The Brooklyn Nets shocked the NBA yesterday when they decided to hire Steve Nash as their next head coach.
Nash, 46, was a Hall of Famer and two-time MVP as a player, but has zero coaching experience.
After retiring in 2015, he joined the Golden State Warriors as a consultant. During Steve Kerr’s time as head coach, he has hired former players such as Luke Walton and Jarron Collins as assistants, but Nash never came to the bench. Still, Nash was one of the greatest point guards ever, and many Warriors players – including one of his new players in Brooklyn, Kevin Durant – found him to be quite resourceful.
“He’s someone I can talk to about anything and somebody I really respect. His basketball mind is probably the best I’ve been around”Kevin Durant, September 2018
Still, the hire comes with some obvious questions.
As well-respected as Nash is, did he skip the line? What about other former players who have actually become assistants or college head coaches? People that have worked to pay their dues and learn the job, but never get an opportunity as good as coaching Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
There’s also questions of race that come into question.
Again, this is nothing against Nash himself (quite frankly I think he could do really well), but it’s hard to envision a former black player getting this good of an opportunity having never been a coach.
He’ll have his work cut out for him guiding what should be a Finals contender (assuming Kevin Durant can be somewhat of the player he was before his achilles injury). Again, he is a basketball genius, and his foundation working in Golden State the past few years should be useful, but he’s diving straight into the fire now.
However, Nash becoming a first-time head coach with no coaching experience is not unprecedented.
Here are some people that have made similar jumps with no prior coaching experience.
Player coaches have been prohibited in the NBA since 1984, so there’s no recent examples of this.
The last player-coach in the NBA was Dave Cowens, who did so in Boston during the 1978-1979 season, going 27-41.
Other Hall of Fame players such as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Bob Pettit were player-coaches at one time.
Head Coach immediately after Retirement
Lenny Wilkens – Wilkens was a player-coach during his last years in the NBA, but after retiring as a player in 1975 he continued as the head coach for one more season. In total, Wilkens coached for 32 seasons (28 after retiring as a player), winning one NBA title in 1979.
Paul Silas – Silas was the first former player to debut as a head coach right after retiring as a player, doing so in 1980. He coached the San Diego Clippers for three seasons, but was not very successful. His next head coaching gig did not come until 1998. He coached LeBron James during his first two seasons in the NBA.
Mike Dunleavy Sr. – Talk about a premier job, Dunleavy’s first head coaching gig was with the Showtime Lakers, as he replaced Pat Riley following the 1989-1990 season. The Lakers would lose to the Bulls in the NBA Finals during his first season, the best a Dunleavy-coached team ever did. He coached for parts of 17 seasons.
Jason Kidd – Like Nash, Kidd was hired by the Nets. Some of Kidd’s best years of a player were with the Nets, but he would only stay on as head coach for one season before forcing his way out due to differences with management. He went on to coach the Bucks for parts of 4 seasons before being fired in 2018. He’s currently an assistant with the Lakers.
Derek Fisher – Fisher is the most recent former player to immediately become a head coach, doing so after retiring in 2014. He was hired by his former head coach Phil Jackson to coach the Knicks. He went 40-96 before being fired during his second season. He currently coaches the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA.
Head Coach year(s) after Retirement
Tom Heinsohn – after a Hall of Fame career as a player, Heinshohn replaced Bill Russell as head coach of the Celtics in 1969. He coached for parts of 9 seasons, winning two NBA championships. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach in 2015.
Willis Reed – Reed coached the Knicks for over one season in the late 1970s. He went on to coach at Creighton for 4 seasons, then the Nets for 1+ season before becoming an executive with the team.
Dick Van Arsdale – the “original Sun” went into broadcasting following his playing days, but became the interim head coach to finish the 1987 season, going 14-12. He went on to become an executive with the team.
Dan Issel – Issel coached the Denver Nuggets between 1992 and 1995, and again between 1999 and 2001, resigning to end each stint. He went 180-208, making the playoffs just once (1994).
Quinn Buckner – Buckner was hired in 1993 to help a Mavericks team that had just gone 11-71 the previous season. He went 13-69 and was fired at the end of the season.
Magic Johnson – Magic made a cameo as interim head coach for the Lakers to end the 1993-1994 season. He went 5-11 in 16 games. Johnson would play 4 more games as a player in 1996 before retiring again, this time for good.
Danny Ainge – Ainge was hired after the Suns started the 1996-1997 season 0-8. They went 40-34 their final 74 games, making the playoffs. Ainge won 56 games the following season, but only coached one more full season before resigning during the 1999-2000 season. He went 136-90 overall.
Larry Bird – Bird was a special assistant for the Celtics front office immediately following hire retirement before being hired by the Pacers in 1997. He only coached 3 seasons, but went 147-67, reaching the Conference Finals each year, and the NBA Finals his final season.
Doc Rivers – Rivers was almost hired by the Spurs in March 1999, but they did not fire incumbent head coach Gregg Popovich (good choice). He was hired by the Magic the following offseason. His stint there did not end well, but in Boston he won an NBA title and made it to another Finals. He’s currently coaching the Clippers.
Mark Jackson – Jackson went into broadcasting following his playing career, and after rumors of going to the Knicks he was hired by the Warriors in 2011. Some credit him with the development of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, while others say he held back the potential of their future championship core. He went 121-109 in three seasons before being fired, and has not coached since.
Head Coach, but with Executive experience
M.L. Carr – Carr became the GM of the Boston Celtics in 1994 before stepping in as head coach in 1995. He went 48-116 in parts of two seasons before stepping down after 1997, at which point he hired Rick Pitino.
Isiah Thomas – After retiring in 1994, Thomas became an executive with the Toronto Raptors. He left the organization in 1998 due to difference with ownership. He was hired by the Pacers in 2000 to replace Larry Bird. Thomas never advanced past the first round, and was fired (by Bird) after his third season. He coached the Knicks between 2006 and 2008, then FIU between 2009 and 2012, fired by each due to lackluster performances.
Kevin McHale – McHale became a special assistant with the Timberwolves following his retirement in 1993. He soon became the head executive of the team. In 2005 he named himself interim head coach, going 19-12 in 31 games. He became their coach again in 2008, stepping down as an executive in the process. He was fired after the season. He went on to coach the Rockets between 2011 and 2015 before being fired following a 4-7 start to the 2015-2016 season.
Vinny Del Negro – Del Negro originally was a broadcaster after his playing days, but went on to become assistant GM of the Phoenix Suns, working under Steve Kerr. He was hired by the Bulls in 2008, going 82-82 in two seasons before being fired. He immediately went to the Clippers, where he stayed for three seasons. He went 56-26 his final season, but lost in the first round. He was fired and replaced by Doc Rivers.
Steve Kerr – Kerr was the GM of the Phoenix Suns for three seasons, and spent time as a broadcaster before and after his executive career. In 2014, after a flirtation with the New York Knicks, he was hired by the Golden State Warriors. He has won 3 championships as a head coach and reached the Finals each of his first five seasons.
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