The Los Angeles Lakers have captured 11 NBA titles since 1980, five more than any other franchise in that time period. This sensational run of success can be credited in large part to the contributions of some of the game’s most talented superstars – Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis.
But while players win the games, coaches also play a major role in the success and direction of any franchise. Rarely, if ever, has an NBA franchise won a championship in spite of their head coach. But there are countless examples of creative and tactical masterminds helping teams overachieve.
Other times, head coaches receive the bulk of the blame, fairly or not, for the disappointing or underwhelming performances of teams with a talented roster. The Lakers have had all the above.
These power rankings set the record straight on the best head coaches of the Los Angeles Lakers since 1980.
Over the past four decades, the Purple & Gold have employed nineteen different head coaches. The duration and relative success of these coaching tenures have been anything but consistent. Bill Bertka (1994 and 1999) and Bernie Bickerstaff (2012) only coached three and five total games respectively (though they both compiled winning records).
Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, on the other hand, both served as the Lakers’ head coach for at least nine seasons. Four coaches helped raise championship banners in The Forum and Staples Center. But six of the aforementioned nineteen (including Laker legends Magic Johnson and Byron Scott) lost more games than they won.
Only two Lakers’ coaches since 1980 were named NBA Coach of the Year (though three others on this list won the award while at the helm of other franchises). Both men make the rankings but one of them notably failed to win a title.
Three coaches led the Lakers to the postseason but nevertheless didn’t make this list. Does current head coach, Frank Vogel make the cut? Who takes the number one spot – Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, or someone else?
Ranking the top seven Los Angeles Lakers head coaches since 1980 requires more than looking at win-loss records and the number of Larry O’Brien championship trophies. This list will also consider other factors like circumstance, reputation, and performance against expectations.
With plenty of questions to answer and inevitable debate to follow, here are the top 7 head coaches of the Los Angeles Lakers since 1980.