The Portland Trail Blazers has had 14 coaches in it’s 49 years in the league. Only five of them have lasted more than 3 years on the job. Eight of them led their respective team to the playoffs. Only four of them got the Blazers past the 1st round. Only three got the Blazers to the WCF. Only two got their team to the NBA Finals, and only one took the Blazers all the way to the championship. Who is the best? Who is the worst? Let’s take a look. Counting down from worst to best, here are your Portland Trail Blazers coaches.
14.) Kevin Pritchard
Kevin Pritchard became the Blazers 11th head coach after Maurice Cheeks was fired in early March of 2005. Pritchard who was the Blazers director of player personnel, was tapped as the interim head coach for the rest of the 2004-2005 season. He was head coach for all of 27 games for which the Blazers won five, to end the season 27-55. The Blazers would miss the playoffs for what would be the 2nd time in a 5 year span, the worst playoff slump dating back to when Portland missed the playoffs for 6 consecutive years from 1970-1976.
Pritchard might have won more had the Blazers not sat their best players to place higher in the following draft. Maybe. That said, he was an awkward choice for interim coach, and was not coach material. He was a better GM, helping Portland acquire LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy in the 2006 draft. He is currently GM of the Indiana Pacers
13.) Kaleb Canales
Like Pritchard, Kaleb Canales was an interim coach. He was originally a video intern, who was hired as the team’s video coordinator, then promoted to assistant coach. He became the Blazers 13th coach after Nate McMillan was fired in March 2012. He was both the youngest head coach and the first Mexican American Coach in the NBA. He was highly energetic and hardworking. The Players who had written off coach McMillan, took to Kaleb immediately.
Canales was inexperienced to say the least, but he loved the Blazers and he loved basketball. He would watch videos of the teams games for hours, studying them, looking for ways to make the team better. Canales coached the Blazers for 23 games, winning 8, finishing at a dismal 28-38 in a 66 game season, shortened by a lockout.While many wanted him to be resigned as the coach, the following season, the Blazers went with the more seasoned Terry Stotts. He is currently an assistant coach with the Knicks.
12.) Stu Inman
One of the architects of the Portland Trail Blazers franchise and its 1976-77 championship team. He stands no doubt as one of, if not Portland’s best front office executives, though he did infamously draft Sam Bowie or Michael Jordan. But as coach, well that’s a different story. He was Portland’s first interim coach, and second head coach, after the Blazers fired Rolland Todd towards the end of the 71-72 season. Inman coached for 26 games, winning 6, finishing 18-64, the Blazers worst season. In his defense the 71-72 Blazers were not a great team, and they were already 12-44 before he took over. Also, he was a front office guy filling a position until Portland could find a new coach.
11.) Rolland Todd
Portland’s first head coach and one of their least successful. He coached the Blazers for their first two years in the NBA. He brought the fast paced, fast breaking, adrenaline filled brand of basketball the Blazers have become known for. They won games against big name teams, but lost more than not. They finished the first season with 29 wins, not terrible for a brand new expansion team. He had Geoff Petrie and Sidney Wicks, often regarded as the Blazer’s first stars, who remain in the echelons of Portland’s top players, at his disposal. Still, Todd couldn’t put together a winning season and was fired towards the end of his second season as coach.
10.) Jack McCloskey
McCloskey took over for Stu Inman, becoming the Blazers third head coach. His tenure lasted two seasons, from 1972-1974. He went 48-116. He was a competitor, who demanded his players be competitive. He knew talent when he saw it. The problem was there wasn’t quite enough in Portland. He couldn’t turn the Blazers into winners or get the Blazers to their first playoff berth. He would become another example of a coach who would move on to perform far better in the front office. He won 2 championships (1989,1990) with Detroit as their General Manager.
The Blazers first and only player/coach, Lenny Wilkens became the Blazers 4th head coach after the firing of Jack McCloskey. A hall of fame inducted coach, he is one of top 10 coaches in NBA history. It’s too bad his best years as a coach came after the Blazers. In his one year as player coach and one year as full time head coach, the Blazers had 28 and 27 wins.
He fared far better with the Supersonics coaching them to a total 880 wins – 478 losses, including a 1979 championship. He coached the Supersonics for three years before he played/coached for the Blazers, including a 47-35 season in 1971-72, and 7 years after.
* Though he is in a league better than several ahead of him, as a hall of famer, championship winning coach, I list him here based on his coaching in Portland alone
8.) Mike Schuler
The Blazers 6th head coach, hired after Jack Ramsay decided to leave, kept the winning ways in Portland, but couldn’t get the team past the 1sT round of the playoffs in both his two full seasons as coach. Though his records, 49-33 and 53-29 were nothing to pick at. He was fired halfway through his third season with the Blazers sitting at 25-22.
He was not a players coach by any means. He expected no nonsense and coached with a serious straightforwardness. He was not there to be the players friend. He and Portland star player Clyde Drexler didn’t get along, and a surmounting tension and uneasiness between him and his players led to his firing. He was the ninth coach in NBA history to surpass 100 wins in his first 2 seasons as a head coach.
7.) Maurice Cheeks
Maurice Cheeks became the Blazers 10th head coach after Mike Dunleavy was fired for failing to get the Blazers past the WCF. The Blazers in the midst of their Jail Blazer period, Portland passed up big names and hired Maurice Cheeks, a former point guard to take the reigns. He was a players coach, he treated the players like friends instead of like a boss. He brought little discipline to a team badly needing it. He opted against authority, feeling that it wouldn’t work with these guys, they wouldn’t respect him that way.
Cheeks had talented players though, and coached the Blazers to the playoffs his first two seasons, bu the Blazers couldn’t overcome off court misconduct and volatile emotions. Cheeks inherited a mess and had to endure the beginning of the Blazers cleansing of it’s most infamous era. He proved to be a decent coach.
6.) PJ Carlesimo
Carlesimo was Portland’s 8th coach, taking over after Rick Adelman’s tenure came to an end. PJ was not a players coach. He was organized and strict. He was demanding and eruptive. He didn’t care for shenanigans or excuses. He feuded with point guard Rod Strickland. He let players know he was the boss. Off court he was friendly and benign.
PJ coached the Blazers to three consecutive winning seasons, and three consecutive 1st round exits. He came in during the end of one of Portland’s golden eras, seeing Drexler traded, and the remaining pieces leave behind him, only for a new era to begin, those pesky Jail Blazers. Carlesimo couldn’t tame guys like Rider, though maybe no coach could. He couldn’t get Portland passed the 1st round, so the Blazers fired him.
5.) Nate McMillan
The Blazers nabbed Mr. Sonic away from Seattle, hiring him as their twelfth head coach. They were hoping Nate would succeed where Maurice Cheeks had failed. He was the polar opposite,a coach of discipline. Where Cheeks preached offense, McMillan praised defense. Where Cheeks was all for being buddies with the players, McMillan was the authority. The Blazers wanted to establish a culture of hard work and well behaved players. They wanted to end the Jail Blazers era once and for all. Nate was their guy.
McMillan is tied as Portland’s second longest tenured coach with current Coach Terry Stotts. He was coach during the heydays of Roy and Aldridge. The Blazers missed the playoffs the first three years under him, but they were rebuilding. Then he coached the Blazers to three winning seasons (54,50, and 48 wins), but couldn’t get the Blazers past the 1st round. In his last season as coach the Blazers lost Brandon Roy to bad knees and finished 28-38. He was fired that March. He currently coaches the Indiana Pacers.
4.) Terry Stotts
Terry Stotts is the 14th and current head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. He has enjoyed the second longest tenure as a Portland head coach behind Jack Ramsay at seven years and going. The Blazers have made five consecutive playoffs under him, getting to the semi finals twice (against the Spurs in 2014 and the Warriors in 2016) but losing. One of Portland’s most winning coaches in the regular season, he is one of the worst in the post season, at 11-24.
Stotts, an offense minded coach, is leading Portland during their latest rebuild/retool and keeping them competitive.He is liked by his players, who have nothing but praise for him. He is said to be openly communicative with them and friendly, but also calls them out when they are not giving their best. He gets a lot of flack for his lack of success in the playoffs. But, he remains in the top 5 of Portland’s coaches all time.
3.) Mike Dunleavy
Dunleavy, Portland’s 9th coach, helped the Blazers to two western conference finals appearances against the Lakers and Spurs. He failed to get the Blazers to the promise land and lost his job because of it. In his defense he had to deal with a revolving door of players, with GM Bob Whisitt making numerous trades every year, not allowing for the team to coalesce. Dunleavy was a true strategist. He was a players coach, but he was also demanding and authoritative. He got into many yelling matches with his players, but was well respected. Ultimately, Dunleavy couldn’t tame players like Wallace and Wells. There was too much talent and ego and he couldn’t make it work.
2.) Rick Adelman
No Blazers coach came as close as Jack Ramsay to bringing Portland all the way then Rick Adelman. He led the Blazers to the NBA finals in 1990 and 1992 where they lost to the Pistons (put together by ex Portland coach Jack McCloskey) and the Bulls respectively. Adelman has the highest winning percentage of any other coach in Portland’s history. He has Portland’s most victories in the playoffs as a coach, with 36.
Adelman was a point guard for Portland in it’s first three seasons in the league. He averaged 10 points and 4 rebounds a game. He went on the coach four other teams, most notably the Sacramento Kings.
1.) Jack Ramsay
Undisputedly, Ramsay is Portland’s best coach thus far. He helmed the Blazers for a decade before deciding to hang it up. He led Portland to nine playoff appearances, including, 5 first round exits, three semi finals appearances, and of course he coached Portland to it’s first and so far only championship in 1977. He did so in his first year as Portland’s coach and with an unconventional team. He is Portland’s most winningest coach with 453 wins under his belt during his tenure with Portland compared to 292 by Terry Stotts who sits behind him in second in that category. Jack Ramsay is a hall of fame coach, and one the top 10 coaches in NBA history. He is the stuff of legends, and he will always reminded enshrined in the rafters of the Blazer’s arena, with a banner bearing his name.