LEEInks List: Most memorable Boston managers, coaches since 1967
|07.11.11 at 11:46 am ET|
Dick Williams transformed the Red Sox in 1967. The team had not had a winning season in eight years, and attendance had dwindled. In came Williams, who turned a nightmare into an “Impossible Dream,” leading a squad of players including Rico Petrocelli, Jim Lonborg, Sparky Lyle, Tony Conigliaro and Carl Yastrzemski to an American League pennant and the organization’s first World Series appearance in 21 years. Though the Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in seven games, Williams and his team had restored the franchise.
With Williams’ death Thursday, WEEI looks back at the 10 most memorable managers and coaches in Boston sports since that 1967 campaign. These men aren’t necessarily the best Boston has ever seen (some were downright awful), but they are the coaches and managers whose personalities, triumphs and struggles left an indelible mark on the city’s sports history.
10. Bill Fitch, Celtics
Although K.C. Jones coached the Celtics to their height of success in the mid-1980s (two NBA titles among four straight NBA fnals appearances), it was Fitch who started the resurgence when he coached the Celtics to a championship in 1981. He was named NBA Coach of the Year with the Celtics in 1980. A former Marine Corps drill instructor, Fitch brought that same discipline and intensity to the Celtics, and Larry Bird would later say Fitch had a strong effect on the development of Bird’s legendary work ethic. He had to win over his players, but nothing does that like a championship.
Fitch went on to coach the Rockets, Nets and Clippers and retired in 1998 with 944 career wins, ranking him eighth in NBA history. It wasn’t always easy, though, as some players rebelled against Fitch’s hard-line ways. Check out this video highlighting an incident with the Nets when Chris Morris refused Fitch’s order to return to a game. Look for a young Doc Rivers toward the end of this clip.
9. Harry Sinden, Bruins
The Celtics may have owned the 1980s, and the Red Sox and Patriots have battled for control of the 21st century, but the 1970s in Boston belonged to the Bruins. Sinden inaugurated the Bruins’ reign with a Stanley Cup title in 1970. He coached two of the most beloved Bruins ever in Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Like Dick Williams and Bill Belichick, Sinden turned a losing team into a champion, but he left just days after in a contract dispute. The Bruins put him on the voluntary retired list, keeping him from signing with a new team the following season.
After coaching the Canadian team to a Summit Series victory over the Soviets in 1972, Sinden returned to the Bruins as general manager. During his tenure, the Bruins set a North American sports record by making the playoffs in 30 consecutive seasons.
8. Tom Heinsohn, Celtics
Heinsohn led the Celtics to championships in 1974 and 1976 and was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1973 after leading the Celtics to a league-best 68-14 record, tied for fourth-most single-season wins in NBA history. Heinsohn’s leadership ended a five-year gap in NBA titles for the Celtics, who had last won it all in 1969. With the addition of Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White to a squad that already had John Havlicek, Boston’s all-time leading scorer, the team returned to glory. As a broadcaster, Heinsohn has become the voice of the Celtics. It’s impossible to think of a recent Celtics game without hearing Heinsohn exult the current squad or scream for the referee’s job (or blood).
7. Joe Morgan, Red Sox
Morgan’s tenure with the Red Sox was a brief ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy 18 years from 1986 to 2004. Morgan took over the team in 1988 and instantly turned around the team’s fortunes, winning his first 12 games and 19 of his first 20 in a period known as “Morgan Magic.” He managing the team to two AL East titles (’88 and ’90), which were both followed by winless playoff series against the Athletics. He was a hometown hero, growing up in Walpole and driving a snow plow in the offseason. He was seen as embodying the blue-collar values Boston sports fans love. His odd phrases such as “six, two and even” (apparently a horse racing term) became a part of Boston lore.
6. Don Zimmer, Red Sox
Zimmer managed the team to three straight 90-win seasons, which had only been accomplished twice since World War I. His 98 wins in 1978 is still the fourth-most in franchise history. However, Zimmer is best known for his role in the 1978 collapse that ended with Bucky Dent’s dramatic home run during a one-game playoff against the Yankees on Oct. 2. Toward the end of the season, Zimmer refused to start Yankee-killer Bill Lee in a key game vs. New York, and he overworked Carlton Fisk and third baseman Butch Hobson. Zimmer fought constantly with Sox players, a tendency that apparently stuck with him even in his later years, as the then-Yankees coach charged Pedro Martinez in the 2003 ALCS.
5. Doc Rivers, Celtics
Rivers brought back a title after a long wait; it just took him a few years of ineffectiveness to accomplish it. Rivers’ greatest talent may very well be his ability to manage the surplus of talent and ego that the Celtics have featured since the arrival of the new Big Three in 2007. Since then, the team has won an NBA title and four straight Atlantic Division titles. Anyone who watched the 2011 NBA finals knows that talent alone doesn’t guarantee a championship, and Rivers’ ability to coach great players puts him in this list. Although Rivers’ at-times bland personality does not always appeal to Celtics fans, his players love playing for him. Ultimately, that’s all that matters, because fan support really only lasts as long as a team is winning.
4. Terry Francona, Red Sox
Boston as a city might have had plenty of titles throughout the 20th century (mostly from the Celtics), but generations of Red Sox fans had come and gone before Francona led the team to a World Series title in 2004. The Red Sox won again in 2007, capturing their first AL East title in 12 years in the process. Francona leads all Red Sox managers in playoff games (45) and wins (28), and is second behind only Joe Cronin — who managed from 1935-47 — in regular-season wins (654). Francona’s speech patterns and mannerisms often seem folksy, and when he argues with the umpire he can even look silly, but somehow Francona makes it work.
Francona immediately imposed a sense of discipline over the pitching rotation and the bullpen in 2004, something predecessor Grady Little could not do. He handles the media without betraying the confidences of his players, and he keeps track of a team that has featured personalities as grandiose as Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez.
3. Rick Pitino, Celtics
Pitino earned his spot on this list for negative reasons. Pitino tried to take his college coaching success to the NBA, but it didn’t work out at all. He finished his four-year Celtics stint with a .411 winning percentage, never coaching his team to higher than fifth in the conference. He also never seemed comfortable in the pro game, memorably lashing out against Boston fans for their negativity. Pitino was an impatient, underachieving coach who came to represent the disappointing Celtics teams of the late 1990s. Pitino was coach, general manager, CEO and president — taking the president’s role from Red Auerbach in a move many blasted as egomaniacal — but he was unable to put a winning team together.
2. Don Cherry, Bruins
Cherry finished what Sinden started, keeping the B’s as the Big, Bad Bruins, one of the elite NHL teams through the latter half of the 1970s. Cherry even used his beloved bull terrier, Blue, as inspiration for the physical, aggressive style of play that he encouraged in his players. Sometimes called the “lunch-pail gang,” Cherry’s Bruins appealed to blue-collar Bruins fans in the same way Morgan’s Red Sox teams did to the Fenway faithful.
Cherry coached the Bruins to four consecutive division titles and two Stanley Cup appearances in his five seasons in Boston. His 1977-78 Bruins were one of the best offensive hockey teams of all time, with 11 players scoring 20 or more goals. He left in a dispute with the front office and went on to become a famously opinionated analyst for Hockey Night in Canada.
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots
No one will ever forget the man who turned the joke of the NFL into its preeminent franchise. Belichick has brought New England three Super Bowl titles and eight division titles since 2001. He leads all active coaches with 162 wins, 15 playoff wins and a .714 playoff winning percentage. He’s a brilliant strategist with a penchant for getting superstar performances from non-superstar athletes. As for his personality, who can say? Belichick has made a habit of repressing any and every emotion felt on and off the gridiron. Every press conference is a contest to see if he can stonewall the media even more, deny reporters even more information and get away with it. Belichick has made the hooded sweatshirt fashionable, and no one can criticize him in the face of his coaching genius.
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