It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports. I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me. But, a blogger’s job is never done! Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam. Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.
We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right? Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Stand-Up Comedians? Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, and Dave Chappelle, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different names.
Today, I’m going to delve into the head coaches and managers of the various local sports teams.
In spite of the fact that Seattle is far from Titletown, U.S.A., this was actually a pretty difficult exercise. Ironically, because there were TOO MANY good coaches to choose from! I’ll tell you right now, this one is bound to be my most controversial Mount Rushmore of the week, but IDGAF. Come at me, broseph!
For starters, right or wrong, I’ve put OVERWHELMING emphasis on those head coaches who led their respective teams to championships. I mean, it’s obscene, which is why I’m going to start this post with my Honorable Mentions, and I’m going to lead off those Honorable Mentions with probably the most glaring omission (but hear me out): Lou Piniella.
Look, I love Sweet Lou as much as the next guy, and if I were simply ranking managers of the Seattle Mariners, he’s obviously at the top of the list. And, while much of this isn’t his fault, I would argue he’s not entirely blameless for the fact that the Mariners only made it to the playoffs 4 times in his 10-year career. And in those 4 years, they failed to get past the American League Championship Series (often never really making it much of a challenge). Those teams were absolutely LOADED with talent! Are you kidding me? Not even a single World Series appearance in the bunch? I know, the organizational management of those teams was severely lacking; they bungled a bunch of trades, mishandled two of our greatest players (Griffey and Randy) to the point that both wanted out of the organization, and refused to pony up the cash to keep the best player on the planet – Alex Rodriguez – when he became a free agent. That having been said, I’ve never really had much respect for baseball managers; what do they do besides write a lineup and make bullpen decisions? Manage player egos? Ooo! Big whup! Head coaches in other sports do that too, and they do a lot of other stuff that has more of an impact. Naw, I’m not buying baseball and I’m not buying Lou Piniella. If Mount Rushmore had 5 people on it, I probably STILL wouldn’t have him on it!
Because that leads me to my next omission: Mike Holmgren.
At least he took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl! I would argue both he and Piniella have to be credited with changing the culture of losing for their respective Seattle-based teams, but they JUST didn’t quite get it done when it mattered most. There were some extenuating circumstances with Super Bowl XL and the officiating that I won’t get into here, but alas, Holmgren just misses the cut.
Some other Honorable Mentions include, in no particular order: Chuck Knox (very underrated as the leader of the Seahawks in the 80s); Nate McMillan (doing a lot with a little in a mis-managed Sonics organization, particularly in the Howard Schultz years); Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw, Hec Edmundson, Tippy Dye, Marv Harshman, and some of those other old-timer Husky football and basketball coaches (who are obviously WAY before my time); Jim Lambright (who somehow held the Huskies together after sanctions and an acrimonious split with Don James); and Lorenzo Romar (whose ignominious end to his tenure should do nothing to tarnish what was a tremendous achievement for Husky basketball).
So, without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Seattle-based head coaches.
At the top of the list was the easiest pick of them all: Don James.
The Dawgfather. Head coach of the University of Washington football team, from 1975-1992. He’s the closest thing we had to a Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, or Joe Paterno (without all the child rape). He led the Huskies to a National Championship in 1991 and was poised to continue to do so for years to come if not for the Lack of Institutional Control scandal that ultimately led to him resigning in protest for the unfair sanctions on the team. Also, not for nothing, but the Huskies were robbed of a second National Championship in 1984 (to a bum BYU team who played a cupcake of a schedule), but that’s another post for another time.
Don James was the G.O.A.T. We can only hope and pray Chris Petersen someday ascends to that level.
Next on my list, I’ve gone with Pete Carroll.
Like I said, championships are a premium to me when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches, and Big Balls Pete has one, with another Super Bowl appearance to boot. He’s 17 wins away from being the winningest Seahawks coach of all time, which should go down in 2 years, tops. After a couple of 7-9 rebuilding seasons, he’s won no less than 11 games every year (including playoffs). Overall, he has 4 division titles in 7 years, 6 playoff appearances in 7 years, at least 1 playoff victory every time they’ve made the post-season, and with John Schneider (who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of local GMs) built one of the best rosters in the history of the NFL, in the 2013 Seahawks. He could retire right now and I don’t think there will be another local head coach that will bump him off my Mount Rushmore in my lifetime.
Third on my list: Lenny Wilkens.
Oh yeah, here it comes. I told you, titles baby! Lenny took over as a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969 before being fired in 1972. When he returned to the Sonics as just a head coach in 1977, he took a good team and led it to greatness. Those Sonics teams went to back-to-back NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets in 1978 and 1979, winning it all the second time around. The Sonics ultimately went another direction starting in the 1985/1986 season, but he still sits at #2 all time in franchise history winning percentage (keeping in mind, of course, that the Sonics died in 2008, and whatever record the head coaches of that team in OKC may have amassed has no bearing on the Seattle Supersonics).
Finally, the fourth name on my Mount Rushmore: George Karl.
You may take umbrage with Lenny Wilkens’ inclusion on my list, and that’s fine, I understand. You may take umbrage with the fact that I have George Karl over the likes of Piniella and Holmgren, and again, that’s your right. But, you know what? George Karl won a shitload of games in Seattle! He has the best winning percentage of a head coach by a million miles over the other professional teams’ coaches at .719. He took the Sonics to the playoffs every year of his tenure, won 4 division titles in 7 seasons, had the Sonics in the 1-seed twice (best regular season record in the entire league once); led the franchise to two Western Conference Finals, and led the franchise to the NBA Finals once (against the best team of all time, the 95/96 Chicago Bulls). AND, not for nothing, but took the Bulls to 6 games when they probably had no business getting past Game 4.
I could go on and on. Maybe only the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had more talent than the George Karl Sonics, but for all his greatness, there was a lot of failing. George Karl led the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in NBA history. His Sonics teams squandered two Michael Jordan-less years when they were ripe for back-to-back championships (the Houston Rockets, instead, took advantage of that glitch in the matrix). And, ultimately, George Karl was destined to be run out of here by poor personnel management by Wally Walker (featuring the obscene signing of Jim McIlvaine and the trading of Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker).
Nevertheless, those Sonics teams were beautiful and exciting and ultimately tragic. They ignited a love affair with sports within me that burns like a thousand suns to this very day. At a time when the Seahawks were mediocre, and before the Mariners were relevant, we had the Supersonics and nothing else mattered. There may have been better teams out there in the 90s, but no team was as thrilling to watch on a nightly basis. When they were on, they were unbeatable! When they were off, they were combustable; that’s just the way it goes sometimes. But, George Karl had his hands all over that team, and was the main reason why we were able to take the next step to elite status. Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of all is that George Karl doesn’t have an NBA title to his credit; he might be the best head coach in NBA history not to have one.
Okay, there you have it. Agree? Disagree? Feel free to let me hear about it.