Coaching Wisdom From The Greatest Coaches Of All Time


Anyone who has played sports can remember a favorite coach. Coaches inspire, teach and lead by example. Players who pay attention become better athletes and better people.

The most beloved coaches are not just notable. They are also quotable.

“They don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.”
– Pat Summitt
University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers

By all accounts, Summitt cared for her players as though they were her own daughters, inspiring them to achieve their goals.

In 38 years of coaching basketball, she never had a losing season. She led the Lady Vols to eight NCAA championships from 1974 to 2012, and her 1,098 career wins are the most in NCAA basketball history. She also coached the U.S. women’s team to gold at the 1984 Olympics.

In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died in 2016.

“I’ve learned that something constructive comes from every defeat.”
– Tom Landry
Dallas Cowboys

If Landry seemed especially tight-lipped after losses, it’s because he was already working out better plays in his head. He never wasted the lessons of defeat.

He is remembered for much more than his trademark fedora. The famously stoic coach was a true innovator. Not only did he alter the 4-3 formation to create the Cowboys’ feared Doomsday Defense, but he breathed new life into the shotgun offense.

Landry was at the helm of America’s Team for 29 consecutive seasons, an NFL record that includes 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966 to 1985. His Cowboys won two Super Bowls, five NFC titles and 13 divisional titles. His career record, 271-180-6, is third best in NFL history.

“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.”
– Phil Jackson
Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers

It’s hard to be selfless if you’re Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant. Even so, Jackson taught superstars to “surrender the Me,” surrender the ball and play as a team.

Nicknamed Zen Master for his holistic approach to leadership, Jackson may have been the most laid-back coach in history. He led the Bulls to six NBA championships between 1989 and 1998. The Lakers hoisted the championship trophy five times from 2000 to 2010.

With 13 rings in all, two of them acquired while playing for the New York Knicks, Jackson holds the NBA record for the most combined championships as a player and head coach.

“The only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
– Vince Lombardi
New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins

Lombardi’s son recalls that his father never basked in victory but immediately went to work preparing for the next game.

Despite his grueling practices and gruff demeanor, Lombardi somehow inspired and motivated players like no one else. He was awarded NFL Coach of the Year in 1959, his rookie season as a head coach, and many rate him as the best football coach in history.

His Green Bay Packers won five championships in the 1960’s, including the first two Super Bowls, and dominated the game for a decade.

Lombardi died of cancer in 1970. The Super Bowl trophy is named after him.

“You must learn how to hold a team together. You must lift some men up, calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat. Then you’ve got yourself a team.”
– Paul “Bear” Bryant
University of Alabama Crimson Tide

Bryant proved this in 1954 when, at a summer training camp in Junction, Texas, he molded the Texas A&M Aggies into a team. Survivors of the brutal camp still share a special bond that they attribute to Bryant’s coaching talent.

During his 25-year tenure at Alabama, he led the team to six national championships and 13 conference championships. Upon his retirement in 1982, he was the most successful coach in collegiate football history.

He also wore houndstooth very well.

“There is nothing so uncertain as a sure thing.”
– Scotty Bowman
St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings

Bowman learned this lesson early on as a player in the minor leagues. He had all the makings of a superstar until a head wound ended his playing career.

Bowman’s hockey teams won an astonishing 1,244 regular-season games and 223 playoff games. He has won a combined 14 Stanley Cup titles as a player, coach or team executive. He broke his own winning records on several occasions and is the only head coach to lead three different teams to championship victories.

Bowman often attributed his success to his willingness to adapt. He is widely considered to be one of the best coaches in any sport.

“If we’re going to win the pennant, we’ve got to start thinking we’re not as smart as we think we are.”
– Casey Stengel
Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Mets

Baseball managers tend to provide the comic relief, but Stengel well understood the delicate balance between confidence and humility.

Witticisms aside, Stengel was a highly intuitive manager. After he took over the Yankees in 1949, the team in pinstripes won an unprecedented five consecutive World Series titles. Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle played under Stengel’s leadership.

After 54 years in professional baseball, Stengel retired in 1965 with seven World Series titles. Since he started his career as a player for the New York Giants, he wore the uniforms of every MLB team in New York City.

Photo: aaronisnotcool / CC 2.0