Relationships between players and coaches can be cantankerous yet special. While these pairs rarely, if ever, agree on everything, many work through their differences and make a mark on the sports world. Here are a few of the best coach-athlete duos in sports history.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady
This “power couple,” according to the New York Daily News, has taken the New England Patriots to six Super Bowls and won four — and they’re not done yet. Tom Brady wants to keep playing “until I’ve had enough,” reports Forbes. At the age of 42, he has one more season with his current contract.
The Patriots have kept Bill Belichick’s contract pretty much under wraps during his tenure in New England. At 67 years old, he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. We expect him to stay as long as Brady does (at least). And we wouldn’t be surprised if they head to the Super Bowl again.
Glen Sather and Wayne Gretzky
In 1978, Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington asked manager Glen Sather whether he should acquire Wayne Gretzky. Sather responded, “Whatever you have to do, get him.” As the Oilers joined the NHL in 1979, the Sather-Gretzky pairing was on its way to becoming the greatest in the history of the league.
During the 1980s, the Oilers earned four Stanley Cups. Gretzky compiled a career of 894 goals with 1,963 assists in the 20 years he played. He still remains an all-time fan favorite today.
Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant
Shooting guard Kobe Bryant had been with the Los Angeles Lakers for three years when Phil Jackson became the team’s manager in 1999. The relationship began as a rocky one. “Jackson soon struggled to find a balance between melding Bryant’s superior scoring into his triangle offense to promote team play,” reports the Los Angeles Daily News.
In 2004, Jackson left the team temporarily. Coach Rudy Tomjanovich only lasted half a season as Lakers manager, and then Jackson was called back. At this point, Bryant and Jackson forged a better relationship. They won two more championships for LA before Jackson’s retirement in 2011. Bryant retired in 2016.
David Witt and Venus Williams
Before she broke it off with him toward the end of 2018, David Witt served as Venus Williams’ coach for 11 years. From 2013 through 2017, Williams had always made the top 20. In 2017, she was ranked fifth, having won two grand slam finals. The tennis star is a seven-time Grand Slam Champion, but in 2018 her career began to falter.
At the age of 38, she had a 17-11 win-loss record and only reached one semi-final. Williams ended the year ranked No. 38 in the world — not where she wanted to be. Witt was taken aback by Williams’ decision, but he moved on. As of July 2019, he became American tennis pro Jessica Pegula’s coach.
Joe Torre and Derek Jeter
The incomparable Derek Jeter played for Joe Torre and the New York Yankees for 12 seasons. The duo is largely credited with taking the team to four World Series wins in five seasons.
In his own right, Torre had an illustrious career as a player, being an All-Star, a gold-glover, and National League batting champion. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. At the age of 79, he works as Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations in the MLB Commissioner’s office.
Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan
Although Tim Duncan retired in 2016, he’s made headlines recently. The former power center led San Antonio to five NBA titles under the direction of Coach Gregg Popovich. Duncan spent his entire 19-season career with the Spurs, who retired his number in December 2016. Then, in July 2019, San Antonio’s Popovich named Duncan his assistant coach. The duo lives on.
Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw was the first pick of the 1970 NFL Draft, chosen by Pittsburgh. Together with 23-season Steeler Coach Chuck Noll, they led the team to four Super Bowl championships. Bradshaw was named Super Bowl MVP for two of those games, as well as the league’s MVP in 1978.
According to Noll’s bio on the NFL Hall of Fame website, “The Noll-led Steelers developed from a miserable 1-13 season in Noll’s first campaign to the highest level ever attained by a National Football League team to date.” Both Noll and Bradshaw were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Noll passed away in 2014 at the age of 82.