With Derek Fisher being shown the door as New York Knicks head coach and fellow Laker Kurt Rambis taking over as interim coach, all the buzz is about who Phil Jackson will bring in to right the ship (Tom Thibodeau anyone?). In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the head coaches who’ve led the Knickerbockers and wound up leaving the organization in a less-than-graceful manner.
Larry Brown (2005-06)
Local boy by way of Long Beach who’s become an NBA and college basketball coaching legend comes back to coach hometown squad and winds up being a dream come true? Not quite, as Brown’s tenure lasted a season that was marred by his being set up to fail by then-general manager Isiah Thomas resulting in a 23-59 record. And that doesn’t even include the public feuding Brown did in the media with Coney Island’s own star point guard Stephon Marbury, who wound up getting labeled by local beat writers as “…the most reviled athlete in New York.”
You would think that one of the Top 10 coaches in NBA history would be able to make a long and lasting impact for the New York Knicks, right? You’d be wrong as even a Hall of Famer like Wilkens could not withstand the combined forces of Thomas and Marbury. After being hired in January 2004, he and the Knicks rode out the rest of the season to a 23-19 record, which was good enough to get the team into the post-season as a seventh seed. Following an opening round sweep by the New Jersey Nets, Wilkens returned to start the following season 17-22, before resigning and never coaching again.
Another one of the Top 10 coaches in NBA history who helmed the New York Knicks, Nelson won five championships as a player for the Boston Celtics and was a three-time coach of the year. Having succeeded Pat Riley, Nelson’s New York stint lasted from July 1995 to March 1996, during which time his wheeling-and-dealing proclivities found him proposing to team management that they trade franchise cornerstone Patrick Ewing and make a run at upcoming free agent Shaquille O’Neal. Coupled with an up-tempo style of offense that contrasted with Riley’s hard-nosed defensive approach, Nelson compiled a 34-25 record and wound up getting fired, only to have Jeff Van Gundy wind up getting promoted to interim coach.
Brown’s five-year stint heading up the Atlanta Hawks landed him a Coach of the Year Award and a job leading the Knicks. While he compiled an overall record of 138-190, Brown made the playoffs his first two seasons before a March 1985 knee injury to stud forward Bernard King (which belabored him for two seasons), and a 32-game stint on the disabled list for top draft pick Patrick Ewing, found Brown being shown the door in 1986 after starting out 4-12.
Willis Reed (1977-1978)
While it’s all well and good that Willis Reed was on the only two Knicks teams to win championships, his success as a player did not translate to his leading the team as its head coach. In succeeding Hall of Fame Coach Red Holzman, Reed wound up with an overall record of 49-47. He left the team 14 games into the 1978 season and wound up being succeeded by Holzman.