The Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr is now the winningest rookie head coach in NBA history.
Kerr earned the distinction after Golden State beat the Dallas Mavericks, 123-110, on the road on April 4, per NBA.com. The Warriors promptly upped their record to 63-13 (.829) and solidified their hold on the No. 1 seed in the West.
With the historic win, Kerr surpassed former Phoenix Suns head coach Paul Westphal and current Chicago Bulls mentor Tom Thibodeau. According to NBA.com, Westphal was the first rookie head coach to win 62 games when he pulled it off in the 1992-93 NBA season.
On the other hand, Thibodeau went 62-20 (.756) during the 2010-11 campaign, the same year Derrick Rose won the MVP plum, per NBA.com.
Nobody saw this coming.
We knew Kerr inherited a talented lineup from former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, but for a first-year coach such as Kerr to win 63 games? This achievement is clearly not just a reflection of the Warriors’ talent level, it’s also indicative of Kerr’s ability as a basketball strategist.
Focusing on Kerr’s latest accolade proves there are diamonds in the rough in the broadcasting business.
Even if Kerr had zero coaching experience prior to taking the Warriors’ job, basketball aficionados knew during his days with TNT that he has what it takes to succeed in the NBA, per a May 2014 article from Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck:
Then again, some of the Kerr phenomenon is attributable solely to Kerr. He has been analyzing the game on TV for eight of the last 11 years, so his aptitude, insight and sharp mind have been on display for some time.
He is immensely personable and well-networked among team executives, coaches and players.
When Golden State hired Kerr last spring, the time was ripe for him to make a mark on basketball’s biggest stage.
A Look Back At Kerr’s Candidacy With The New York Knicks
Kerr’s path to coaching respectability in the NBA didn’t come easy.
By taking the Warriors job in May 2014, Kerr had to turn down an offer from his former head coach with the Chicago Bulls, current New York Knicks president Phil Jackson. The latter told The New York Daily News’ Frank Isola that month Kerr made a verbal commitment to coach the Knicks just a day before Golden State’s coaching job became available.
Jackson confirmed to Isola that Kerr decided to back out of the Knicks’ coaching job mainly because of family considerations (Kerr and his family reside in California). The Knicks president also said he understood Kerr’s situation and that he’s happy for him:
I had to kind of release him to actually go to this job and say, ‘You have to do what’s yourself. I understood entirely the process he was going through to have that job open up. That was something he kind of thought would be a good fit for him. So that’s good, we’re happy for him.
There were plenty of things in the contract where he could have come here and been very satisfied. So that really wasn’t the issue. The issue was about California, and the issue was about–to be perfectly honest, it’s a better job for him.
He’s a California guy. It’s a group of guys that are for him, been in the playoffs, been there. They have a really good operating team right now.
Based on Jackson’s response, it’s a good thing he understood where Kerr was coming from. Even if Kerr won 70 games with the Warriors, not being on good terms with Jackson would have gnawed at his conscience.
Had Kerr taken the Knicks job, no amount of coaching prowess would have saved his season in New York. A roster with the likes of Lou Amundson, Quincy Acy and Cole Aldrich won’t be able to keep up with the NBA’s elite for the foreseeable future.
What Kerr’s Achievement Means Moving Forward
Kerr becoming the winningest rookie head coach is an achievement he should savor for all its worth.
With All-Stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as well as a stellar supporting cast, the Golden State Warriors are not only poised to win their first NBA title since 1975, they could possibly even become a dynasty. They’re that good.
After the 49-year-old Kerr’s Warriors beat the Mavericks on Saturday, he discussed his sentiments with The San Francisco Examiner’s Frank Ladewsky. “Flattering, very flattering,” Kerr quipped. “I doubt many of the other coaches had my roster. It’s a pretty talented group.”
Despite Kerr’s gaudy achievement, he hasn’t coached in the postseason. That is where his mettle as an NBA coach will be severely tested.
Westphal’s No. 1-seeded Phoenix Suns, if you remember, nearly lost to an upstart, eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers squad in the first round of the 1993 NBA playoffs. Phoenix managed to keep its composure but still lost to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in six games in the 1993 NBA Finals.
If the Warriors aren’t careful, they might lose to either the Oklahoma City Thunder or New Orleans Pelicans in the first round.
The Warriors losing that early is a long shot. Not when last season’s first-round loss to their hated in-state rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, is still fresh on their minds.
But this is the NBA. Anything is possible.
Kerr’s first year as an NBA coach has been a very good one. Look for his Warriors to be successful moving forward with the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, locked up for the next few seasons.
Kerr will no doubt experience trial and tribulation like any NBA coach will—look no further than Westphal’s firing in 2012 and Thibodeau coping with Derrick Rose’s injuries as prime examples.
For now, Kerr is the man behind Golden State’s success. Congratulations.