Following Oklahoma State’s recent head coaching vacancy, former Oklahoma State point guard Doug Gottlieb’s name has risen to the forefront. Gottlieb, who was a finalist for the coaching job at both Tulane and OSU in 2016, has made it clear that he would gladly become head coach.
Although many consider Gottlieb as an excellent potential recruiter and a bright strategist, many others criticize his lack of coaching experience. There have, though, been people throughout basketball history who have had coaching success despite no previous experience.
In fact, many of them are fairly similar to Gottlieb. Here is our list of four of the most successful coaches who didn’t have any experience beforehand (Gottlieb mentioned some of these in a video he did with Carson Cunningham on Sunday).
Mark Jackson is a fitting example of a successful coach who was both a player and television analyst, and one that had no prior coaching experience before his first head coaching gig. Jackson played at St. John’s University alongside future NBA All-Star Chris Mullin, who is coincidentally now the head coach at St. Johns in his first-ever coaching job.
After playing professionally from 1987 to 2004, Jackson retired from basketball and became an analyst for both YES Network and ABC telecasts. Jackson did that up until he accepted the job as head coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2011. After an injury-plagued 23-43 season, Jackson led the Warriors to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, and Golden State would make the playoffs in every season until Jackson was removed as head coach in 2013.
Doc Rivers had no experience before his first head coaching job, yet he has been coaching in the NBA for the past 17 years. After playing three years at Marquette and 13 years in the NBA with multiple teams, Rivers retired in 1996 with the San Antonio Spurs. He began his coaching career as head coach of the Orlando Magic in 1999. Despite being picked to finish last in the league, the Magic finished 41-41 that year and missed the playoffs by two games. Rivers was named Coach of the Year that season, and would make the playoffs for the next three seasons with the Magic.
After being fired in 2003, Rivers became head coach of the Boston Celtics, and after three lackluster seasons, finished 66-16 in 2007 and won the NBA Championship. In his subsequent seasons with the Celtics and eventually the Los Angeles Clippers, Rivers has made the playoffs every season, reaching the conference finals twice. He is still with the Clippers, who currently have a 41-29 record and are fifth in the West division.
Steve Kerr should be the first name that anyone thinks of when it comes to coaches with no previous experience. After his final season in the NBA in 2003, Kerr became a broadcast analyst for TNT. He then worked with the Phoenix Suns front office in 2004 and became president and General Manager, a position which he fulfilled until stepping down in 2010.
In 2014, Kerr took over the Golden State Warriors’ head coaching position from Mark Jackson. He took the Warriors, who had finished with a record of 51-31 the year prior, to a 67-15 record and an NBA Championship victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kerr’s particular scenario is the most similar to Gottlieb’s potential situation at OSU. He had served as a television analyst, and although he did have extensive experience in the front office, he had never coached before his job at Golden State. He also inherited an already talented team, like the OSU squad will be next season, that featured sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and a solid supporting cast of players like Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes.
Following Kerr’s hiring, Warriors owner Joe Lacob stated that he wasn’t deterred by Kerr’s coaching inexperience.
“Look, at the end of the day I know he knows a lot about basketball,” Lacob said. “We’re taking a little bit of a risk on his coaching ability … it’s just about finding the right fit for the organization and a guy who has extremely high potential, is a hard worker and is very prepared. That’s what we have got.”
Many people thought that Kerr would prove to be an average head coach, riding his team’s talent without having to actually contribute. There were expectations, with the Warriors reaching the playoffs in the previous year, but Kerr far exceeded them and proved himself as a more than competent coach, all in his first coaching season.
Hoiberg’s history is very similar to Steve Kerr’s, sans any color commentating experience. Although not actually born in Iowa, Hoiberg is, to this day, one of the biggest names in Iowa basketball history. He was named Iowa’s “Mr. Basketball” as a senior in 1991 and then went on to play at Iowa State, where he would have two all-conference seasons.
He played in the NBA for 10 seasons and was known as a sharpshooter. In fact, in his final season with Minnesota in 2004, Hoiberg finished the season with a career-best 48 percent three-point percentage. Hoiberg briefly served as an assistant coach for less than a year before taking a job in Minnesota’s front office.
In 2010, he took over the head coaching position at Iowa State, where he led the Cyclones to a 16-16 record in his first year. In the following season, the Cyclones finished 23-11 and finished tied for third in the Big 12, and ISU would reach the NCAA Tournament every year until Hoiberg took the Chicago Bulls job in 2015.
This article is not to say that every analyst or general manager-turned-head coach has been successful. There have been plenty of failures out there. But to say that there is absolutely no precedent in sports, and specifically basketball, for a first-year head coach without any previous experience is ignorant of the game’s history both at the college and professional level.
No one knows if Gottlieb would become the coach that the Cowboys so desperately want. He has immense potential, and he cares about the program and the university as a whole. But would that justify his hiring?
Again, plenty of fans would be averse to the idea of a first-year head coach, especially at a power-five job. The hiring of an analyst and former player would undoubtedly be a unique case, but it wouldn’t be the first.