by Rodimus Dunn
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and these 5 coaches and players are the luckiest guys in sports history. There is a lot of truth to the old axiom that one makes their own luck, but being in the right place at the right time makes things a hell of a lot easier.
Bob Brenly- The baseball broadcaster who says all those stupid things actually won a World Series in 2001, his first season as a manager. This victory had little to do with ability, more so on beginner’s luck. Brenly was lucky enough to field a team that had Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Luis Gonzalez (in peek steroid form) on the roster. In that World Series the two dominating pitchers combined to go 4-0 with 45 strikeouts in 39 innings. In game 7 Schilling pitched into the 7th inning on 3 days rest, and Johnson even pitched in relief. Brenly may have pulled the all the strings, but when there only 2 to pull, and they’re both gold plated, there’s not much skill involved. Call it right place, right time, or call it luck, either way, Brenly was on the receiving end of the good fortune.
John Gruden- By conventional wisdom Chucky is a great, Super Bowl winning coach. However, for all intents and purposes, he’s really one of the luckiest coaches in football history (career record of 95-81, playoff record of 5-4). Gruden won Super Bowl 37 after the 2002 season leading the Buccaneers to a thrashing of the Raiders. Tony Dungy built this tremendous Tampa Bay team, but was fired before the 2002 season, and replaced with Gruden. The Bucs had Dungy’s defensive stars (Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, and John Lynch), Monte Kiffin’s defensive scheme, and a crappy offense. Tampa’s defense was obviously ranked 1st in the NFL, but the offensive genius could manage a 25th ranked offense. Gruden didn’t win this championship; it was just an inevitability considering how many great players they had.
George Seifert- To provide full disclosure, the 49ers are my favorite football team, and I bleed scarlet and gold. Anyone who says that Seifert is one of the greatest coaches of all time needs to have a brain MRI. His regular season and postseason coaching records are amazing, and he won a Super Bowl in his 1st year as a head coach. That’s why he makes the list of the luckiest people ever. He won SB 24 with Bill Walsh’s scheme, a bevy of Hall of Famers (Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott), and a supporting cast of great players including Roger Craig, Bill Romanowski, John Taylor, Brent Jones, and Charles Haley. Also keep in mind that this collection of players was the current defending Super Bowl champions. I’m pretty sure even the usually overmatched Eric Spolestra could have led this team to a championship. Seifert may have been a good coach, but he’s probably the luckiest coach in NFL history.
Phil Jackson- The Zen Master is obviously one of the greatest coaches in sports history, but he also had a great deal of luck on his side. Winning 11 rings is hard no matter who is on the roster, but when that roster has arguably the GOAT on it, things are much easier. Maybe Jordan wouldn’t have won 6 titles without Jackson, but he would have certainly gotten a few just based on his greatness. Jackson was lucky (and smart enough) to take a Lakers job that had future Hall of Famers Shaq and Kobe entering their primes. Yes he coached them up and instilled the triangle, but he wouldn’t have made this list if he had coached up the Clippers or Milwaukee Bucks.
Rudy Tomjanovich- He continues a trend of coaches that slid in nicely to a championship caliber team. Don Chaney didn’t leave Rudy T with a throng of All Stars, but he did leave him with the great Hakeem Olajuwon, still one of the most underrated players in history. The Rockets won the title in Rudy’s second year as coach, and the only thing he did differently than the previous regime was encourage his role players to shoot threes when Olajuwon was double teamed. Although I believe the Rockets could have beaten Phil Jackson’s Bulls, Michael Jordan retired prior to this season, so Tomjanovich never had to spend time devising schemes to hopefully slow down MJ and his crew.
Barry Switzer- The guy who was dumb enough to attempt to bring a gun onto an airplane was both a successful and extremely lucky coach. Switzer won 2 championships as a college head coach (although NCAA titles are more about recruiting in my opinion), and lost only 29 games in 16 seasons! At any rate, he started coaching a Dallas Cowboys team in 1994 that was beyond loaded. In his first year he lost in the conference final to a buzz saw in the 49ers despite outgaining them 451-294. The following year the talent was too great not to win it all. They had four HOFers (Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders), sack specialist Charles Haley, and four of their five starting offensive lineman voted as Pro Bowlers. Jimmie Johnson built this team, and would have still been the coach if not for a rift between him and owner Jerry Jones. Switzer was in the right place at the right time to get a ring.
Joe Girardi- Just like many on this list, he won a title in his 2nd season as (2009) coach with a roster that was essentially infallible. They spent over 200 million to field a dream team consisting of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett, ARod, Jeter, Rivera, Cano, Pettitte, and Posada. A five year old could lead this team to 100 wins and a World Series title, and that’s exactly what Girardi did. He came at the perfect (luckiest) time to get such a stacked lineup of players. The Yankees missed the playoffs the previous year, and George Steinbrenner ceded control of the team to his sons. There was no way they weren’t going to spend whatever was necessary to win a ring. Girardi lucked out big time, although he was smart to not accept the Orioles job he was offered before the Yankee job opened in 2008.
Scottie Pippen- He says Lebron is the greatest player ever, I say Pippen is one of the luckiest players ever. Pip deserves to be in the hall of fame, and he was a top 50 player ever, but he wouldn’t have any jewelry without Jordan. 1-2 rings don’t make one lucky in basketball, but 5-6 like Fisher and Pippen certainly does. People often say Jordan never won a ring without Pippen, but I’d imagine he would have eventually won hardware sans Pip if this replacement happened before MJ got too old. Pippen was great, but his greatest asset was being lucky enough to be traded to the Bulls from the Supersonics for Olden Polynice.
Manny Pacquiao- Pac Man is phenomenal, and rightly deserves to be the current pound-for-pound #1 boxer in the world. What he doesn’t deserve is the honor some people are throwing around of him being one of the best boxers ever. He has a record of 53-3-2, sells out arenas in Las Vegas, and generates hundreds of millions in television revenue. However, Pacquiao’s greatest asset is his timing. His rise has come when there are no great fighters to contest him. He fought De la Hoya and Mosley when they were both ready for retirement (actually De la Hoya retired after their bout), Ricky Hatton has always been highly overrated, and Margarito is far too slow and plodding to contend with Pacquiao’s speed. He plans to fight a legitimate fighter in Juan Manuel Marquez for the third time (their two previous matches produced very hotly contested decisions) later this year, but Marquez is now 37 years old, so it should be another easy victory. His only evenly matched foe is Mayweather, and we all know the story there. Pac Man is lucky to have been a great fighter as boxing began to die.
Derrick Fisher- He’s a point guard who doesn’t score much, has averaged only 3.1 assists/game for his career, but has a ring for every finger on his crappy shooting hand (career 40.1% shooter). At one point Fisher was known as a good defender, hence the Lakers actually drafting him in the 1st round 14 years ago. Those years are long and far away. Fish was lucky enough to play most of his career with Kobe, and Shaq, with the great Phil Jackson as head coach. The last few years he’s been lucky to still have Kobe and Phil, but the Lakers fleeced Memphis for Pau Gasol, so Fisher’s ineffectiveness was still shadowed. He has made some very clutch shots in his career, but it’s a whole lot easier to make plays when you’re the 5th option, and opposing teams’ defensive scheme allows for open shots all game long.
Trent Dilfer- The perfect example of a guy being in the right place at the right time. Dilfer won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens after the 2000 season, but don’t mistake that to mean he was a good quarterback. He only got the job because incumbent Tony Banks was so terrible the team had to make a change (Banks only produced 8 touchdowns in 8 games, but turned the ball over a ghastly 12 times). Dilfer clearly wasn’t good, but he didn’t need to be since Baltimore had the best defense in the world. He finished the season with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, but none of that mattered when Ray Lewis and friends are on the other side of the ball. Dilfer wasn’t good in the Super Bowl (12-25 with 153 yards and 1 TD), but he didn’t need to be as the Giants mustered only 152 yards of total offense, and had all of their possessions end on either a punt or a turnover. A blind quarterback could have won a title with this team, so Dilfer was a slight upgrade over Stevie Wonder. The Ravens thanked him by letting him go after the season.
Jim McMahon- Everything that was said about Dilfer can be duplicated for McMahon, just replace 2000 Baltimore Ravens with 1985 Chicago Bears. The “punky QB” was fortunate enough to play on one of history’s best defenses, and to play with possible the game’s greatest running back. All he had to do was not mess up too badly, and he would win a ring. McMahon wasn’t great (15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions on the season), but it was good enough for the team to go 15-1, and easily win the Super Bowl. Not surprisingly, the 1985 season was the only time McMahon threw more than 12 touchdowns in a season. He wasn’t good at all, but he was extremely lucky.
Roger Federer- I’m sorry to disappoint anyone, but Fed is not the greatest of all time. He has the most majors, but he came during a time when men’s tennis is several levels less than terrible. Further examination into his grand slam victories shows he had subpar competition for most of them. He defeated Agassi when the latter was already 35, he’s defeated the most overvalued player of this generation Andy Roddick 4 times, and the very good, albeit highly overrated Andy Murray twice. He has beaten his only equal comparator Rafael Nadal twice, but not since 2007! Federer also defeated Djockovich in a final, but that was back in 2007. A person can only play who they are scheduled, but Fed has been scheduled against guys no one would have even heard of if they were maybe just 10 years older. Fed is marvelous, and a joy to watch, but having no Sampras, Agassi, Conners, McEnroe, Bjorg, Lendl, Becker, Edberg, or even Courier to compete against makes him very lucky. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t lucky enough to escape the career path of Nadal, who leads their head-to-head matchup up 17-8.