You Can’t Coach Forever…almost
With the college baseball World Series currently taking place, Florida State University has been eliminated and with that, their head coach Mike Martin ends his career as the head coach.
With his retirement, Martin ends an incredible tenure of 40 years at the helm for the Seminoles. Unfortunately for Martin, while he has the most wins in college baseball history as a head coach, he NEVER won a college world series. He made it far into the run this year but again fell short.
His record of leadership here in Florida led me to thinking about who has coached one team or multiple teams for the most years not just in college but the pros? 40 years is a long time but is there anyone that stuck around even longer? ABSOLUTELY.
While you might think Mike Martin coached longer than any other baseball coach in college history, think again. Gordie Gillespie who was the coach at Lewis University in Illinois was hired in 1953. He stayed with the Lewis Flyers until 1976 when he left to take a job at St. Francis of Illinois. For 18 years he coached that school’s baseball team until he left for Ripon College in Wisconsin. Another nine years there and he returned to St. Francis in 2006 until his retirement in 2011. All that coaching represents 59 amazing years of coaching baseball. Gillespie coached for almost as long as I am old now (60). He was 84 at retirement and passed away at the age of 88 in 2015.
Other coaches with long tenures ahead of Mike Martin are:
When it comes to college football, there have been some men who stayed on the sidelines for lengthy amounts of time. When I was growing up, I remember watching Eddie Robinson coaching small Grambling University to lots of wins. I knew Robinson had been there a long time but when he finally retired in 1997, he had been at the helm 55 years beginning in 1941. After a three year absence that started in 1942, Robinson returned in 1945 and stayed as Grambling’s head football coach until his retirement.
If you thought 55 years was a long time, then think again because John Gagliardi was the head football coach at Carroll College in Helena, Montana as well as coaching Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota for 64 years. First with Carroll from 1949-1952 then with St. John’s a year later until he retired in 2012. Gagliardi was also a WINNER. A lifetime winning percentage of .775 (489-138) saw his teams winning the NAIA title twice (1963, 1965), the NCAA Division III title twice (1976, 2003), three MCC conference titles, and 27 times his team took the MIAC championship.
Other head football coaches worth noting with at least 30 years on the job at one or more schools are:
In Major League Baseball managers come and go. Not often does tenure play a factor anymore, only for a selective few. But the longest tenure in history is a record that I can assure you will NEVER be broken. That honor belongs to Connie Mack, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a manager for an incredible 53 years. Mack began as manager in 1894 and didn’t quit until 1950. Along the way he compiled only a .486 winning percentage but he did oversee five World Series champions. That included nine pennant winning seasons.
More recently, Tony LaRussa also a hall of famer hung around for 33 years matching the total of yet another Cooperstown resident, John McGraw. Bobby Cox of Atlanta Braves lore managed for 29 years. Joe Torre did it for 29 as well. Sparky Anderson who managed the Reds and Tigers did it for 29 years.
Currently, the San Francisco Giants’ Bruce Bochy is in his 25th year of managerial service with Terry Francona not too far behind with 19. The Pirates’ Clint Hurdle comes in with 17. Ned Yost has 16, Joe Maddon 16, and Bob Melvin 16.
Then we have the National Football League. Connie Mack’s counterpart in football would be George Halas. “Papa Bear” coached that team for 40 years from their inception in 1940 until he had enough in 1967. Don Shula came the closest to matching his total with 33 years as did Curly Lambeau. Tom Landry coached “America’s Team” for 29 years and Paul Brown did it for 26.
The only active players with over 20 years are Bill Belichick into his 24th season coaching and Andy Reid just hit 20. For Halas, his teams won six NFL titles but he didn’t stick around long enough to get a team into a Super Bowl. Bill Belichick is not the only coach with six NFL titles given Halas’s success but Curly Lambeau also coached six title teams. Paul Brown topped them all with seven. Of course Chuck Noll had his four in the 23 years he was on the sidelines for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Let’s take on the NBA where the San Antonio Spurs still have Gregg Popovich leading the team as he just finished his 23rd season. That might seem like a long time however, Lenny Wilkins was an NBA head coach for 32 years having been courtside for the Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, and finally the New York Knicks his last team where his last season was the 2004-2005 campaign.
Don Nelson who coached up four teams (Bucks, Warriors, Knicks, and Mavericks) lasted 31 years. George Karl did it for 27 and Larry Brown for 26. Jerry Sloan matched Brown and Bill Fitch fell one season short of reaching 26 years. The well known Pat Riley coached for 24 and Dick Motta finished one year better. It’s unlikely that Popovich will retire surpassing Lenny Wilkins, but with two more seasons he can moved into sixth longest tenure for an NBA coach all-time.
Finally we have the National Hockey League. Of the current head coaches, the Lightening’s Jon Cooper has been with his current team the longest (six years). Paul Maurice and Peter Laviolette have been with their respective teams for six seasons (Jets and Predators). But for history’s sake, these men have a long way to go to match the 30 years Scotty Bowman coached a team. Dick Irvin turned in 27 years and Al Arbour 23.
Currently the head coach for the Florida Panthers, Joel Quenneville has been a hockey head coach for 22 years. Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice has logged 21 and Barry Trotz who switched from coaching the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup two seasons ago to man the Islanders has 21 years under his belt.
Editor's note: past cover story articles
can be found on the "Archived Features" page!
The worst cheap shot in sports history
A farewell from one
of baseball's most