Coaches play an immeasurable role in inspiring high school athletes by helping them develop crucial skills such as leadership, self-confidence, self respect and overcoming adversity. In honor of National Coaches Day on Tuesday, October 6, the NFHS Network, has created a list of 15 coaches who achieved greatness by believing that sports was their classroom and coaching gave each of them chance to impart wisdom, inspire by example and use their passion to teach each player as much about life as they taught about sports. The NFHS Network, the nation’s leading high school sports media company, is the online destination for watching high school sports and other events live and on demand from anywhere at anytime.
The NFHS Network’s Roster of Top 15 Coaches
Herb Brooks. Inspired a country by leading the underdog USA Hockey Team to an unthinkable victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Prior to the game, Coach Brooks told his team that, “great moments are born from great opportunities.” Herb Brooks believed that a player should be taught that the name on the front of the jersey means more than the name on the back.
Paul “Bear” Bryant. Synonymous with southern college football, Paul “Bear” Bryant won six national championships and 13 conference championships. The Bear loved to coach coaches, he had three assistant coaches go on to win national championships with other schools, along with 10 other assistants becoming head coaches across the south.
Bobby Cox. Dominated the 1990’s managing the Atlanta Braves to 14 division titles and a World Series victory in 1995. Known as a player’s manager, he came up through the game as a player then a manager. A self described baseball “lifer,” Cox found his calling in coaching, he said, “the main thing I wanted was to manage.”
Mike Krzyzewski. “Coach K” has won five national championships, 13 ACC tournament championships, 12 ACC season championships and two gold medals as the coach of the men’s Olympic team. Coach Krzyzewski preaches the virtues of “team” and he once said, “To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.”
Vince Lombardi. Started coaching at St. Cecilia High School in New Jersey, his success took him to Fordham University, West Point, then to the NFL. Lombardi was a tough, hard-nosed coach who demanded absolute dedication from his players. His style led the Green Bay Packers to five championships during the 1960’s including the first two Super Bowls. His standards were unmatched at the time and his impact on the game was evidenced when the NFL changed the name of the championship trophy to the Vince Lombardi Trophy after his passing in 1970.
Connie Mack. Nicknamed the “Tall Tactician,” he managed his teams to five championships. Mack led the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years; during that time he developed a code of conduct for his players in 1916. Mack’s final item listed for his players read, “I will always judge a teammate or an opponent as an individual and never on the basis of race or religion.”
Robert Neyland. Not only a legendary football coach at the University of Tennessee, Neyland was also a Brigadier General with the Army. Neyland won 173 games out of 216, six undefeated seasons and four National Championships. His famous “Maxims of Football” are still recited to this day at Tennessee with the last one saying, “Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.”
Chuck Noll. Chuck Noll molded the Pittsburgh Steelers into a perennial powerhouse during his 23-year stint as head coach. Noll’s Steelers won four Super Bowls and held a 16-8 post-season record. Coach Noll was a leader in equal rights in the coaching profession and hired the first African American assistant coach and started the first African American quarterback. Noll’s success made him a celebrity that he shrugged off by saying, “I’m really not a celebrity; I’m just a teacher.”
Eddie Robinson. Coaching during a time in this country when black players were not allowed to play major college football, Robinson made Grambling State University a powerhouse. Eddie Robinson started coaching in 1941, and during his 56-year tenure, he had 45 winning seasons and won nine black college championships. Robinson had over 200 of his players move on to play football at the professional level. He thought it was important to connect to player, “Coach each boy as if he were your own son.”
Knute Rockne. The College Football Hall of Fame describes Rockne as “America’s most renowned coach.” He coached at Notre Dame for 13 years where his record was 105-12-5. He is not the inventor of the forward pass, but considered the first coach to use the pass regularly. When asked what he thought made a good coach, he replied, “A coach’s greatest asset is his sense of responsibility, the reliance placed on him by his players.”
Don Shula. Best known as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Don Shula lead the Dolphins to the only undefeated season in NFL history. Shula’s teams won two Super Bowls and five AFC Championships. He tried to simplify the game for his teams and he would tell them, “You take what’s right in front of you. You want to the best you can with the opportunities that you have.”
Pat Summitt. Barely older than her players when she started coaching at the University of Tennessee, Pat Summitt drove the van to games, washed the uniforms and received her Master’s Degree in her first few years. Summitt believed that practice was her classroom, and she loved to teach. She taught to the sum of eight National Championships, 16 SEC Championships and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Summitt now teaches the world how someone battles Alzheimer’s disease, she simply said, “I think I can help others just by my example.”
Jim Valvano. Some coaches inspire more than just their own players, Jim Valvano is that coach. A fan of Vince Lombardi, Valvano started coaching JV at Rutgers University and progressed through the ranks until reaching North Carolina State University. Coach Valvano won a National Championship at NC State in 1983. His passion for coaching, teaching and inspiring came pouring out for the world to witness during speech at the ESPY’s. A timeless speech from a man ravaged by cancer, and who fought to be there, to deliver his motto the world, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”
Jen Walter. This year, Jen Walter became the first female coach in NFL history. She worked with the linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals this summer and preseason. Walter is also the first woman to play men’s professional football for the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League. Walter may never reach the heights of the other coaches on this list, but what she has done has opened the door for other female coaches to come through.
John Wooden. Known as the “Wizard of Westwood,” Wooden achieved feats in college basketball that will never be surpassed. Wooden’s UCLA Bruins won seven straight NCAA titles and won 88 consecutive games at one point. John Wooden prided himself on being a teacher first and foremost, he preached on the details of sport and life. He famously said, “It’s the little things that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
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