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Hall of Fame athletes who become coaches: how they fared

As a group, Hall of Fame athletes who become big-league coaches have had lukewarm results at best. Here's a sampling:

HOCKEY

Wayne Gretzky

Hockey Hall of Fame, center, 1999

NHL head coach: Phoenix Coyotes (2005-2009)

Record: 143-161-24

Notes: After his retirement in 1999, Gretzky bought a stake in the Coyotes. In 2005, the part-owner became head coach, though without previous coaching experience. His on-ice results were mixed at best, and off-ice the franchise was bleeding money and ended up in bankruptcy court. In fall 2009, when it was apparent the bidders didn’t consider Gretzky part of their plans, he stepped aside.

Phil Housley

Hockey Hall of Fame, defenseman, 2015

NHL head coach: Buffalo Sabres (2017-present)

Record: 49-63-18 (as of Jan. 19)

Notes: The Sabres’ bench boss is the only active Hall of Fame athlete-turned-coach in the four major sports leagues. Though the team’s performance has been hot and cold this season, the Sabres are guaranteed to finish ahead of their 25-45-12 record from last year.

Here's Steve Smith, a Sabres assistant coach, on one of Housley's advantages:  “Even though he was a highly skilled defenseman, he was a defenseman. He’s seen the game. As a defenseman, 98 percent of the night, the game is in front of you, so you’re always seeing things. You’re always having to read things. Whereas forwards are in the middle of the muck, we’re on the outside looking in and we’re constantly reading, so we understand time and space management ... It’s probably easier for him to teach now than it would have been if he were a high-skilled forward.”

Jacques Lemaire

Hockey Hall of Fame, center, 1984

NHL head coach: Montreal Canadiens (1983-85), New Jersey Devils (1993-98, 2009-11), Minnesota Wild (2000-09)

Record: 617-458-124-63

Notes: In 17 years of coaching, Lemaire’s teams made the playoffs 10 times. That includes winning in the Stanley Cup with New Jersey during lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.

Patrick Roy

Hockey Hall of Fame, goaltender, 2006

NHL head coach: Colorado Avalanche (2013-16)

Record: 130-92-24

Notes: Roy led the Avalanche to the playoffs in his first season and won coach of the year. Colorado missed the playoffs in his second and third seasons, but the decision to stop coaching the team was Roy’s, not that of management. He resigned after the 2015-16 season, reportedly because coaching wasn’t as fun anymore for him, and he wanted more input on personnel decisions.

Denis Savard

Hockey Hall of Fame, center, 2000

NHL head coach: Chicago Blackhawks (2006-08)

Record: 65-66-16

Notes: Savard was fired just four games into the 2008 season, a move that then-General Manager Dale Tallon explained in part by saying, “We felt we needed a more experienced person in that position.” The Blackhawks replaced Savard with the more experienced Joel Quenneville, reinforcing the idea that Hall-worthy playing skills don’t trump long coaching experience.

Bryan Trottier

Hockey Hall of Fame, center, 1997

NHL head coach: New York Rangers (2002-03)

Record: 21-26-6-1

Notes: Trottier won six Stanley Cups as a player and a seventh as an assistant coach. But his single stint as a head coach didn’t come close to that success. After choosing him over experienced head coach candidates Ken Hitchcock and Glen Sather, the Rangers dismissed Trottier after 54 games, citing the team’s lack of discipline.

FOOTBALL

Raymond Berry

Pro Football Hall of Fame, end, 1973

NFL head coach: New England Patriots (1984-89)

Record: 48-39

Notes: Berry’s tenure with the Pats was a respectable one. He posted winning records in four of his six years, and his only losing season was his final one. Berry’s 1985 squad was the AFC champion and lost the Super Bowl to Mike Ditka’s Bears.

Mike Ditka

Pro Football Hall of Fame, tight end, 1988

NFL head coach: Chicago Bears (1982-92), New Orleans Saints (1997-99)

Record: 121-95

Notes: Highlighting Ditka’s success in Chicago (106 wins, 62 losses) was the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl championship. His record in New Orleans (15-33) was less impressive.

Mike Munchak

Pro Football Hall of Fame, guard, 2001

NFL head coach: Tennessee Titans (2011-13)

Record: 22-26

Notes: Directly after retiring as a Houston Oilers player following the 1993 season, Munchak became a coach for the franchise, which a few years later moved to Tennessee. By the time he became head coach, Munchak had 17 seasons of experience as an assistant. After posting a winning season in 2011, Munchak’s next two campaigns were sub .500 and he was fired. Today he is the offensive line coach in Denver.

Art Shell

Pro Football Hall of Fame, offensive tackle, 1989

NFL head coach: Los Angeles Raiders (1989-94), Oakland Raiders (2006)

Record: 56-52

Notes: Shell’s first run with the Raiders was his most successful; he posted winning records in five of his six seasons. But his 2-14 record with Oakland resulted in his firing after the 2006 season.

Mike Singletary

Pro Football Hall of Fame, middle linebacker, 1998

NFL head coach: San Francisco 49ers (2008-10)

Record: 18-22

Notes: Singletary is now the head coach of the Memphis Express, a team in the newly formed Alliance of American Football, a league co-founded by former Buffalo Bills General Manager Bill Polian.

Bart Starr

Pro Football Hall of Fame, quarterback, 1977

NFL head coach: Green Bay Packers (1975-83)

Record: 52-76-3

Notes: Only one Starr-coached Packers squad made the playoffs, and that was his team that played in the strike-shortened 1982 season. Starr has acknowledged that coaching was “a mistake” because he wasn’t prepared for the job.

Blessing or curse? How Hall of Famers like Phil Housley fail or succeed as coaches

BASEBALL

Yogi Berra

National Baseball Hall of Fame, catcher, 1972

MLB manager: New York Yankees (1964, 1984-85), New York Mets (1972-75)

Record: 484-444

Notes: Berra’s teams were good, and sometimes great. His ’64 Yankees, which included Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, won the American League pennant. His ’73 Mets won the National League pennant too.

Ty Cobb

National Baseball Hall of Fame, center fielder, 1936

MLB manager: Detroit Tigers (1921-26)

Record: 479-444

Notes: Cobb served as a player-coach throughout his managerial career. Interestingly, Pete Rose was also a player-manager for the Cincinnati Reds when he broke Cobb’s all-time hits record in 1985.

Paul Molitor

National Baseball Hall of Fame, third baseman, 2004

MLB manager: Minnesota Twins (2015-2018)

Record: 305-343

Notes: Molitor posted winning seasons twice (2015, 2017). But after the team’s 78-84 finish in 2018, Molitor was fired.

Frank Robinson

National Baseball Hall of Fame, right fielder, 1982

MLB manager: Cleveland Indians (1975-77), San Francisco Giants (1981-84), Baltimore Orioles (1988-91), Montreal Expos (2002-04), Washington Nationals (2005-06)

Record: 1065-1176

Notes: Robinson had a long career in the dugout, but in only six of his 16 seasons did he post a winning record. None of his teams finished in first place, and reached second place just twice.

Ted Williams

National Baseball Hall of Fame, left fielder, 1966

MLB manager: Washington Senators (1969-71), Texas Rangers (1972)

Record: 273-364

Notes: Williams is widely considered the greatest hitter in baseball history. Perhaps his only failure in the game is his four-year stint managing the Senators-Rangers franchise, which moved from D.C. to Texas after the 1971 season. Williams had only one winning season (1969) and never finished higher than fourth place.

Cy Young

National Baseball Hall of Fame, pitcher, 1937

MLB manager: Boston Americans (1907)

Record: 3-3

Notes: Young, the hurler for whom baseball’s top pitching prize is named, became a manager under tragic circumstances. During spring training in 1907, Boston skipper Chick Stahl committed suicide. Young stepped in to finish out the preseason and take over for the first six games.

BASKETBALL

Larry Bird

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, forward, 1998

NBA head coach: Indiana Pacers (1997-2000)

Record: 147-67

Notes: Bird’s coaching results were on par with his playing ability. His Pacers made the playoffs in all three of his seasons, and were Eastern Conference champions in 2000.

Bob Cousy

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, guard, 1971

NBA head coach: Cincinnati Royals (1969-72), Kansas City-Omaha Kings (1972-74)

Record: 141-207

Notes: Cousy never had a winning season. His best results came in 1969-70 with Cincinnati and 1972-73 with Kansas City-Omaha, when his teams managed a 36-46 record both years.

Bill Russell

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, center, 1975

NBA head coach: Boston Celtics (1966-69), Seattle SuperSonics (1973-77), Sacramento Kings (1987-88)

Record: 341-290

Notes: Russell’s Celtics were a dominating team. Their 60-21 record in 1966-67 yielded a .741 winning percentage, and then they won consecutive NBA Championships in 1968 and 1969.

Magic Johnson

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, guard, 2002

NBA head coach: Los Angeles Lakers (1994)

Record: 5-11

Notes: Johnson, who retired in 1991 after learning he was HIV positive, was asked by then-Lakers owner Jerry Buss to take the head coaching job at the end of the 1993-94 season. Johnson finished the season, then returned to the court as a player for a 32-game stint in 1995 before retiring for good. Today he is the Lakers’ president of basketball operations.

Nancy Lieberman

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, guard, 1996

WNBA head coach: Detroit Shock (1998-2000)

Record: 46-48

Notes: Lieberman has also been a head coach for the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League, an assistant NBA coach with the Sacramento Kings, and today is a head coach in the BIG3, a 3-on-3 league.

Lenny Wilkens

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, guard, 1989

NBA head coach: Seattle SuperSonics (1969-72, 1977-85), Portland Trail Blazers (1974-76), Cleveland Cavaliers (1986-93), Atlanta Hawks (1993-2000), Toronto Raptors (2001-03), New York Knicks (2003-05)

Record: 1332-1155

Notes: Wilkens’ 32 seasons on the bench made him one of the most experienced head coaches in NBA history. He won an NBA championship in 1979 with Seattle, and a gold medal as coach of the 1996 U.S. men’s Olympic team.

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