Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs became the 40th head coach to win the NBA Coach of the Year award since its inception in 1963, guiding the Spurs to the first spot in the Western Conference and a 50-16 record, his 14th 50 win season with the team in 16 years of coaching them.
He’s also the the 7th head coach to win the award multiple times, joining Bill Fitch, Gene Shue, Hubie Brown, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Pat Riley and Don Nelson. Amazingly, Phil Jackson, who many regard him as the greatest NBA head coach of all time, won this award only once. Red Auerbach (also the name of the trophy) won it once, in 1963. Jerry Sloan, despite all of his success with the Utah Jazz, never won the award.
Bill Fitch, 2 Wins
Fitch won his first COY in 1976, coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers to their postseason appearance and their first ever winning season. The season was known as ‘The Miracle of Richfield’ led by Austin Carr. The Cavs reached the conference finals before losing to the Boston Celtics in six games.
Fitch won his second award in 1980, his first year with the Boston Celtics, Larry Bird’s rookie season. The Celtics won 61 games that year but lost in the Conference Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers. Fitch won the NBA title a year later with the Celtics.
Gene Shue, 2 Awards
Shue never won any titles during 23 years of coaching in the NBA, which included stints with the Baltimore Bullets, Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, Washington Bullets and the Los Angeles Clippers again. He did reach the NBA finals with the Sixers in 1977, losing to Portland. He won his awards in 1969 and 1982, both while coaching the Bullets.
Cotton Fitzsimmons, 2 Awards
The late Fitzsimmons (passed away in 2004 at the age of 73) was mostly known for his time with the Phoenix Suns, coaching them on three different occasions, but he won his first coach of the year award during his six season tenure with the Kansas City Kings (1979). In 1989 he won his second award while coaching the Phoenix Suns. He reached two conference finals with the Suns in ’89 and ’90.
Hubie Brown, 2 Wins
Currently an analyst, Brown won the awards for NBA’s best head coach with 26 years between the two wins. He won for the first time in 1978, after coaching the Atlanta Hawks to the postseason after a four year drought. Twenty Six years later, 16 of them with Brown not even coaching. He returned to coach the Memphis Grizzlies and helped the franchise reach it’s first postseason game in 2004.
Gregg Popovich, 2 Wins
Popovich is a rarity on this list so far, winning the award twice with the same team. A four time NBA champions with San Antonio Spurs (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007), Popovich won his first award for the 2002-2003 season, which began the mid 2000’s Spurs dynasty, winning 60 games during the regular season.
It took nine more seasons for Pop to be recognized, guiding the Spurs to a 50-16 year in the shortened NBA season. Under his guidance, the Spurs have never won less than 61% of their games during the regular season, winning less than 50 only in the 1998-1999 shortened season.
Don Nelson, 3 Wins
Don Nelson is the all time winning-est coach in NBA history with 1335 wins. He is also the first NBA head coach to win CoY 3 times. He is a five time NBA champions as a player with the Boston Celtics, but never made it further than the conference finals with his teams as a head coach.
He won the award for the first time after the 1982-1983 season, during his time with the Milwaukee Bucks, which included three conference Finals appearances. Nelson won the award for a second time two years later. He also won it with the Golden State Warriors for the 1991-1992 season, guiding the Warriors to a 55 win season, a team the epitomized Nellie Ball with Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway and Sarunas Marciulionas.
Pat Riley, 3 Wins
The only head coach to win the award with three different franchises, Pat Riley also won the NBA title five times. His first award came after the 1989-1990 season, guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to a 63 win season, their first year without Kareem. In 1993 he won the award after leading the Knicks to a 60 win season and finally home advantage against the Bulls, which didn’t help. He won it again with the Miami Heat in 1997, turning the franchise around in a year, winning 61 games that season.