They say that those who can’t play should coach. Of course, it doesn’t always go in the other direction. Over the years, many great NBA players have tried to remain in the league by going into coaching when their playing days were over. However, the skill set of a great player doesn’t always translate to coaching. Let’s take a look at some legendary NBA players who were a complete flop in the coaching ranks.
Reed is a Hall of Fame center who spent 10 seasons with the Knicks and helped them win two NBA championships. Obviously, that was back when the Knicks won things. A few years after retiring, Reed succeeded Red Holzman, the coach who led him and New York to those two titles.
After getting the Knicks to the playoffs in his first season, Reed left the team 14 games into the following season and was replaced by Holzman. Many years later, he got another chance with the Nets, only to go 33-77 over two seasons in a disastrous tenure.
You’ve got to dig deep into the archives to uncover Unseld, who spent more than a decade with the Baltimore-Washington franchise we now know as the Wizards. He was league MVP in 1969 and NBA Finals MVP while leading Washington to the championship in 1978. Unseld later returned to the franchise as a coach.
He led the team to the playoffs in his first year, but it was all downhill from there. Unseld’s history as a player got him plenty of slack, but he eventually resigned after missing the playoffs in six straight seasons. Unseld finished his coaching career with a win percentage of .369 and later had a largely unsuccessful stint as Washington’s GM.
As a player, Baylor was an 11-time all-star and is now a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame. He also won NBA Executive of the Year in 2006.
But between his glory days as a player and his success as an executive, he had a forgettable coaching stint with the New Orleans Jazz. Over parts of four seasons as a coach, Baylor was 86-135 and never led New Orleans to the playoffs.
Cousy is probably the biggest surprise among great players who failed as coaches. He was such an amazing point guard, being named an all-star in all 13 of his NBA seasons and being a part of six championship teams with the Celtics.
One would think his point guard skills would translate to coaching, especially after a successful stint at Boston College. But his NBA coaching career lasted just four and a quarter seasons and finished with a .405 winning percentage and zero playoff appearances.
There is no better example of someone who was so great as a player but so bad as a coach. Thomas was one of the best of his generation, helping the Pistons to back-to-back titles and going to the All-Star Game 12 times. However, things didn’t come as easily to Thomas as a coach.
He and the Pacers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in three straight seasons. Thomas then thought he could rebuild the Knicks. But he only made things worse, going 56-109 over two seasons and tarnishing his legacy. Thomas was also 26-65 in three seasons at Florida International, so he wasn’t any better as a college coach either.