The Ten Best Coaches and Managers Whose Careers Began in Chicago

Chicago baseball had the rarity this season of having two rookie managers. Robin Ventura had the White Sox in contention until the final week of the season. The White Sox were in first place for 18 days and exceeded expectations. How good of a manager he becomes remains to be seen. Many successful coaches landed their first jobs here. Some showed promise as rookie coaches while others struggled with young teams or those in transition. Seven of these coaches went on to win their respective titles.

Tom Thibodeau other than Phil Jackson, had the most successful first year in Chicago in modern times. He led the Bulls to a 62-20 record, the NBA’s best in his first season in 2010-11 and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. He earned coach of the year honors.

He followed that up with a 50-16 record and once again the NBA’s best record. The Bulls once again finished with the best record and Thibs was the runner-up for coach of the year.

His .757 winning percentage is the best in NBA history. This year could prove to be his most challenging. Without Derrick Rose for most of the season, Thibs job to get the most out of a team without their star player will be challenging.

Despite only two years in the bench, the only things missing from Thibs mantle are a trip to the Final and a title.

Phil Jackson Jackson’s .704 winning percentage is second all-time to Thibodeaux. His 11 titles rank first all-time and are the most of any coach in the four major teams sports.

Jackson became the Bulls coach prior to the 1989-90 season after Jerry Reinsdorf gave famous point a to b to c speech. He said that former coach Doug Collins took the Bulls from point A to point B, but couldn’t get the Bulls to point C.

The Bulls lost to Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals in six games. Their run was surprising as the sixth seed. The Bulls lost to the Pistons in six games.

In Jackson’s first season as the Bulls coach, they improved to 55-27, good enough for second in the division and the conference. It was an eight game improvement from 1989. The Bulls pushed Detroit to seven games in the conference finals before losing.

They would finish with the best record in the NBA his second season and win the franchise’s first championship in 1991. In addition to his record setting 11 titles, Jackson holds the NBA record for playoff win, conference titles and playoff winning percentage.

Ozzie Guillen Guillen was one of the most popular players in White Sox history. He won the rookie of the year award in 1985 and helped lead the White Sox to just their third postseason appearance in 74 seasons in 1993.

He came to the White Sox after Championship team. His selection as the White Sox manager was unexpected. Former Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston was favored to get the position.

He led the White Sox to a 83-79 season as a rookie manager. That was three less wins than the season before. The White Sox were in the race until the end of July. Minnesota came to US Cellular Field with a half game lead. They left with a 3.5 game lead after sweeping a three game series.

They made major changes in the lineup in the off-season. Guillen wanted to go from a power oriented team to one mixed with more speed. Gone in the offseason were Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez and Jose Valentin. The White Sox traded for Freddie Garcia and Jose Contreras during the 2004 season and acquired Scott Podsednik from Milwaukee as part of a trade for Lee.

In just his second season, Guillen lead the White Sox to a division title and in improbable 11-1 run through the postseason for the White Sox first world championship in 88 years in 2005.

Tony LaRussa Jerry Reinsdorf has often stated his biggest mistake as an owner was firing LaRussa. Consider Hawk Harrelson was once his GM that’s a big statement.

LaRussa brought excitement back to Chicago Baseball. He took over in mid season in 1979 for player-manager Don Kessinger. He led the White Sox to a 27-27 record after they had gone 46-60 under Kessinger.

It took two years before he had things fully turned around. In the strike shortened 1981 season, the White Sox went 31-22 in the second half of the season.

He led a magical season in 1983. Behind his big three of LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson and Floyd Bannister, the White Sox finished 99-83 to win the AL West by a record 20 games. The season was amazing considering the White Sox began the season 16-24.

Hoyt, Dotson and Bannister finished the second half of the season 42-5. After the White Sox began the 1986 season 26-38, LaRussa was let go.

He landed in Oakland later that season. He led the A’s to three straight American League Pennants between 1988-1990. They won the 1989 World Series.

After ten seasons in Oakland he left for St. Louis. He won World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. He retired following the 2011 World Series. LaRussa finished his career third all-time in victories and the most since John McGraw retired in 1933. LaRussa’s 33 seasons are tied with McGraw for second. Connie Mack’s 53 are first all-time. His 5,097 games managed ranks second to Mack. He will be enshrined into Cooperstown in the class of 2016.

Doug Collins Collins had to retire from the NBA at 29 because of nagging injuries. He became the Bulls for the 1986-87 season at the age of 35.

He led the Bulls to a 40-42 record in his inaugural season. The Bulls improved ten games over the 1986 season. In his three years in Chicago, Collins went 137-99. They advanced a round further in the playoffs in each of his three seasons.

After being swept by Boston for the second straight season in the first round in 1987, the Bulls advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1988 and the Conference Finals in 1989. Both times they were eliminated by Detroit.

They 1989 playoff run included upsets over third seeded Cleveland, and second seeded New York. He was out of coaching for seven seasons before moving becoming the Pistons Head Coach in 1995-96. He would reunite with Jordan in Washington from 2001-03 and has been in Philadelphia the last two seasons. The eighth seeded 76ers eliminated the top seeded Bulls this season.

Collins is 408-359 in his NBA coaching career.

Chuck Tanner Tanner helped to save the White Sox in the early 1970’s. After 17 straight winning seasons between 1951-67, the White Sox suffered through three abysmal seasons before Tanner arrived. He took over for the final 16 games of 106 loss season in 1970. They almost moved to Milwaukee in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s.

Tanner took the team from 56-106 in 1970 to 79-83 in 1971 and 87-67 in 1972. After having to play games in Milwaukee, Tanner helped bring the fans back as the White Sox finished third in the American League in attendance.

They traded for Dick Allen in the 1972 offseason. He did not disappoint. Allen hit .308 with 37 Home Runs and 113 rbis to win the American League MVP. The workhorse rotation featured three pitchers with over 40 starts. Stan Bahnsen and Wilbur Wood each won 20 games. A young bullpen featuring future Hall of Famer Rich Gossage and Future All-Star Terry Forster solidified a young bullpen.

Tanner was never able to sustain that success with the White Sox. He never had another winning season in Chicago and he went to Oakland after finishing 75-86 following the 1975 season.

After one season with the A’s he managed in Pittsburgh for nine seasons. Six of those were winning seasons culminating with the 1979 “We are Family” World Champion Pirates.

Dick Motta
Motta came to the Bulls after posting a 98-29 record in five years at Weber State. He became the Bulls second coach after Johnny “Red” Kerr. By his third season the Bulls won 50 games and posted their first winning record in franchise history.

They had four straight 50 win seasons, five straight winning seasons and went to back-to-back Western Conference Finals in 1974 and 1975. The Bulls seemed to have the game won before being outscored by 15 in the second half. It was a game that would have been talked about for generations if Michael Jordan didn’t come along ten years later.

Lovie Smith Smith came to the Bears after a three year stint as the Defensive Coordinator in St. Louis. He was their DC when the Rams lost in the Super Bowl following the 2001 season. In his three seasons in St. Louis, the Rams went 33-15 and advanced the Super Bowl in his first season running the defense. He improved the defense by 12 PPG.

The Bears only went 5-11 in his first season in Chicago. In his second season, the Bears finished 11-5 and won only their second Division title since 1991.

In 12 his 12 seasons, the Bears have gone 74-58, had four seasons won three division titles, had home field advantage throughout the playoffs twice and made only their second Super Bowl appearance after the 2006 season. Four times their Bears have ranked in the top ten in defensive scoring and three times in yards allowed. Smith ranks third on the all-time Bears win list behind only Mike Ditka and George Halas.

Darryl Sutter Sutter took over for Mike Keenen after the Black Hawks were swept by Pittsburgh in 1992 Stanley Cup Finals. He went 47-25-12 in his first season as a Head Coach. After winning the division by three points over Detroit, the Black Hawks were swept in the first round by St. Louis. The Blues finished the season with 85 points, 21 less than the Hawks.

Sutter stayed on for another season and a half in Chicago before abruptly resigning to spend more time with his family. He finished his tenure in Chicago 110-80-26. He resurfaced in San Jose for the 1997-98 season. He later led the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004 before finally winning his and the L.A. Kings first Stanley Cup in 2012.

For his career, Sutter is 434-333-101.

Mike Ditka The quintessential chicago coach. Da Coach. Ditka embodies everything Chicago sports fans love. Toughness, candidness and a never say die attitude.

After an 11-14 record in his first two seasons, the Bears embarked on one of their best eras in 1984. They won the NFC Central with a 10-6 record. They upset the defending champion Redskins on the road in the divisional round of the playoffs before losing in the NFC Championship game.

That set the stage for the iconic 1985 Super Bowl Champions. Led by a dominating defense the Bears went 15-1 and captured the imagination of Chicago and the entire country. In 11 seasons in Chicago, Ditka led the Bears to a 106-62 record, seven playoffs appearances, six division titles, three NFC Championship game appearances, and one Super bowl.

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