The Coach Prime era for the Colorado Buffaloes has gotten off to an incredible start.
Deion Sanders has his squad firing on all cylinders, with a huge upset of the TCU Horned Frogs followed up by a dismantling of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Colorado is No. 18 in the AP Top 25, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them improve on that ranking sometime this season.
It’s not often that an all-time great like Sanders decides to become a coach — and even then, it’s no guarantee that they’ll find success. Here are a few other superstars who made the transition, and how it worked out for each of them.
“The greatest hitter who ever lived,” Williams still holds the record for highest career on-base percentage at an astounding .482. Williams’ managerial career started off quite well, as he led the expansion Washington Senators to an 86-76 record and won Manager of the Year. That was his last winning season, unfortunately. While his players agreed that his knowledge of hitting was unrivaled, the shine seemed to wear off after that magical first season. Williams would manage a 187-288 record over the next three seasons, and left the year after the Senators became the Texas Rangers.
Johnson’s coaching career was brief, but it started off well. During his first retirement following a positive HIV diagnosis, Johnson came on to coach the Los Angeles Lakers in the final weeks of the 1993-94 season, replacing Randy Pfund and interim coach Bill Bertka. The Lakers responded well, winning five of Johnson’s first six games, but the honeymoon was brief – a 10-game losing streak brought Johnson’s managerial record to 5-11, and he resigned.
Torre’s excellence as New York Yankees manager — four World Series, six pennants, two Manager of the Year awards — is so apparent that it actually overshadows his incredible career as a player. He put up 57.4 WAR over 18 seasons as a catcher and infielder for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. Torre even won MVP in 1971, hitting .363 and knocking in 137 runs.
You can’t hope to do much better than Iron Mike Ditka as a player or coach. As a bruising tight end with the Chicago Bears, he made five Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl and was named Rookie of the Year in 1961. As a coach, he led Da Bears to another Super Bowl championship in 1985. Though his coaching success didn’t quite translate when he moved to the New Orleans Saints, his overall record of 121-95 speaks for itself.
Eleven world championships. Five MVP awards. Twelve All-Star elections. Bill Russell’s resume as a player speaks for itself. But during his last three seasons as a player, he also served as coach of the Boston Celtics, compiling a 162-83 record and winning his last two championships. Russell tried his hand at coaching after his retirement as a player, but with less success. He went 179-207 with the Seattle SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings over five seasons. To be fair, he didn’t have Bill Russell on his roster in either of those stints.
Martin St. Louis
A five-time All-Star, 2003-4 MVP and Stanley Cup champion, St. Louis was a stalwart for the Tampa Bay Lightning during his lengthy career. He took over as interim coach of the Montreal Canadiens in 2021-22 despite little coaching experience and has led the team to a 45-64-10 record through his first two seasons.
Bird signed a three-year contract to coach the Indiana Pacers in 1997 and said that he had no desire to coach any longer than that. He made the most of those three years, however, leading the team to a 147-67 record and an NBA Finals berth in his final season. After losing 4-2 to the Lakers, Bird kept to his word and departed, although he’d return to the team as an executive a few years later.
The Logo became head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1976-77 season and had a brief but successful run. The Lakers made the Western Conference Finals in his first year, where they were swept by the Portland Trail Blazers. While they never were quite that successful again, they also never missed the playoffs during West’s tenure. West finished with a 145-101 record after three seasons.
Gretzky was so far ahead of anyone else that’s ever played professional hockey that if he had never scored a goal, he’d still be the all-time NHL points leader on assists alone. A few years after becoming part-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, Gretzky was named the team’s head coach. His on-ice success didn’t translate, however, with the team never rising above fourth in the Pacific Division. Gretzky stepped down in 2009 after four seasons as head coach, with a 143-161-24 record.
While Kidd hasn’t yet won a title as a coach to go along with his 2011 NBA championship as a player, his coaching record is mostly solid. As coach of the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks, Kidd is 273-264 with four playoff appearances in seven seasons, and a Western Conference Finals berth in 2021-22. He’ll be looking to bounce back this season from a 38-44 record in 2022-23.
Singletary embodied the tradition of dominant Chicago Bears linebackers in the 1980s, helping them win Super Bowl XX, making 10 Pro Bowls and, eventually, the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Samurai Mike made immediate waves upon taking over the interim San Francisco 49ers head coaching position in 2008, benching Vernon Davis during his first game for slapping an opposing player after a reception. Singletary had a 5-4 record with the team, which had started 2-5, and things were looking up. After finishing 8-8 the next season, the wheels finally came off in 2010. Singletary went 5-10 with the team that year and was fired after being eliminated from playoff contention.
Starr was the quarterback who won the first two Super Bowls ever, establishing the Green Bay Packers as an all-time great franchise. He won the league MVP in 1966 and only ever lost a single playoff game during his incredible career. Starr ended up coaching the Packers for nine seasons, but he never found his prior success, only making the playoffs once (in the strike-shortened 1982 season) and finishing with a 52-76-3 overall record.