Now that Mike Woodson is the full-time coach of the New York Knicks, he will attempt to do something that not many have done. Woodson is the 25th coach in franchise history to lead the Knicks and while he got off to a great start, going 18-6 in his 24 games behind the bench, he’s going to have some work to do in order to be considered one of the best coaches in franchise history.
It shouldn’t be too hard as the Knicks haven’t exactly been blessed with successful head coaches throughout their history.
With that being said, here’s a look at the Top 10 head coaches in Knicks franchise history.
10. Lenny Wilkens: Wilkens cracks the list, not so much for anything he did on the Knicks bench but because he was one of the best ever and he did lead the franchise to their last playoff berth in 2004 before stepping down in 2005 with a career 40-41 record with the Knicks.
9. Mike D’Antoni (2008-12): This may not be a popular choice and D’Antoni’s record of 121-167 would suggest he wasn’t a great coach, but he was. D’Antoni had as little to work with early in his tenure as any coach in franchise history and ended up getting the Knicks back to the playoffs in 2011 before being forced out in 2012.
8. Willis Reed (1977-78): Great players usually don’t make great coaches and Reed was no exception, although he did finish slightly over .500 in his 96 game stint at 49-47. He also led the Knicks into the playoffs in 1977.
7. Stu Jackson (1989-90): Jackson had a nice first season on the Knicks bench, leading them to a 45-37 record and a trip to the Eastern Conference semi’s in 1990, but didn’t have as much luck his second season and was replaced after getting off to a 7-8 start the following year.
6. Rick Pitino (1987-89): The year before he arrived, the team had won only 24 games. In just two years, Pitino led the Knicks to their first division title in nearly twenty years. He finished with a 90-74 record in three seasons with the Knicks and coached in 13 playoff games, which is actually the sixth highest total of any Knicks coach, which is actually pretty sad.
5. Hubie Brown (1982-86): After reaching the playoffs in each of Brown’s first two seasons, the Knicks plummeted to 24-58 in 1984-85 and 23-59 in 1985-86 and was eventually fired after a 4-12 start the following season. But there were circumstances that were far beyond Brown’s control that led to his downfall. Star forward Bernard King suffered a devastating knee injury in March 1985 in a game against the Kansas City Kings, not fully recovering for two seasons, while Patrick Ewing, the top overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft, missed 32 games in an injury-plagued rookie season. I always felt Brown was a better coach then he got credit for being.
4. Jeff Van Gundy (1996-2001): Van Gundy was the head coach of the Knicks from March 8, 1996 until his resignation on December 8, 2001. He led the team to the playoffs six times, including their Cinderella run to the 1999 NBA Finals. He finished with a career record of 248-172 (third most wins in franchise history) and the 69 postseason games he coached in are the second most in Knicks history. JVG is another coach who I think was underappreciated around the league.
3. Joe Lapchick (1947-56): Lapchick led the Knicks to eight straight winning seasons and eight trips to the playoffs, including three straight NBA Finals from
1951 to 1953. He was considered a great motivator, but Lapchick had the reputation for being a wild man on the sidelines, stomping on his coat, smashing chairs, and tossing various objects into the air. Stress-management problems forced him to quit near the end of the 1955–56 season. He left the Knicks with a 326-247 NBA coaching record.
2. Pat Riley (1991-95): Riley led the Knicks to the best regular season record in team history in 1993 (tied with the 1969-1970 team) and received his second Coach of the Year award. Riley’s ability to work with the physical, deliberate Knicks was outstanding, considering that he was associated with the fast-paced Lakers in the 1980s. Riley returned to the NBA Finals in 1994, but his Knicks lost in seven games to the Houston Rockets after being up 3–2 in the series. During his tenure in the Big Apple, Riley posted a career record of 223-105 and his .680 winning percentage is the best in Knicks history.
1. Red Holzman (1967-77, 1978-82): Holzman tops the list and this was an easy choice considering his accomplishments. During a 15-year span as Knicks’ coach, Holzman won a total of 613 games, including two NBA championships in 1970 and 1973.
In 1969, Holzman coached the Knicks to a then single-season NBA record 18-game win streak, breaking the 17-game record first set back in 1946. For his efforts leading up to the Knicks’ 1970 championship win, Holzman was named the NBA Coach of the Year. He was one of very few individuals to have won an NBA championship as both player and coach. In 1985, he was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The Knicks have retired the number 613 in his honor, equaling the number of wins he accumulated as their head coach.
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