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The 10 NBA Coaches Most Likely To Face Off With Another Coach

The life cycle of Tom Coughlin and Greg Schiano‘s midfield  feud Sunday over what is proper NFL end-game etiquette is just about over now. We’ve heard the defenses and the accusations and hashed out what exactly count as unwritten rules in football. The rarity of coaches tossing jabs at each other — I can think of just Jim Harbaugh vs. Jim Schwartz and Pete Carroll blasting Mike Bellotti — is still too good to let go entirely, though. Mostly, the idea naturally made its ways over to basketball. With coaches just a midcourt table away it’s surprising more dust-ups haven’t been public. Choosing who would be the most likely to pull a Schiano vs. Coughlin isn’t an exact science, because while you can discount a bloc of coaches whose sideline demeanors represent varying states of being awake — looking at you, Terry Stotts, Rick Adelman and Larry Drew — there are very few Bobby Knights at the spectrum’s other end, either. A milquetoast coach is a beat writer’s dream come true, but it won’t do here. It’s not a knock on the coaches’ competitiveness, but how they express it.

Let’s make a clear distinction : Coaches yelling or cussing out each other isn’t new, even if it’s still pretty rare. The best examples are Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams and Phil Jackson and Mike D’Antoni (see below video for laughs).

Rare as those may be, I wanted to focus on who is most likely to get in someone’s face on basketball principle. Kevin Young and Eric Musselman‘s beef in a 2011 D-League game is the closest thing we have on video to a Coughlin-Schiano dust-up, and it might be the only coach-on-coach feud the NBA sees for years.

Who are the NBA’s fieriest coaches? I tried to hazard a guess — don’t yell at me too hard if I got them wrong, coach.

10. KEVIN McHALE
He didn’t much care what you thought about him as a player…

… or as a commentator…

…so why would that change on the sideline? The legendary Boston big man was part of the Celtics’ dynasty that thrived on getting under an opponent’s skin before, during and after games. He gets a little lost in the Pistons’ Bad Boy era as a leader in advancing the field of physical play, but his brand of open disdain for opponents hasn’t changed as a coach.


9. DOUG COLLINS
Collins’ work in the broadcast booth has turned him into one of the most well-spoken coaches in basketball, able to convey his message easily to a broadcast audience. To officials, he’s a bit more blunt. His above outburst, plus the 40-year grudge he’s held as part of the 1972 silver-medal winning U.S. team, are good signs that competitiveness hasn’t receded the older years for Collins (who, don’t forget, has been punched on the court once before, by Darryl Dawkins‘ friendly fire). One thing to counter his listing here is that, as a prospective nominee for the U.S. national team job, he’s apt to stay out of anymore scuffles. Still, I heavily doubt Collins would back down.


8. TOM THIBODEAU
For being hoarse in every sideline interview he’s ever given, Thibodeau doesn’t appear to be the type of coach who’d like to talk it out. So while Thibodeau doesn’t come off in reports as anything less than a genial guy, that changes once the suit is on. He’s likely the coach most ready to tell an opponent off for calling one of his players dirty on defense, a part of the game he loves more than anything else.



7. RICK CARLISLE
Carlisle doesn’t make friends easily. The world-title winning coach has been described as aloof by Mitch Albom, human kindling by Ric Bucher (stiff and dry) and his prickly reputation is no secret. And that’s when he’s off the court. My take: Instead of being aloof, he’s actually incredibly self-aware; however, it’s just that he doesn’t care what the opinions around him are, and he’ll let you know. (Dallas fans’ rants against Carlisle’s treatment of local radio hosts is a very popular search subject.) So Carlisle might not actually have the personality to get in someone’s face or be the most effusive coach in the league. Instead, much more likely is the scenario where someone goes after him first.

6. AVERY JOHNSON
If it happens with Johnson, I doubt it’s because of a Napoleon Complex. He’s been around the world’s majority of 7-footers for almost a lifetime, so he’s over that by now. No, if it happens it’s because he’s gone from being the next-big-thing instead now to a coach of truly awful teams faster than Musselman chased after Young. He’s handled the low part of his teams’ success in New Jersey with aplomb but lurking underneath is the same ultra-competitive attitude that got a 5-10 guard through 15 NBA seasons.


5. MIKE BROWN
Brown is in a similar yet different situation as Indiana’s Frank Vogel. Like Vogel he’s seen as still needing to prove himself. Unlike Vogel, who took over a fairly despondent Pacers team and has built a winner, Brown has been given LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to work with and failing to win an NBA title (even taking into account the James’ horrid supporting cast in Cleveland and L.A.’s roster issues last season) has deepened that distrust. So I’ll pull a baseball analogy to pull up why Brown is one of the league’s most fiery coaches, and thus likely to face off: He’s the manager who sees an ejection as a way to earn trust and energy from his players for backing them up. Though in L.A., his critics would likely just pass it off as bad acting.


4. GEORGE KARL
Karl’s bouts with cancer in 2005 and 2010 have produced an incredible recovery story. That he would be alive was, according to reports at the time of his second diagnosis, probable but not guaranteed. That he is back in the thick coaching stress on top of that is remarkable. He seems to have changed a bit, though, becoming a more self-aware and “what happens, happens” personality rather than the admittedly less-centered coach he was during his Cleveland and Golden State days, when he flamed out after two seasons each. Even though encounters with mortality are likely to make you realize what life’s priorities are (basketball feuds don’t hold up well in that regard), I still see it in a basketball lifer like Karl to stand up on basketball principle for a perceived slight. Maybe his post-cancer perspective has him pick fewer of these (gone are silly feuds like his with Doc Rivers over paying his coaching dues) spats but he would still get in someone’s face.

3. GREGG POPOVICH
Pop only asks you play the game the right way, but even the “right” way has many interpretations. Step outside the boundary or flout an unwritten coaching rule and Pop’s legendary cave-dark sense of humor could dry up and lead to a confrontation. Plus, his Air Force training (for reference, he studied Russian intelligence) could kick in like muscle memory, too, so watch out for that. Quietly one of the fieriest coaches in all of sports.



2. FRANK VOGEL
Despite being a Coach of the Year candidate last season, Vogel’s candidacy jumps out for two reasons. One: Routinely hears his team described as fake tough guys. Two: Some NBA people were reported saying his hiring was like that of a JV coach (ouch). Commonalities: Wants to prove himself as a real and tough. His saltiness as a result of both already came out once last season, when he tried to bait Erik Spoelstra — who shows fewer emotions than a statue — by saying the Heat were known floppers. To complete the transition, he’ll have to curse out a coach publicly on the sideline, then possibly go face-to-face. Winning has done that after last season, and yet I believe Vogel still hears whispered doubts like they were picked up my a microphone. I’d rank him as the most likely to fight Popovich in the classic “new guy with young ideas vs. old man sticking to convention” weight class.

1. SCOTT SKILES
The NBA’s 30-assist point guard-turned-coach most famously once got in a fight with Shaquille O’Neal, (after O’Neal, what’s taking on Tom Thibodeau?) but his story as a literal fighter goes back much longer than that. There’s really no other choice for No. 1.

First, there’s this story from the Magic’s own website.

Scott Skiles lived to tell – and laugh – about his infamous scrap with Shaq.

It happened at a practice in 1992 when the team was struggling and tensions were running high. Skiles was growing weary of practice interruptions resulting from friction between teammates Shaquille O’Neal and Larry Krystkowiak.

Ever the outspoken leader, Skiles approached the players with his solution: “why don’t you guys stop talking and just start fighting.”

Instead, the 7-foot-1, 300-pound Shaq turned his attention toward the 6-foot-and-change point guard and threw what Skiles describes as a “haymaker” his way. Never one to back down, Skiles wrapped his arms around Shaq and they tumbled into the bleachers.

Skiles had a sore neck for a few weeks but – all in all – said the altercation “ended up being a good thing.” “We weren’t playing very well at the time,” Skiles said. “We ended up playing pretty well afterward, so sometimes a team needs those kinds of things.”

Second, and this is the clincher, is this 1986 column from the Toledo Blade that, in bizarrely arguing about how newfangled elbow pads are bad for the game, makes the point that Skiles is on edge.

What basketball player wears an armpad around his elbow? Pro wrestlers maybe. Basketball players wear a lot of kneepads. But an armpad? Is this guy here to play basketball or to fight?

Ah, that is the point. He is here for whatever it takes.

Which coaches do you think are most likely to throwdown?

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