Try and give a coach credit for a win, and he’ll tell you he had nothing to do with it. “Players win games, not coaches,” is a familiar refrain from the leaders on the sidelines, but any true sports fan knows that coaches can play a major role in directing the success of their teams.
How does this guy match up against that guy? Can I get my biggest bats in the lineup? Go for the two point conversion or punt? These are just a few of the decisions coaches make on a regular basis as they work to steer their team to victory.As NFP Sports prepares to celebrate coaches on National Coaches Day in 2014, let’s take a look at some of the greatest coaching decisions in sports history:
Mayo Smith plays Mickey Stanley at shortstop
Facing a formidable St. Louis Cardinals team in the 1968 World Series, Detroit Tigers manager Mayo Smith was looking for a way to sneak a little extra offense into his lineup. He had four good outfielders in Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, Al Kaline and Mickey Stanley, but a weak-hitting shortstop named Ray Oyler that hit only .135. Playing an outfielder at first base happens all the time. Second base? Maybe. But shortstop? No way!
Smith decided it was worth the gamble, putting Stanley at shortstop for all seven games. The result: Stanley played errorless ball; Northrup delivered the big hit in Game 7 and the Tigers upset the Cardinals in the World Series.
Dean Smith calls on a freshman
Legendary North Carolina Men’s Basketball Coach Dean Smith was in search of his first National Championship when his Tar Heels took on the Georgetown Hoyas in the 1982 NCAA title game. Trailing 62-61 with time running out, Smith needed to design one last play to give his team the championship. The popular choice would be to give the ball to All-Americans James Worthy or Sam Perkins, but Smith instead diagrammed a play for a freshman, who nailed the winning basket from the corner with 16 seconds left. That freshman: Michael Jordan.
Dick Vermeil goes with Warner
The St. Louis Rams were coming off another dismal season in 1998, but their fortunes looked like they were about to change. A few strong drafts combined with a dramatic plunge into free agency had given the Rams an abundance of talent led by newly-inked quarterback Trent Green. But Green went down with a season-ending knee injury in the third week of the pre-season, leaving Coach Dick Vermeil with a choice to make: pursue another free agent QB or go with an unproven rookie named Kurt Warner. Vermiel chose to go with Warner, who led the Rams to their first Super Bowl Championship while winning the league and Super Bowl MVP.
Tommy Lasorda chooses Gibson in a pinch
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had a daunting task in front of him: beat the powerful Oakland A’s in the 1988 World Series without MVP-slubber Kirk Gibson. Gibson’s legs were shot. Sprained right knee ligaments and a pulled left hamstring left him in such bad shape he couldn’t even walk out to the baseline for team introductions for Game One at Dodgers Stadium.
With the Dodgers trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning that same night, Lasorda calls on Gibson to pinch hit with two out and a runner on first base. Gibson told Lasorda he felt like he could give him, “one good swing,” and he was right. Facing Oakland’s shutdown closer Dennis Eckersley, Gibson turned on a hanging slider, crushing the ball into the right field bleachers for a walk-off, two-run homer. The Dodgers would go on to win the series, four games to one.
Paul Westhead’s Magical Move
The good: Paul Westhead’s Los Angeles Lakers hold a three games to two lead over the Philadelphia 76ers heading into Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The bad: MVP Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had sprained his ankle in Game 5, putting him on the sidelines. Rather than go with backup Jim Chones, Westhead starts rookie point guard Magic Johnson at center. The move pays off as Magic collects 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Lakers to the title.