The NBA Coach has a tough gig

USA TODAY Sports

How did George Karl go from Coach of the Year to unemployed in a month? Well, he's not the only former COY currently looking for work.

NBA Coaches belong to one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. Let's face it -- there are over 400 jobs for players in the NBA -- but there are only 30 head coaches at any given time.

With the prestige of being a head coach comes a whole lot of pressure, often unrealistically high expectations, and the reality that the salary cap and other factors make it a whole lot easier to change the coach than to change the players. There's considerable debate as to exactly how much a coach actually matters in the NBA, but even if we don't really know how much credit coaches deserve when things are good, I think we can all agree that they take a disproportionate amount of blame when things are bad.

As I have been looking at the situation in the aftermath of George Karl's firing in Denver, three amazing tidbits of information have jumped out at me.

Karl is the first NBA Coach of the Year to be fired before coaching another game for his team. Think about that -- he was voted to be the best of the best in May, and he's unemployed in June. As amazing as that is, it's actually not unusual for teams to part ways with the COY coaches pretty quickly. How common is it? Let's take a look.

Year

Coach

Team

W

L

Pct

Fired

Yrs(+Games)

2013

George Karl

DEN

57

25

.695

June2013

0

2012

Gregg Popovich

SAS

50

16

.758

2011

Tom Thibodeau

CHI

62

20

.756

2010

Scott Brooks

OKC

50

32

.610

2009

Mike Brown

CLE

66

16

.805

June2010

1

2008

Byron Scott

NOH

56

26

.683

Nov2009

1(+9)

2007

Sam Mitchell

TOR

47

35

.573

Dec2009

2(+17)

2006

Avery Johnson

DAL

60

22

.732

June2008

2

2005

Mike D'Antoni

PHO

62

20

.756

June2008

3

2004

Hubie Brown

MEM

50

32

.610

2003

Gregg Popovich

SAS

60

22

.732

2002

Rick Carlisle

DET

50

32

.610

June2003

2

2001

Larry Brown

PHI

56

26

.683

2000

Doc Rivers

ORL

41

41

.500

Nov2004

4

1999

Mike Dunleavy

POR

35

15

.700

June2001

2

In the last 15 NBA seasons, 14 different coaches have been named the Coach of the Year (Gregg Popovich has won the award twice). Of those 14, nine were fired by the same team for whom they won the award -- seven within two seasons and change. Prior to Karl's record-breaking dismissal, the prior speed record belonged to Mike Brown, who was let go in Cleveland one year after winning the COY (apparently the Cavs have seen the error in their ways as they've now hired Brown once again). Byron Scott made it nine games into his second season after winning the award before being canned.

There are a grand total of three coaches (Popovich, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks) of the last 14 COY winners still coaching where he won the award -- and just give Thibodeau and Brooks time, it's still pretty early for them.

Of the 14 most recent NBA Coaches of the Year, seven are currently without an NBA job (though it should be noted that Hubie Brown, Larry Brown and Mike Dunleavy are more "retired" than "unemployed" given their ages). Any team currently in the market for a head coach could take their pick from among four former COYs -- Karl, Scott, Johnson and Mitchell.

In considering Karl for the Clippers, obviously his resume is excellent. He has a career winning percentage just shy of .600, has made the playoffs in 20 of the last 21 seasons he's coached, and had a record of .500 or better all 21 of those seasons. Wow.

Critics might say, well he's never won a NBA championship.

And that's the second amazing thing I realized today -- almost no one has. Partly because Phil Jackson has been hogging all the rings for himself, there are only four active NBA coaches who have won a title. With four titles himself, Popovich has won more titles as a coach than the rest of the active coaches combined -- Eric Spoelstra, Carlise and Rivers having one each. And of course the club won't be getting any bigger this season with Pop and Spo squaring off.

That's it. And assuming that Phil Jackson and Larry Brown and Pat Riley aren't really planning to coach again, there aren't title-winning coaches out there in the available pool. Which is probably one reason that Brian Shaw's stock is so high; at least he's wearing a ring he got as a coach, even if it was as an assistant. It also makes Byron Scott's two trips to the NBA Finals look more impressive when you consider how few active coaches have taken the next step.

Finally, consider this. The Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers all had franchise-best regular seasons this year -- and while Lionel Hollins is not officially out in Memphis, it certainly looks as if all three of those teams will make a coaching change. How do you make sense of that? Are expectations so far out of kilter that a "best ever" season isn't "good enough"? Or do front offices subscribe to the belief that coaches aren't really doing that much so why hassle with keeping your current one, especially if it means going through the hassle of extending his contract?

No matter how you look at it, one thing is clear: it's a tough gig.

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