Let’s start by saying that in the modern sports world, there are very few true dynasties. Gone are the days of the 1960’s Celtics winning 11 titles in 13 years, or the Montreal Canadians winning 12 in 20 years. Those happened in different generations, in astronomically different circumstances. The largest factor among them is the fact that the NHL had 6 teams, and the NBA had 8. We may be in the midst of the only exception to the rule in the Golden State Warriors looking absolutely unstoppable for the past 4 years, and the considerable future after that.
But a trend I tend to see around the conversation about modern-day dynasties or any wildly successful program or coach is that the coach is the driving force behind these dynasties. I simply do not believe that is the case. I believe it stands to be argued that behind every great coach, there Is a superstar player that pushes that success. In an effort to show my point, I’d like to point to different dynasties and prove there has never been a true dynasty with simply a great couch, there is always a star player that makes that team.
The first question may be what defines a dynasty in sports? The broad and vague definition of a dynasty is an extended span of championship calibre success. Teams like the current Golden State Warriors, the current New England Patriots, and the 2000’s Yankees all had multiple years of championship calibre success and dominated their respective leagues. The issue with this definition is that there are questions as to where the threshold of a dynasty, and a really good team, exists. Are the current Pittsburg Penguins a dynasty with 3 Stanley Cups in 8 years? The LA Kings with back-to-back cups? The Boston Red Sox with what may be 3 Championships in 14 years? Are the Detroit Red Wings of the 1990’s-2000’s with 24 consecutive playoff appearances a dynasty, or the Atlanta Braves with a similar run of 14 consecutive playoff appearances? I’d argue no, but the evidence is there if someone wanted to make that claim, and honestly, I could be swayed.
Dynasties are historically great teams, they represent all-time great runs of teams and truly hold space in the upper echelon of the all-time sports history pantheon. There are so few consensus dynasties for a reason, they are special and notable from a mile out.
With that being said…
I bet you cannot think of a pro sports coaching ‘dynasty’ or a historically great coaching run that wasn’t entirely supplemented by a generational talent of a player. There are great coaches, and they can change the course of a franchise and elevate teams from being good to great. BUT, sustained success is player driven in pro sports.
Coach Popovich is obviously an amazing coach, but where has his success been since losing Tim Duncan? Or when Kawaii got hurt. The Spurs are still really good, but not dynasty level. Phil Jackson, the Zen master of the Jordan and Kobe/Shaq era’s, was always supplemented by the greatest players in history. The modern-day Warriors have arguably the best starting 5 in history, and while Steve Kerr is a great coach, I don’t think he goes to 4 championships and wins 3 without this kind of team. The list goes on, the Heat in the Lebron era with Eric Spoelstra, the 1960’s Celtics lead by Bill Russell.
This is not exclusively a basketball phenomenon either. It extends to all other major sports, even the most undeniable of dynasties the New England Patriots and their (sleeveless leader), Bill Belichick, is supplemented by the Greatest QB of all time. Sure, Bill makes the success of the team sustainable and consistent, but plenty of coaches can do that. Andy Reid has had sustained success, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh are all examples of great coaches, who keep their teams consistently good, have great talent, but don’t take the extra steps to reach Patriot level dynasties.
Baseball has statistically proven the essential irrelevance of a manager to winning ball games. The greatest teams of all time, and even most World Series champions don’t have a managerial common theme and more of a front office consistency that wins champions. The NHL’s parity has rarely allowed prolonged success in the salary cap era; the Penguins dominated with Crosby, Malkin and goaltending, the Kings ran the table on the backs of Jonathan Quick, and the Blackhawks had a menacing young core of forwards and a strong D core.
Coaches can be responsible for sustained success but elite level accomplishment rests on the backs of players. Which is an accomplishment in itself. Being good for a long time can be as impressive. The Red Wings made 25 consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs, the Spurs made 21 NBA playoffs, the Atlanta Braves 14 seasons of making the postseason are all immensely impressive. All backed and motivated by universally recognized and lauded bench bosses; Scotty Bowman, Mike Babcock, Greg Popovich and Bobby Cox are all-time greats, but the all-time great players on those teams made them champions and built the dynasties we compare the greats too.