Who’s The Best Coach Ever?

From Scott Morrison’s book “Hockey Night In Canada’s Best of the Best”, these are the choices for all-time best coach. I just go directly to Toe Blake, but who is your pick? And what the heck is Don Cherry doing on this list? And Pat Quinn?

  1. Roger Neilson – If there’s a word to describe Neilson, it has to be innovator. Every step of the way he did things differently, whether it was using video, headset communication with coaches, or finding loopholes in the rules. He changed the face of coaching.
  2. Billy Reay – He played in the NHL for 10 seasons and then took his spot behind the bench with the Leafs. He was better known for his 14 years with the Chicago Blackhawks where he took the team to the Cup finals three times
  3. Jack Adams – He’s the only person to have his name on the Stanley Cup as a player, coach and general manager.  His career as a coach began with back-to-back Cup wins in 1936 and ’37.
  4. Pat Quinn – His last year with the Oilers was unlike the rest of his career.  He’s always been a winner. His teams made it to the playoffs 15 times and twice he was in the Cup finals.
  5. Fred Shero – Was hired by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1971. In five of the seven seasons he was with the Flyers, the team finished with more that 100 points and in four of those seasons had a win percentage over .700.
  6. Pat Burns – Won the Jack Adams award three times. He got the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup final, Toronto twice to the conference championship and he won the big prize with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.
  7. Dick Irvin – Started as a coach with the Blackhawks in 1928, but in the following season was with the Maple Leafs and led them to a Stanley Cup win. He took them to the final six more times and then moved on to Montreal where he led the Canadiens to three Stanley Cup victories.
  8. Al Arbour – Went directly from player to coach. He started with the St. Louis Blues and then went to the New York Islanders where he won four consecutive Stanley Cups. He finished with 781 career wins in 1,606 games.
  9. Scotty Bowman – The winningest coach in NHL history – most games won, most Stanley Cups won. Over his 30 years of coaching, Bowman never had a losing record when he coached a full season. He finished with 1,244 regular-season wins and 223 more in the playoffs.
  10. Mike Babcock – This career is still in progress. It started in 2002 with the Anaheim Ducks where he took the team to the finals in 2003. He then jumped to the Red Wings where he has never missed the playoffs. He’s won one Stanley Cup and a gold medal with Team Canada at the Vancouver Olympics.
  11. Hector “Toe” Blake – Was a good hockey player as well as a great coach. He played on the legendary Punch Line with Rocket Richard and Elmer Lach. Then as a coach he won the Stanley Cup eight times in 13 seasons, including five in a row.
  12. Glen Sather – A journeyman hockey player who made his mark as a coach and general manager. He was behind the bench when the Edmonton powerhouse was at its best, winning five Stanley Cup championships. 
  13. George “Punch” Imlach – He joined the Leafs as an assistant general manager. One month into his job Billy Reay was fired as coach and Imlach took over. In 1962, the Leafs won the first of three consecutive Cups and was behind the bench in 1967, the last title in franchise history.
  14. Tommy Ivan – While with the Detroit Red Wings from 1947 to 1954, he won three Stanley Cups and earned the reputation for taking talent and making it better. While in Detroit he led his Wings to first place seven years in a row.
  15. Don Cherry – Best known as a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada.  He was also a colourful coach for the Boston Bruins who made it to the Stanley Cup finals twice, both times against the Montreal Canadiens. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1976.   

14 thoughts on “Who’s The Best Coach Ever?”

  1. Half of that list isn’t even worthy of carrying Blake’s unwashed jockstrap. But considering it’s “Hockey Night In Canada’s Best of the Best”, Cherry will undoubtedly make it to number two.

  2. Chuck, it’s true. Half the list at least. And if Cherry rates high I’m going to storm the CBC building.

  3. This is like when classic rock radio stations have a countdown for the greatest rock song ever and it always ends up being Stairway to Heaven.

    In this case Toe Blake is the Stairway to Heaven of coaches.

    There are other good and great ones. But Toe Blake is in a class by himself.

  4. I would put Bowman first and then Blake. But trying to rank the best across generations is always a toss-up.

    I’m not sure where to put Neilson. He had the greatest impact on the evolution of coaching, but unfortunately he never had any real success. He also had the shame of returning as coach after being fired because idiot Ballard couldn’t find an interim coach in time.

    Quinn at #4 is a laugh.

  5. For me, Christopher, Neilson was innovative and smart and a little off-centre, but not a great coach. He never had that “great coach” persona. And yes, Blake or Bowman. The scale tips to Blake for me because Bowman said he learned from him. But Cherry and Quinn and many others? Not in the same league at all. And what about Sather? He had those Edmonton years, but a great coach? Not sure about that.

  6. I agree Neilson didn’t have the “great coach” persona, but I think he was one. His teams usually did better than expected, unfortunately he never coached a team that was expected to win.

    Quinn had the “great coach” persona, but I don’t think he was. Putting him #4 is a travesty. Cherry probably doesn’t deserve to be on the list, but he’s down at the bottom so I don’t mind so much. I don’t mind Sather at all, it’s his decisions as GM that are a joke.

    Hap Day and his 5 cups is the only coach that I can think of that is clearly missing from the list.

  7. As much as Toe Blake will be the favorite to be picked on this website, but in my opinion its a no brainer to me that the title should be held by Scotty Bowman. His numbers speak for itself, most wins + most cups + no losing seasons = greatest of them all. Toe Blake is a close second.

  8. Thanks Jordy. Certainly can’t go wrong choosing Bowman. I just wish he would’ve worn a fedora. And Toe is Toe. He’s part of my inner psyche.

  9. Christopher, I think the order is just random for now. I don’t think the final selection for best coach ever has been made yet.

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