Indiana News

Past College-to-NBA Coaches Are a Cautionary Tale for Stevens

List includes some of NBA's most and least successful coaches


(photo courtesy RTV6)

New Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens will be just the 24th NBA head coach with no experience as a player, assistant coach or executive with a pro team.

Four of the 20 winningest coaches in NBA history made the jump directly from college to the pros. Bill Fitch and Dick Motta won championships to go with more than 900 career victories, and New Albany native John MacLeod won 707 games in an 18-year career after leaving the University of Oklahoma.

But the list also includes Long Island University's Roy Rubin, whose 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers managed just nine wins, a futility record that stood for 39 years. Rubin was fired with a record of 4-47. Three other college-to-pro coaches’ winning percentages rank among the 20 worst, among coaches who lasted at least 20 games.

As a group, the 23 coaches posted career winning percentages of .405, and first-season percentages of .393 -- the equivalent of a 32-50 season. The coaches actually averaged 27 wins in their first year, primarily because of coaches like Rubin and the San Antonio Spurs' Jerry Tarkanian, who got fired in midseason before even reaching double digits in wins.

Pacers play-by-play man Mark Boyle says every case is different -- how a coach does depends on his support from ownership, the quality of his assistants, the owners' willingness to be patient, and the coach's recognition of the differences between the college and pro game.

And Boyle and Indiana Sportstalk host Bob Lovell note most college coaches who make the jump have one handicap in common: their players aren't very good. The rebuilding Celtics are expected to continue that trend.

But both say Stevens' temperament is likely to eliminate one pitfall, by earning the players' respect. Boyle says it's impossible to imagine Stevens coming in and acting like he has nothing to learn. Lovell says Stevens' record of success at Butler will precede him.

Stevens is the first NBA head coach with no pro experience since 2004, when the Golden State Warriors hired Mike Montgomery away from Stanford. Montgomery returned to the Pac-10 after posting back-to-back 34-48 records in the NBA.


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