Lakers coach Phil Jackson fell well short of a hoped-for 12th NBA championship when Los Angeles was embarrassingly swept from the playoffs this week. But Jackson, who plans to retire, leaves the game as its greatest champion, his 11 titles superior to any coach in the game's history.
His expected departure prompted us to take a look at some of the most accomplished coaches in sports. It's a list full of greatness and memories, some relatively ancient, others more recent.
All, however, will be hard to top.
* * *
Jackson's 11 titles seem unlikely to be surpassed in a day when NBA coaches routinely are fired before the holidays. Jackson benefited greatly from great players: He won six titles with Michael Jordan and the Bulls and rode Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to five titles in Los Angeles, the last two after O'Neal's departure. But we don't think that lessens his impact because managing those huge personalities is a job unto itself (remember how much Bryant and O'Neal despised each other?). Red Auerbach, right, won 16 titles with the Celtics but only nine as head coach. The others were won while he served as general manager or president.
* * *
Of the 24 Steelers enshrined in the Hall of Fame, nine played with the team during a single era. The Steelers of the 1970s, led by coach Chuck Noll, left, were dominant, winning four Super Bowls and helping lay the foundation for many defensive nuances still used today. But, unlike Jackson, who has no peers among active coaches, Noll might not always hold this title. Keep an eye on Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has three titles and a guy named Tom Brady under center.
* * *
Casey Stengel spent 54 years in Major League Baseball, some of it - unbeknownst to many today - as a .284 hitter during an impressive 14 seasons. But when considering he won 10 AL pennants and seven World Series titles with the Yankees in 12 seasons, you can understand how his exploits as a player might be overshadowed. In a nine-year span (1949-57) Stengel's teams averaged a staggering 98 victories.
* * *
Perhaps the closest thing to Jackson in the modern era of pro sports is hockey's Scotty Bowman, who won nine Stanley Cups with three teams (Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit). Bowman coached from 1967 to 2002 but got his fingerprints on three more titles in various roles in team front offices. Bowman coached in three of the most hockey-crazed markets in the game and had success every step of the way.
* * *
Alabama's Bear Bryant left a lasting legacy. Heck, even the man's trademark hat is easily identifiable by avid college football fans. But we'll remember the Bear for those six national titles he won, a mark that remains unmatched. He battled accusations of racism and admittedly drank too much, but his program was the envy of college football in the 1960s and '70s. Unlike some of today's loosely run programs, Bryant won ruling with an iron fist, once suspending Joe Namath for drinking and kicking carouser Ken Stabler off the team.
* * *
From 1967 to 1973, the number of teams that won NCAA basketball championships was particularly limited: One. Coach John Wooden's UCLA teams redefined success during his tenure. The history associated with Wooden's name goes beyond his 10 championships, including the aforementioned seven consecutive. There's that whole 88-game winning streak in the early '70s, one that seems unlikely to ever be threatened in the men's game. And the Bruins had four 30-0 seasons.