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NBA History: How do rookie coaches fare in their first season?

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Last season nearly a third of the league was directed by rookie coaches. How did they do? How will this years' crop fare?

"This big guy here? I only win too. Championships. Got it?"
"This big guy here? I only win too. Championships. Got it?"
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz will be one of four teams with a rookie head coach this upcoming season. Quin Snyder will be joining a rookie class of David Blatt (Cleveland Cavaliers), Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), and Derek Fisher (New York Knicks). These four will be following 9 coaches going into their sophomore seasons. Together with Jacque Vaughn (going into his third season), the rooks and sophs will comprise 14 of the 30 coaches in the league. Everyone takes their own path to be a head coach, some are longtime assistants, former college head coaches, international stars, or former NBA players. But one thing is certain -- it's hard to keep a head coaching job once you get one.

So how have the current 30 team head coaches fared over their careers? And how did they do in their first years? I have that answer for you.

Coach Tm Seas G W L % W L %
1 Gregg Popovich SAS 18 1,410 967 443 68.6% 17 47 26.6%
2 Flip Saunders MIN 16 1,164 638 526 54.8% 20 42 32.3%
3 Doc Rivers LAC 15 1,142 644 498 56.4% 41 41 50.0%
4 Rick Carlisle DAL 12 968 569 399 58.8% 50 32 61.0%
5 Byron Scott LAL 13 937 416 521 44.4% 26 56 31.7%
6 Stan Van Gundy DET 8 579 371 208 64.1% 42 40 51.2%
7 Randy Whittman WAS 8 520 191 329 36.7% 32 50 39.0%
8 Erik Spoelstra MIA 6 476 314 162 66.0% 43 39 52.4%
9 Scott Brooks OKC 6 463 293 170 63.3% 73 39 65.2%
10 Terry Stotts POR 6 447 202 245 45.2% 24 31 43.6%
11 Lionel Hollins BKN 7 415 214 201 51.6% 18 42 30.0%
12 Dwane Casey TOR 5 352 158 194 44.9% 33 49 40.2%
13 Kevin McHale HOU 5 324 172 152 53.1% 19 12 61.3%
14 Tom Thibodeau CHI 4 312 205 107 65.7% 62 20 75.6%
15 Monty Williams NOP 4 312 128 184 41.0% 46 36 56.1%
16 Frank Vogel IND 4 267 167 100 62.5% 20 18 52.6%
17 Jacque Vaughn ORL 2 164 43 121 26.2% 20 62 24.4%
18 Steve Clifford CHA 1 82 43 39 52.4% 43 39 52.4%
19 Jason Kidd MIL 1 82 44 38 53.7% 44 38 53.7%
20 Brian Shaw DEN 1 82 36 46 43.9% 36 46 43.9%
21 Brett Brown PHI 1 82 19 63 23.2% 19 63 23.2%
22 Mike Malone SAC 1 82 28 54 34.1% 28 54 34.1%
23 Mike Budenholzer ATL 1 82 38 44 46.3% 38 44 46.3%
24 Jeff Hornacek PHX 1 82 48 34 58.5% 48 34 58.5%
25 Brad Stevens BOS 1 82 25 57 30.5% 25 57 30.5%
26 Dave Joerger MEM 1 82 50 32 61.0% 50 32 61.0%
27 David Blatt CLE 0 0
28 Steve Kerr GSW 0 0
29 Derek Fisher NYK 0 0
30 Quin Snyder UTA 0 0

N.B. Last column group is Coach's rookie season W/L and %

So, the average win% of the currently hired NBA head coach is .548 -- which translates to 44.94 wins a season. (Uh, 45 Amar? This is a sports blog, not some peer review dungeons and dragons journal.) And in their rookie seasons they win only .463 -- which gives us 37.98 wins. (Seriously? Don't you learn? Just put 38 wins and end it! END IT!)

Of course, if you just isolate for last season you see some huge differences. The teams that were trying to win actually did win (Phoenix, Memphis, etc), while the teams trying to suck did just that. Talent and team direction really make or break a rookie coach's first season more than their own talent or ability. After all, the two most tenured coaches right now won 17 and 20 games in their first (partial) years with the club they currently still coach.

This is going to present a challenge for Quin Snyder. Snyder has always won, or at least, been part of a positive upward trend. He's going to be able to do that trend work in Utah as it's hard to get worse than a 25 win team. As for the winning? That will have to come later. So let's temper some expectations -- it would only be unfair to expect a Jeff Hornacek -ian near 50 win season right out of the gate.