Shifting Kerr-ents – Is Steve Kerr A Top 10 All-Time Coach?

The Golden State Warriors just won their fourth title in seven seasons, in no small part thanks to their head coach, Steve Kerr.

When you stack up his résumé, it’s pretty impressive so far. Here is how it’s stands after the Finals: 

4x NBA Champion

2016 Coach of the Year

2x NBA All-Star Head Coach

Member of the NBA Top 15 Coaches of All-Time

That is an All-Time résumé if I’ve ever seen one, but is it a top 10 résumé?

When you stack him up against what could arguably be the most air tight top ten coaches of All-Time, one could argue he falls right outside.

Let’s just take the bottom five of that ten: John Kundla, Red Holzman, Rudy Tomjanovich, Chuck Daly and Lenny Wilkens.

Kundla was impressive, taking over the then Minneapolis Lakers at just 31 years old. He was responsible for the NBA’s first ever dynasty, amassing five championships in just six seasons. He also posted a remarkable .583 win percentage in the playoffs.

Holzman is a legend in New York, winning them their only two championships in 1970 and 1973. He was also the Coach of the Year in 1970. Holzman would go on to coach the All-Star game in 1970 & 71. He has a .552 win percentage in the playoffs.

Rudy Tomjanovich has something that not many of the coaches on this list have, medals. Tomjanovich has a bronze medal from the 1998 Athens FIBA World Cup and a gold medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He is also an NBA Champion with the Houston Rockets in the 1994 and 1995. To this day the Rockets are the only team to win nine consecutive road playoff games in a single run.

Chuck Daly is one of the most celebrated coaches for good reason. His claim to fame is of course the two championships he won in Detroit with the Pistons in 1989 & 1990, but he was also the coach of the Dream Team. That team under Daly would go on to  outscore opponents by 43.8 points en route to the gold medal. What was even more impressive is the 51.5 point margin in the qualifying rounds.

Rounding out the bottom five is Lenny Wilkens. Wilkens is one of the greats in the NBA as a player and a coach, which sets him apart. This is about his coaching career though, and it was a good one. Wilkens won a championship in 1979 with the Seattle SuperSonics. He was also the coach of the year in 1994 with the Atlanta Hawks. Coach Wilkens was also an Olympic gold medalist as an assistant and head coach, as well as a four time All-Star Game coach.

How does Kerr stack up? Well he has far more championships than four of the bottom five. He is also number one in playoff success, with a .773 win pct.

If he knocks any coach out here it would be Wilkens. Even with his four All-Star appearances and two gold medals, Kerr trumps him. Wilkens has one championship in 32 years of coaching, Kerr has four times that in just a quarter of the time. Kerr also jumps Holzman and Tomjanovich based solely on post season success and how fast he has accomplished it. The only thing he doesn’t have is the Olympic success, which is why he doesn’t make it higher than Daly.

So if we do some re-ordering the bottom five becomes:

10. Red Holzman

9. Rudy Tomjanovich

8. Steve Kerr

7. Chuck Daly

6. John Kundla

This is where the list gets a little more murky for Kerr’s case for top five. The coaches he has to stack up against:

Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson.

I can make an argument for moving Brown down due to him only winning one championship as a head coach in the NBA. But, in his illustrious 25 year career he took seven, yes SEVEN teams to the postseason. He also has a .603 winning percentage.

Steve Kerr is better in the post and regular season than Brown. Which, historically speaking, gives Kerr the edge. The top four is where Kerr loses momentum.

He has a better regular season winning percentage than Popovich, Auerbach and Riley. This would look great if it were a larger sample size. He has 629 regular season games compared to 1400+ for the aforementioned coaches. It’s the same dilemma for the playoffs: Kerr leads the all-time winning percentage but has far less games.

The championships is where the group really pulls away. Kerr has four, but the coaches ahead of him dwarf that number. As it goes right now it’s:

Phil Jackson – 11

Red Auerbach – 9

Riley – 6

Popovich – 5

This isn’t to say Kerr can’t catch up with another championship. If he wins a fifth then you could argue for him being mentioned as a top five coach. As of now though, he isn’t close to that group yet.

Taking all of that into consideration the top 10 list would be:

10. Red Holzman

9. Rudy Tomjanovich

8. Larry Brown

7. Steve Kerr

6. Chuck Daly

5. John Kundla

4. Pat Riley

3. Gregg Popovich

2. Red Auerbach

1. Phil Jackson

I don’t think there is any question that Kerr is a top 10 Coach. His four championships are better than only one coach ahead of him and that’s Daly. Daly beats him out in legacy, though. Every coach in the top five has five or more championships, which beats out Kerr.

So the answer is yes, Steve Kerr is and deserves to be top 10. He isn’t quite top five but given his current upward trajectory, he could be before he hangs it up.

Leave a Reply

BREAKING: Utah Jazz trades Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves

X