Reflections on “Greatness” or “Not Greatness” – Coach K, Andy Reid, and Don Nelson

This week has given opportunity for people to question the abilities and legacies of three great coaches. I call them great because they each exhibit a different form of greatness…or at least really, really goodness.

Andy ReidAndy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles' job is now rumored to be in jeopardy. If Philadelphia chooses to can him, he would be out of job for all of 10 minutes. Why? 6 Division titles, 4 NFC championship games, 1 conference championship, and a .617 winning percentage in what is probably the NFL's toughest division. He's done it under moderately stingy ownership as well. He is great because he is a consistent winner.

Don NelsonTonight, Don Nelson of the Golden State Warriors has the chance to become the winningest coach in NBA history. The Hall of Fame has passed him by…largely because he's never "won the big one." However, Nelson has taken over some of the worst franchises in the history of the NBA, and made them winners. He's a turnaround coach…and perhaps the best there's ever been at such. He is great because he wins consistently and time after time has made an absolutely awful team a winner.

Coach-kCoach K. of Duke. He now has a national championship in three different decades and four total. He graduates his players, and has guided Duke to 11 Final Fours, and has the winningest percentage in the history of the NCAA tournament. Nevertheless, people are calling him "overrated" this morning and questioning his ordering a player to miss his second free-throw in the last 4 seconds of the championship game. Butler got the rebound and was able to throw up a half-court jumper that nearly banked in…but didn't. I liked the call by Coach K. The odds were all on the house, and the chances of a game-tying bucket or Butler drawing a foul were better than a half-court 3-pointer under pressure. Nevertheless, many armchair coaches in America question the great Coach K. They say his championships are too far apart, and that his players don't go on to be very good NBA players (this is the part where I laugh). We really are ridiculous.

Here's where I'm going with this. Coach K has now won championships in three decades and set the NCAA tournament winning standard. Andy Reid has won six division titles and gone to four NFC championship games in what is arguably the NFL's toughest division. Don Nelson will have won more games than any other coach in NBA history…despite taking on the Herculean task of resurrecting teams like the Bucks, Knicks, Mavericks, Warriors, etc. from the NBA's septic tank.

Yet, people still say:

  • Only 4 Championships for Coach K.? Only 11 Final Fours? Well, it took him long enough.
  • Only 6 Division titles, 4 NFC Championship games, 1 Conference title and a .617 winning percentage? Never won the big one, though.
  • Don Nelson—only 1,333 victories, perennial playoff appearances and countless turnarounds of left-for-dead NBA franchises? But, never won the big one?

If these guys aren't great (though most sober people would put the "great" label on Coach K.), what in the world makes a great coach a great coach? Even if you don't want to put the "great" label on Reid or Nelson… are they really fireable? Who exactly will those teams hire that's better?

To me, a great coach is consistent in winning, able to bring and hold a team together, and the able to win the big one…whether or not they ever get to the big game. Trent Dilfer, Jeff Hostetler, and Doug Williams have a championship ring at quarterback…but I can't rank them above Dan Marino. Sorry. I can't say that Udonis Haslem is better than Karl Malone at power forward because he has a ring. Even great coaches will make bad calls, and great players will have bad games.

Here's why this matters:

If our grid for how we evaluate church leaders is messed up (like our grid for evaluating coaches apparently), we will make rash mistakes that will set churches back years or worse. Understanding we can't and shouldn't rate them by wins, losses and championships, how should we evaluate them? How do we recognize a "great" church leader? What traits do they have?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.