The 5: Coaches who left their team after winning a championship
Just like players, there comes a time for all coaches to make the decision to step away from their respective team.
It’s most common for this occur after a team has been in some sort of slump, and the coach feels it is best for them to start off with a clean slate. But while it’s rare for a coach to walk away from a team after winning a championship, it’s happened before.
We take a look at five professional coaches who, despite winning a championship, decided it was time to walk away.
Barry Trotz – Washington Capitals (2018)
Just days after leading the Washington Capitals to their first-ever Stanley Cup championship, Barry Trotz announced his resignation as head coach.
According to ESPN, Trotz and the Capitals’ front office had openly discussed a contract extension shortly after Washington hoisted the cup, but it is believed they could not come to terms on an extension. In a statement Monday, Trotz said the decision to resign came after “careful consideration” with his family.
Trotz was at the helm of the Capitals for four seasons, leading them to an overall record of 205-89-34.
The 55-year-old got his first head coaching gig with the newly established Nashville Predators in 1997. He and the Predators debuted during the 1998 season.
His tenure in Nashville lasted 15 seasons, the longest for any NHL coach with a single team.
Phil Jackson – Chicago Bulls (1998)
Phil Jackson announced his resignation shortly after leading the Chicago Bulls to a 4-2 series win over the Utah Jazz for their third consecutive championship.
Jackson’s 10-year tenure in Chicago, in which he won six championships, concluded after he had reportedly feuded with team owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause.
Following Jackson’s resignation, a lockout occurred between the NBA and its players, ultimately resulting in the 1998-99 season being shortened to 50 games. Just days before the season began, Bulls star Michael Jordan announced his retirement for the second time.
Jackson took the year off from coaching before joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999. There, he continued his winning ways by capturing three consecutive championships from 2000-02 before he again decided to walk away from the game.
After another year away, Jackson returned to coach the Lakers in 2005 and won two more championships (2009, 2010) before he retired from coaching for good in 2011. Jackson reentered the league as the president of the New York Knicks in 2014, retaining the position until 2017 before he and the team agreed to mutually part ways.
Mike Keenan – New York Rangers (1994)
A month after Mike Keenan led the New York Rangers to a Game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final, he left the team.
According to the New York Times, Keenan and then-general manager Neil Smith’s relationship had fizzled to the point where the two did not speak during the finals. Keenan had claimed his departure was due to the Rangers breaching his contract, while the team said he was “splitting contractual hairs.”
Following his departure, Keenan became the coach and general manager of the St. Louis Blues, where he stayed until 2006. He then coached the Canucks from 1997-98, the Boston Bruins from 2000-01 and then the Florida Panthers in 2001 before eventually becoming the team’s general manager.
He resigned from Florida’s organization in 2006, only to become the head coach of the Calgary Flames in June 2007. Keegan was fired by the Flames in 2009.
With an overall record of 707-542-147, Keegan is fifth all-time for wins in the NHL.
Tony La Russa – St. Louis Cardinals (2011)
Third on the list for most wins all-time by a manager in the MLB, Tony La Russa ended his managerial career three days after winning the 2011 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
A former infielder, La Russa first joined the ranks as a manager in 1979 with the Chicago White Sox, guiding them to a 522-510 regular season record before he was fired midway through the 1986 season. Just three weeks later, he was hired by the Oakland Athletics.
He guided the A’s to three consecutive World Series appearances from 1988-90, winning in four games over the San Francisco Giants in 1989. Following the death of Walter A. Haas Jr., the Haas family decided to sell the A’s, leading LA Russa to leave the Oakland franchise in 1996 for St. Louis. It was there that La Russa spent the last 16 years of his managerial career, guiding the Cardinals to two World Series Championships.
Following his retirement in 2011, La Russa took a position as a special assistant to Joe Torre and Bud Selig in the commissioner’s office. Then, in 2014, he became the chief baseball officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks. La Russa oversaw the signing of current D-backs pitchers Zack Greinke and the trade for Shelby Miller after the 2014 season.
But after a 93-loss season that saw both Greinke and Miller struggle, La Russa was demoted to become an assistant under current general manager Mike Hazen.
La Russa and the D-backs mutually parted ways following the 2017 season.
Dick Vermeil – St. Louis Rams (2000)
Dick Vermeil caught St. Louis Rams fans off guard after he resigned less than two days after leading them to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV over the Tennessee Titans.
His reasoning for the decision was simple: “I don’t want to be the head coach next year and say, ‘I should have retired when I was on top.'”
This was Vermeil’s second time retiring from the NFL, with his first coming after the 1982 season in which he coached the Philadelphia Eagles.
And in similar fashion, Vermeil again returned to the sideline after announcing his retirement, though this time he didn’t wait 15 years to do so.
In 2001, he became the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, a position he would retain up until the end of the 2005 season when he retied for a third time. This time, however, it was for good.
Vermeil went 120-109 over the course of his 15-year career, coaching in six postseason games, including his only Super Bowl win.
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