To celebrate the arrival of Steven Gerrard as Rangers manager, and with his first match in the dugout taking place at Ibrox on Friday night, one that sees the light blues face off against Bury in a near sell-out friendly, I have decided to do an article highlighting my top 5 sports coaches of all time.
The coaches are in no particular order and if you feel I have missed out someone, please feel free to get in touch, all views are respected and I very much enjoy the debate.
The hooded one. Belichick is something of a genius as NFL coaches go, he posses a record of 5 super bowl rings as a head coach and a further 2 more as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants under the stewardship of Bill “big tuna” Parcells.
His defensive playbook from the 1990 SuperBowl where the Giants faced off against the Buffalo Bills sits proudly in the NFL hall of fame, his instructions passed to his players to allow the Bills to run the ball at will, then make tackles was met at the time with sheer disbelief from many of his defensive squad, this was just not the done thing.
It was a move that carried a high deal of risk, but the reward was that the Giants would emerge with their second super bowl in four years, earning him his first head coaching role as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
His tenure as the Browns coach was not a highly successful one, the team was in the middle of many off-field battles, with owner Art Modell pushing for the side to be relocated to Baltimore. Belichick’s final game in charge of the Browns would prove to be the final one played by the Cleveland Browns as we know it, before becoming the Baltimore Ravens.
In order to rebuild his reputation, Belichick reunited with Parcells at first the New England Patriots and then The New York Jets, before taking over as the New England Patriots as head coach in 2000.
Success was not immediate, and he was famously just one game away from the sack before Drew Bledsoe got injured, and he inserted Tom Brady into a match as his replacement, the rest they say is history.
Five SuperBowls, and a total of seven appearances later, some make the argument that Belichick is the greatest coach in the history of sports, what sets him aside is his attention to detail and the way he gets the best out the players at his dispose, despite not having so-called top-level talent throughout any of his teams.
His work rate and somewhat different approaches to coaching are what makes Belichick so unique, famously staging fake tensions or singling out his fellow coaches in full view of his players, after telling the coach of his plan. He very much believes tension and conflict can have a positive impact in sports, thinking it helps lower the prospect of complacency setting in. Personally, I enjoy the manner in which he treats the media, giving no sound bites at all. Results, not the media will define his legacy, so far its worked out not to bad at all.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON
The Govanator. Fergie is in my mind the greatest football manager certainly in my lifetime, he was a giant of the game, capable of bouts of rage, the hair dryer or alternatively to read the situation and offer kind words and open door policy in his office.
As a player, Fergie was not too bad. Playing striker started with Queens Park and St Johnstone, before joining Dunfermline and then the club he supported as a boy Rangers. Unfortunately for Fergie, he was held responsible for a goal against Celtic that cost Rangers the 1969 Scottish Cup, his poor marking allowing the other half of the Old Firm to emerge with the trophy, and he was moved on. Ending his playing days with firstly Falkirk, then last with Ayr United.
What he didn’t have in playing ability he more than made up for during his managerial career. This began in 1974 with East Stirlingshire, the club famously not having a single goalkeeper on the books when he took charge. Then it was on to St Mirren and Aberdeen, this is where Fergie’s reputation started to grow, becoming very apparent his talent something rather special. He broke the Old Firms dominance, winning leagues and cup, and of course defeating the mighty Real Madrid in a European final.
After turning down the opportunity to manage Rangers, due in large part to us still having a manager in place at the time, Fergie headed south to Manchester United, taking over from Big Ron Atkinson. The remit was simple, win the league, something United had failed to achieve for numerous years before his arrival.
Sir Alex had forged a ruthless reputation in Scotland and set about doing the same down South, ridding the squad of high profile players such as Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside, in a move to rid the club of its drinking culture.
Manchester United won the cup winners cup and Fa Cup in 1991, beating Barcelona in the final, this would act as the framework and foundation for the club’s first league win in 27 years in 1992, making Ferguson the first manager since Matt Busby to do so.
After that it was success upon success for the man brought up in Govan, what followed were 2 Champions league titles, 12 more league titles, 5 F.a cups, 4 league cups, and 1 each of the Super cup, intercontinental cup and club world cup, not to bad at all.
Players loved playing for Fergie, many still to this day see him as a father figure. He protected them in the media, was ruthless, but a shrewd tactician and had an unrivalled talent in building new versions of his sides, all the while playing an extremely attacking form of football.
During his time in football, he pioneered new training methods, always moving with the times in order to gain a slight competitive edge. Never one afraid to integrate new or young up and coming coaches either, his coaching tree of former players and staff stands as a testament to his impact.
I’m sure you join me in wishing the great man back to health, one thing is certain, Sir Alex is a fighter.
Wooden may not be as quite as well-known as the other coaches in this article, but let me assure you his books on coaching and the lessons learned will be present in all of them.
John Wooden, was the head coach of UCLA basketball side between 1948-1975, turning a side into one of the biggest in the college game even still today. His most renowned accomplishment is winning 10 national championships in a 12-year period, including 7 in a row. Even to this day, no team has managed more than 4 in succession.
Wooden was not the ranting and raving type, extremely softly spoken, believing if he treated his players with respect they would show it back. His books on the pyramid of success will be one I guarantee you any coach worth their salt will have in their book collection, this points to the required steps to become a successful team in sports or even in business.
He was the one who set the path for many of today’s coaches in many fields, a firm studier of methods and coaches in other fields, transferring what he learned into his own. He never called his bench players subs or reserves, believing them to be just as vital as the starters, everyone has a role to play. Most of his focus was on making people a better man first, then sports would follow suit, his practices were timed to the second, every detail covered, even how players should tie their laces, as the smallest of things can have the greatest of impacts.
While he may not be the biggest name on this list in the U.K certainly, he might just be the most important on it.
Bill Walsh was to American football what Sir Alex Ferguson was to football. He didn’t just change it he ripped up the rules and rewrote them with his dynamic fast paced west coast offence, leading the San Francisco 49ers to 3 SuperBowls during the 1980s.
His career was not all roses and big game wins, no, early on he experienced setbacks and snubs that would ultimately shape his path, after all the road to victory is paved with failure. Working at, first, Stanford University then at the Oakland Raiders under Al Davis, as a defensive backs coach before ending up in Cincinnati under the legendary coach Paul Brown.
Developing the West coast offence was out of necessity, rather than desire. While offensive coordinator at the Cincinnati Bengals an injury to his star quarterback Vigil Carter ment his back up was just not capable of doing the long downfield passes of his predecessor. This forced Walsh into forging a shorter based run after pass programme, with outstanding and unseen before results. Walsh, however, was passed up for the head coaching role when his mentor Paul Brown (founder of the aforementioned Cleveland Browns) decided to go upstairs into the general manager’s office, this deeply troubled Walsh, and he even thought about quitting the game he loved so dear.
Walsh then began to forge his career as the head coach at college programme Stanford, before being hired as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, by owner Eddie DeBartolo JR, a man who himself had taken ownership of his father’s construction industries and turned it into an NFL franchise.
When Walsh arrived the 49ers were dross at best, he had to rebuild everything from top to bottom. His book ” finding the winning edge” is one of the rarest and of course, most go to books for any sports coach. It details everything from the handling of players to the practice schedules it’s all in there, trust me.
What set Walsh apart from his peers is the fact he was not macho, all shouting or indeed in your face type no. He believed in attention to detail, that everything must be planned out, all things taken under consideration. He, as well, liked a good bit of controversy, famously fuelling quarterback ones between Joe Montana and Steve Young. You see, conflict can work.
Before big games Walsh’s ability to take the pressure and focus off the players was something he revelled in, famously reading newspapers on the floor, proclaiming just how would his players win this one, when up against such a giant or juggernaut on the other side. He believed in passing down his teachings and it why today he is still held so highly by so many. That and he was just a good man by all accounts.
(Sir) WALTER SMITH
The cardigan. What a man, what a man manager he was. Now Rangers fans of my age will no doubt remember him in two distinctly different spells in charge of our beloved club in between a rather unsuccessful (or was it?) spell at Everton, a spell as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant, then restoring Scotland to credibility was all not out of the reach of the great man, before answering the call when our club needed it most after the disaster that was the Paul Le Guen era.
Now I won’t bore you of his details as if you don’t know it and what this great man has done for our club then you are on the wrong site I’m afraid. Leading a Rangers side to a UEFA cup final in Manchester in the second spell to top the titles and REAL trebles he accumulated in his first and second reign is something that all Rangers managers should look to achieve.
Walter Smith was a players man, he treated them with respect and expected the same back. But make no mistake he could stoke fear into a player just ask Kevin Thomson or Paul Gascoigne for proof of that.
I look forward to seeing much more of the great man around Ibrox this season.
Now, I don’t for one second expect Stevie G to hit the heights of my five coaches, but if he takes just 1% from each of them I will be happy as it will translate to success for us on and off the park. It’s nearly here.