltimore Ravens: Brian Billick
The Baltimore Ravens have only had three coaches since moving to Baltimore in 1996. The second one in that line was Brian Billick, and he is one of the main reasons we view the Ravens as the successful franchise it is today. Over the course of nine seasons in Baltimore, Billick won 80 regular-season games and added another five playoff victories in four appearances. He notably led Baltimore to the Super Bowl title in his second season as head coach in 2000. The Ravens had just three losing seasons in Billick’s tenure, setting the standard that John Harbaugh has carried over into his current tenure as head coach. Billick was also instrumental in building the ferocious Ravens defense, which finished in the top-five in yards six times and finished sixth on two other occasions.
Denver Broncos: Red Miller
When Red Miller took over Denver in 1976, he immediately led the Broncos to the Super Bowl and put together three winning seasons and an 8-8 campaign before he was let go after four seasons. The magic Miller made in Denver is sensational and laid the groundwork for the success of Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan. Once Miller took over, Denver has had just 10 losing seasons, four of which have come in the past four years.
Florida Gators and South Carolina Gamecocks: Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier never won less than nine games during his 12 years at Florida and led his alma mater to the 1996 national championship, it’s first in program history. The Gators are the powerhouse they are today because of Spurrier, who lost just 27 games while coaching the Gators. After Spurrier’s foray into the NFL, he returned to college football at South Carolina in 2005. In 11 years with the Gamecocks, Spurrier won 86 more games and lost 49 times, but never had a losing record until his final season when he resigned with a 2-4 record midway through the 2015 campaign. Spurrier led his program to a bowl game at Florida and South Carolina 20 times in 22 full seasons as coach.