All Star Players Don’t Make Championship Coaches

John McDermott, I’m glad you tried to pin her down and I’m surprised she didn’t have a better understanding of her own research. I’m inclined to say she’s actually completely wrong on her own interpretation of her research.

The first thing that smelled bad was that her lay-person explanation of the NBA didn’t explain Gregg Popovich and Brad Stevens. They’re widely regarded as the top two coaches in the NBA right now and neither played in the NBA. So I’d want to hear either why they aren’t actually great coaches, or what it is that they do that makes them excellent without having played in the NBA. The things that Gregg and Brad do seem much more important to talk about since they are probably replicable by everyone, including former players.

Missing an explanation for those two coaches made me wonder if her research is actually much more applicable to mid-level managers. At that level, a company might want to optimize for good results rather than great results.

But even then, the NBA part of her research was only barely corrected for alternative explanations. Maybe former All-Stars get hired into better situations? Advanced stats folks have only recently started digging into the effect of good coaching, for example noting that “after time out” plays by Brad Stevens are more successful than plays called by other coaches. I wouldn’t trust any of the NBA correlations she’s quoting without a much, much deeper dive.

I also think she’s making a mistake by looking at results that say “there’s a broad statistical signal” and then popularizing that result as an explanation for excellence. Maybe hiring former-players and All-Stars will help you find a B+ coach like Jason Kidd and avoid a C- coach like Tim Floyd, but it’s hard to see where her confidence is to say that this is a crucial signal for explaining the best performers or hiring for the top jobs.

Also, while I was thinking about this, I looked at coaches who’ve won championships since 1990. Only four championships were won by former All-Star players (Rudy T, Larry Brown, Doc Rivers) while seven were lost by former All-Star players (Paul Westphal, Jerry Sloan 2x, Larry Bird, Larry Brown 2x, Doc Rivers).

  • Gregg Popovich: 5 championships
  • Eric Spolstra: 2 championships
  • Phil Jackson: 9 championships
  • Steve Kerr: 3 championships
  • Pat Riley: 1 championship (since 1990)
  • Chuck Daley: 1 championship (since 1990)
  • Rick Carlyle: 1 championship
  • Tyronn Lue: 1 championship
  • Rudy Tomjanovich: 2 championships, 5x All Star
  • Larry Brown: 1 championship, 3x All Star
  • Doc Rivers: 1 championship, 1x All Star

Human potential busy body. Founded @coachdotme, @bttrHumans, @bttrMarketing. Helped @medium @calm. Current work focus: Habit Coach Certification.

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