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Men Who Have Coached the Same NBA Team Multiple Times

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Mike Brown
Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mike_Brown_NBA_cropped.jpg
Phil Jackson
Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Phil_Jackson_3_cropped.jpg
Pat Riley
Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pat_Riley.jpg

Did Mike Brown have a feeling of déjà vu on May 12 when he learned he was no longer the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers? It was the second time in four years the Cavaliers had fired him.

Brown compiled a 272-138 record the first time he coached the Cavaliers and led the team to its only Finals appearance in 2007, but he was fired in 2010 after five years on the sidelines. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert re-hired Brown in April 2013, expressing regret for the coach's previous dismissal. However, it wasn't exactly a triumphant return. The Cavaliers went 33-49 and finished 10th in the Eastern Conference in the 2013-14 season. Cleveland's underwhelming performance cost Brown his job a second time. 

His encore may not achieved the desired results he hoped for, but when Brown returned to the Cavaliers he joined a select club of coaches who coached the same NBA team multiple times. Let's take a look at some of that group's most notable members.

Red Holzman, New York Knicks

Holzman was scouting for the Knicks when team president Ned Irish hired him to replace coach Dick McGuire in December 1967. The Knicks made the playoffs in each of Holzman's first eight seasons and advanced to the Finals three times, winning championships in 1970 and 1973. Holzman was fired in 1977 after the Knicks missed the playoffs for the second straight year, but he wouldn't be gone for long. His second stint was far less successful, as he managed only one winning season in four years before retiring from coaching in 1982.

Lenny Wilkens, Seattle SuperSonics

Wilkens accepted the role of player-coach in 1969 and endured two losing seasons before leading the Sonics to a 47-35 record in 1971-72. It was the first time in team history the Sonics had finished better than .500. His first coaching stint ended when the Sonics traded him to Cleveland in 1972. In May 1977, Wilkens rejoined the Sonics as director of player personnel. When the Sonics began the 1977-78 season 5-17, Wilkens replaced head coach Bob Hopkins and guided the team to the 1978 Finals and the 1979 world championship. Wilkens led the Sonics to six playoff appearances in eight seasons, but after Seattle went 31-51 in 1984-85 he stepped down as head coach and returned to the front office.

Cotton Fitzsimmons, Phoenix Suns

Fitzsimmons began his NBA coaching career in Phoenix in 1970 and compiled a 97-67 record in two seasons with the Suns. He returned to Phoenix in 1987 as the team's first director of player personnel and was once again named head coach in May 1988. The Suns went 55-27 in 1988-89, a 27-win improvement from the previous season, and Fitzsimmons was named Coach of the Year. It was the first of four straight 50-plus win seasons the Suns experienced before Fitzsimmons headed to the front office and broadcast booth in 1992. With the Suns 14-19 in January 1996, Fitzsimmons replaced Paul Westphal. The Suns finished the season 41-41. Fitzsimmons quit coaching after losing the first eight games of the 1996-97 season. 

Dick Motta, Dallas Mavericks

Motta was head coach when the Mavericks entered the NBA in 1980 and Dallas improved steadily under his leadership, going from 15 wins in their first season to 55 wins in 1986-87. Regular season success couldn't prevent the Mavericks from being upset by the Sonics in the first round of the 1987 playoffs. The loss, combined with Motta's interest in coaching the Knicks or the Los Angeles Clippers, made the coach unpopular with the hometown fans, and he resigned in May 1987. Motta returned to coach the Mavericks in 1994 and compiled a 62-102 record in two seasons before being replaced by Jim Cleamons in May 1996.

Don Nelson, Golden State Warriors

Nelson became head coach in 1988 and led the Warriors to four playoff appearances in six seasons. He won Coach of the Year in 1992, the same year he coached the Western Conference All-Stars. His overall regular season record was 277-260 when he resigned in February 1995. Nelson returned as head coach in August 2006 and in his first season led the Warriors to their first playoff appearance in 13 years. Golden State's defeat of the Mavericks in the first round was the first time in NBA history an eighth seed beat a first seed in a seven-game series. The Warriors went 48-34 in 2007-08, marking the first time since Nelson's first stint as head coach the team had recorded consecutive winning seasons. But the Warriors failed to win more than 29 games in either of the next two seasons, and Keith Smart replaced Nelson in September 2010.

Dan Issel, Denver Nuggets

When Issel became head coach in 1992, he took over a team that had won only 20 and 24 games in the previous two seasons. The Nuggets improved to 36-46 in 1992-93 and went 42-40 the following year. Denver became the first eighth seed to beat a first seed when they upset the Sonics in the first round of the 1994 playoffs and then pushed the Utah Jazz to seven games in the second round before being eliminated. Saying the demands of the job "have started to make me something I don't want to be," Issel resigned in January 1995. He returned to the Nuggets in 1998 as general manager and became coach and president the following year. Issel compiled an 84-106 record before resigning in late December 2001, two weeks after he was fined and suspended for yelling an ethnic slur at a fan.

Pat Riley, Miami Heat

Riley joined the Heat as team president and head coach in September 1995 and led Miami to six consecutive playoff appearances, including an Eastern Conference Finals berth in 1997. After the Heat missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, Riley resigned as coach in October 2003 to focus more on his duties on president. Assistant head coach Stan Van Gundy replaced him. When Van Gundy stepped down in December 2005, Riley returned to the bench and led the Heat to the 2006 championship. The Heat would never repeat that success, being swept by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 2007 playoffs and finishing a disastrous 15-67 in 2007-08. Riley stepped down once again in summer 2008 and was replaced by Erik Spoelstra.

Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers

Jackson had won six championships coaching the Bulls and didn't miss a beat when he arrived in Los Angeles in June 1999, leading the Lakers to three championships in his first three seasons. A loss to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the 2003 playoffs brought the streak to an end, and the Detroit Pistons defeated the Lakers in the 2004 Finals. Three days after losing to Detroit, owner Jerry Buss fired Jackson. But the following season was a fiasco for the Lakers, and Buss re-hired Jackson in June 2005. After two mediocre seasons, Jackson led the Lakers to three consecutive Finals appearances and championships in 2009 and 2010. Jackson resigned after the Mavericks swept the Lakers in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. 

 

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