From Great to Blah: Star Athletes Who Failed as Bosses

As Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan proved, moving to the sidelines can be disastrous.

Former 10-time NBA All-Star Jason Kidd was hired as the coach of the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. Kidd, who played for the New York Knicks last year, was a star point guard for the Nets when the franchise was based in New Jersey. He will join a long line of great athletes who have gone on to careers as coaches and executives, though quite a few of them have proved far less successful in management than on the playing field. These are some of the examples that Kidd will be eager not to emulate.


Isiah Thomas

Isiah Thomas was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.  However, the Hall of Famer and two-time NBA champion was likely one of the worst general managers in NBA history. As general manager of the New York Knicks from 2003 to 2008, the former Detroit Pistons point guard ran the franchise into the ground, signing mediocre players to huge contracts and leaving the cellar-dwelling team with the highest payroll in the NBA. Thomas also spent a short stint ruining the minor league Continental Basketball Association (CBA), which ended when CBA declared bankruptcy.


Wayne Gretzky

As a hockey player, Wayne Gretzky was “the great one.” Number 99 is the leading points scorer in NHL history, his number has been retired by every team in the league and, upon his retirement, he was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame without going through the customary waiting period. However, in his coaching career, “the great one” could be better called “the mediocre one.” Gretzky spent four years coaching the Phoenix Coyotes. During his tenure with the Coyotes, which he partly owned, the team never made the playoffs and only had a winning record once.


Earvin "Magic" Johnson

As the anchor of “Showtime” Lakers in the 1980s, three-time NBA MVP Magic Johnson established himself as an all-time great. But, after being diagnosed with HIV in 1991, Johnson retired for two years before making a comeback as the Lakers coach toward the end of the 1993–94 season. As a coach, Johnson wasn’t successful, leading the team to a dismal 5-11 record. However, Johnson was more successful on the NBA sidelines than he was during his two-month stint as the host of a late-night talk show on Fox.


Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is perhaps the greatest basketball player in NBA history. He was a dominant scorer, a ferocious defender, and an unmatched competitor. However, in his career in NBA management—first as director of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards and then as the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats—Air Jordan has been decidedly earthbound. With the Wizards, he used the first pick in the 2001 NBA draft to select high-schooler Kwame Brown, one of the great busts in NBA history, and under his ownership, the Bobcats hold the worst single-season record in the league’s history, finishing 7-59 in the 2011–12 season.


Bart Starr

NFL Hall of Famer Bart Starr may have been the winning quarterback in the first two Super Bowls, where he led the Green Bay Packers to victory, but his performance was far less impressive as a coach. In his nine years as the Packers coach from 1975 to 1983, he only made the playoffs once (in the strike-shortened 1982 season) and finished with an unimpressive coaching record of 52-76-3.


Ted Williams

Teddy Ballgame may have been the greatest pure hitter in baseball history. But the cantankerous slugger who was the last player to hit .400 for a season wasn’t exactly a good people person, which made it difficult for him as manager of the Washington Senators. Although the Senators posted a winning record of 86-76 in his first season at the helm in 1969, the team did worse every year Williams was there, culminating in a 54-100 record during his last season in charge in 1972 (after the franchise had moved to Texas and become the Texas Rangers). He never managed again and was quoted as saying: “All managers are losers, they are the most expendable pieces of furniture on the face of the Earth.”


Mike Ditka

Mike Ditka was a Hall of Fame NFL tight end for the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys and then, as a head coach of the Chicago Bears, guided the team to a win in Super Bowl XX. Although he was eventually fired as the Bears coach in 1992, he had a hugely successful stint with the team and was set for a lucrative career as a broadcaster and Montgomery Ward spokesman. Then he signed on to coach the New Orleans Saints in 1997. Ditka not only led the Saints to an abysmal 15-33 record during his three years with the team but made one of the worst trades in NFL history, trading the team’s entire 1999 draft along with its first- and third-round draft picks in 2000 for Heisman Trophy–winning running back Ricky Williams. Although Williams turned out to be a very good player, the remaining 52 players on the Saints left something to be desired.


Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor was one of the NBA’s all-time greats during his 13 years with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Hall of Famer was an 11-time All-Star and established himself as perhaps the greatest player in NBA history never to win a title. However, the disappointment of losing in eight NBA finals pales compared with his agonizing career as an executive with the Los Angeles Clippers. Working under Donald Sterling, notoriously one of the worst owners in pro sports, Baylor spent 22 years in the front office of a team of the NBA’s perennial also-ran. He was eventually fired and unsuccessfully sued the team for age discrimination.


Rogers Hornsby

Rogers Hornsby was perhaps the greatest second baseman in baseball history and was the player-manager for the World Series–winning St Louis Cardinals in 1926—however, the team’s success had little to do with his managing. Hornsby, who at .358 has the second-highest batting average in baseball history behind only Ty Cobb, was a notoriously quarrelsome human being who didn’t get along with anyone, let alone his players. The Baseball Hall of Famer’s favorite hobby was sitting in hotel lobbies, usually with a copy of the Daily Racing Form. His abrasive personality wore so thin that after the St. Louis Browns owner, Bill Veeck, fired Hornsby as the team’s manager in 1952, the team’s players presented Veeck with a trophy in thanks.


Mel Ott

One of the great sluggers in baseball history, Mel Ott hit 511 home runs during his 21-year career with the New York Giants. But Ott also spent seven years managing the Giants, six of which as a player manager. During that time, the Giants never won a pennant and were often disappointing, finishing last in the National League. Ott’s managerial tenure did lead to the famous statement from Dodgers manager, Leo Durocher, who was famously a mediocre player but a great manager, that “nice guys finish last.”