When many sports figures retire from playing, they find that they want to use their skills to coach or manage a team. Their level of experience is highly valued, and their insights into the game can be beneficial to a team.
When a pro athlete becomes a coach, they are ready to share their hard-won wisdom with the team. They can help to coordinate a coaching staff to meet common goals. They may also bring their fans along with them, bringing their team a higher public image.
Sporting greats like Doc Rivers, Mike Scioscia, and Larry Bird have become excellent examples of coaches who came up through their sports. Paul Spicer, a former defensive end for the 2010 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints and current coach, describes how these coaches are making a difference in their sports and the valuable experience that they bring to their teams.
Glenn Anton “Doc” Rivers started his professional basketball career with the Atlanta Hawks in 1983. After having been drafted into the NBA as a point guard, Rivers completed his college degree at Marquette University while playing full-time.
He began his career in Atlanta, averaging ten assists and 12.8 points per game in the 1986-87 season. He was later a starter for the Los Angeles Clippers, followed by the New York Knicks. He finished his playing career with the San Antonio Spurs in 1996.
After a few years off, Rivers became interested in coaching. He coached the Orlando Magic from 1999 to 2003, winning the Coach of the Year Award in 2000. His expertise was able to turn around a team that was not expected to accomplish much that year and bring them almost to playoff contention.
In between coaching gigs, Rivers worked as a commentator on ABC and called the 2004 Finals. He found that commentating was not enough for him, and he decided to go back to coaching full time.
Doc Rivers had a long career with the Boston Celtics, starting in 2004 and ending in 2013. Rivers received some criticism for his coaching style, but his defense-focused work began to pay off when the Celtics won the 2008 NBA Championship against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics made a record of 26 games played in the postseason, beating Rivers’ former team’s record with the 1994 New York Knicks.
The Celtics were in the NBA finals again in 2010, where they lost to the Lakers in seven games. In 2011, Rivers received a five-year contract extension with the Celtics.
In 2013, Rivers was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers were a successful team at the time, but they needed someone with a vast level of experience to coach their team and become the senior VP of basketball operations.
Rivers is still coaching the Clippers today, and he had the unique experience of coaching his son, Austin Rivers, from 2015 through 2018 when he was traded to the Wizards.
Former MLB catcher and manager Mike Scioscia had a long and storied career with the Los Angeles Angels. Coaching the Angels from 2000 through 2018, he turned the team’s fortunes around from a minor player in their division to one of the powerhouses of the American League West.
Scioscia began his playing career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1980. He was drafted out of high school. He is the only person in MLB history to have spent his entire playing career with one team and his entire managing career with another team, spending ten or more years with each team.
Scioscia was known as an excellent catcher with unique plate-blocking capabilities. He was well-known for an incident in 1985 where he was knocked unconscious by a runner coming across the home plate but never dropped the ball.
His coaching career began in 1999 with the Angels. He was able to bring the Angels to their first playoff game in 16 years in 2002. His team won the AL Wild Card, and they later went on to prevail in the team’s first World Series against the San Francisco Giants.
The Angels built on their 2002 successes to become a powerhouse in the AL West. They won five AL West titles in six years. His unique experience and depth of baseball knowledge drove the team to success.
Known as one of the all-time greats of basketball, Larry Bird is best known for the Boston Celtics’ dominant seasons in the mid-to-late 1980s when the team won three NBA Championships. The intense rivalry between the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers drove a great deal of fan interest in the NBA.
As a player, Bird set himself apart through his high point averages, passing, and assists. His playing style was hard-charging and left him open to many injuries. If he had not pushed his body to its limits, he might have had a long playing career.
He was also known for his long-standing rivalry with Magic Johnson, which became an enduring friendship off the court. The two players starred in a well-known Converse commercial together.
Larry Bird became an NBA coach in 1997 and claimed he would only work in the job for three years. Despite his lack of experience as a coach, the Pacers would go on to beat their previous records in the 1997-98 season. His career with the Pacers elevated the team’s fortunes, but they did not win the NBA championships despite earning a berth in the 2000 games.
In 2003, Bird moved to a front-office job for the Pacers, and he has continued to advance through the ranks ever since.
Players as Coaches
These three legendary coaches have made their mark in the sporting world both on and off the court. Paul Spicer holds them up as examples of how coaches should manage their teams and how deep playing experience can boost a team’s success.