The Pohory-list: Top 10 coaches in city history (Part I)

Throughout Washington sports history, fans can point to the figures on the playing field that achieved great things, either individually or collectively. These players are represented by the jerseys we wear, the posters in our rooms and trading cards in our collections.

Behind those great players and teams were coaches. The relationship between a coach and his players can make or break a team. It’s a career with the worst job security in the world, so the ones who stick around long enough to achieve greatness are special.

While there have been plenty of poor coaching fits for the Washington teams over the years, there are a select few who have earned their place among the best in city history. Today, I will be listing the Top 10 coaches in city history, starting with 10-6. The top five will be coming tomorrow.

10. Dusty Baker (Nationals; 2016-2017)

Photo Credit: Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Notable accolades with team:

  • 2x NL East champion

Baker has been in Major League Baseball for 41 total years as a player or manager, and the Nationals were the most recent stop in his managerial career until he was hired by the Houston Astros following their cheating scandal that resulted in the firing of AJ Hinch.

In 2016, Baker took over a 83-79 team that missed the playoffs, then won 95 games the following season. The team lost the NLDS to the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games. In 2017, Baker’s Nats went 97-65, which was their second-highest win total in team history right behind 2012’s 98-win team.

The 2017 Nats went on to lose the NLDS in five games again, this time to the Chicago Cubs. After faltering in the Division Series four postseason appearances in a row, including twice under Baker, ownership decided to move in a different direction, convinced Baker couldn’t get them over the hump, so they didn’t offer him a new contract after 2017.

While Baker’s tenure with the team was short, it falls in line with the Nationals’ managerial history, which hasn’t had a manager last more than three seasons (although Frank Robinson spent three seasons as the Montreal Expos manager before the franchise moved to Washington, where he spent two additional seasons).

With two 95-win seasons, Baker holds the highest managerial win percentage (.593) not just in Nationals history, but the entire franchise’s history as well. The team also won the division both years Baker was manager, which is something no other manager in team history can hang their hat on (small sample size, but still). Not even World Series-winning Dave Martinez, who has not even won the division with the Nats.

Baker didn’t achieve any postseason success, but his regular season success in his short time here warrants a spot on the list.

9. Bruce Boudreau (Capitals; 2007-2011)

Photo Credit: John McDonnell/The Washington Post

Notable accolades with team:

  • 4x division champion
  • 2008 Jack Adams Award (Best Coach)
  • 2009-10 Presidents’ Trophy

Boudreau took on a Capitals team with a young core of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin and quickly developed the Caps into one of the NHL’s best teams. In his three full seasons with the team, the Caps won no fewer than 48 games in a season.

In 2009-10, the team set a franchise record with 54 wins and 121 points to earn the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy (given to the team that finishes with the best record in the league). The 2015-16 and ’16-’17 Capitals would win 56 and 55 games, respectively, but the ’09-’10 team’s 121 points still stand as most in franchise history.

Even with unprecedented regular season success with possibly the best collection of talent in franchise history, Boudreau’s Caps failed to advance far in the playoffs, even falling in the first round in 2010 after such a historic season.

After starting the 2011-12 season 12-9-1, Boudreau was fired in late November, anticlimactically ending a successful, yet underachieving stint in Washington. Had playoff success been maintained, Boudreau would be much higher on the list. His .672 point percentage is the second-highest in Capitals history behind Barry Trotz.

8. Davey Johnson (Nationals; 2011-2013)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Notable accolades with team:

  • 2012 NL East champion
  • 2012 NL Manager of the Year
  • Best record in franchise history (98-64 in 2012)

Like Baker, Johnson is another baseball lifer who initially joined the Nats’ front office in 2006. He became manager once Jim Riggleman stepped down midway through the 2011 season. The team coasted to an 80-81 record, an 11-game improvement from the season before.

In his first full season in 2012, with the arrival of the highly-touted Bryce Harper and the return of Stephen Strasburg from Tommy John surgery, the Nats won a franchise-best 98 games to win their first division title in Washington and earn the best record in MLB. For all those feats, Johnson earned the title of top manager in the NL.

The team lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, after leading Game 5 by a score of 6-0 at one point, but optimism was high about the team’s future. The team took a step back in 2013, finishing 86-76 and missing the playoffs. At season’s end, Johnson retired from managing.

Johnson helped lift the Nats from the league’s basement to the top of the standings, and his 224 wins in Washington are the most in team history. (Martinez needs just 50 more wins to top that.) Had he stuck around longer, perhaps the team would have made it further into the postseason, but he can still be credited with ushering the team into perennial playoff contention.

7. K.C. Jones (Bullets; 1973-1976)

Photo Credit:

Notable accolades with team:

  • 2x division champion
  • 1975 NBA Finals (Eastern Conference champion)
  • Best record in franchise history (60-22 in 1974-75)

Jones is best known for winning 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics (eight as a player, two as a head coach, and one as an assistant). He was also an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers’ 1972 championship team. In the midst of that winning, Jones came close to winning another championship as head coach of the Washington Bullets.

Jones became head coach for the franchise’s first season in Washington, going as the “Capital Bullets” before switching to “Washington” the following season. The team never won fewer than 47 games in his three seasons with the team, and in 1974-75 the team recorded the best record in franchise history (60-22) en route to an NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors.

He got the franchise off to a great start in its new city, and despite being fired inexplicably after just three seasons, he set the team up for future success. His .630 win percentage as Bullets coach is the best in franchise history by a wide margin, the next-best belonging to Dick Motta (.564).

6. Bryan Murray (Capitals; 1981-1990)

Photo Credit: NoVa Caps

Notable accolades with team:

  • 1988-89 Patrick Division champion
  • Led team to seven-straight playoff appearances (first seven in franchise history)
  • 1984 Jack Adams Award
  • Longest-tenured coach in franchise history (9 seasons)

Leading up to Murray’s hiring in 1981, the Capitals had struggled mightily for the first seven-plus years of their existence. The team had never finished better than fourth out of five teams in their division, and often finished last prior to Murray’s arrival.

With seven head coaches (and one interim) coming before him, no one was able to bring the Capitals to the playoffs. Murray inherited a 1-13-0 team, which finished off the season 26-41-13. It would be the only time under Murray that the Capitals would miss the playoffs.

The following season, his first full season at the helm, the team eclipsed 27 wins for the first time, getting all the way up to 39-25-16 before losing to the New York Islanders in the first round. Not much to brag about, but given the context, it was a major breakthrough. The Caps would win 46 games or more over the next three seasons, and continued to make the playoffs year after year.

Murray’s teams never made it past the second round; in fact it wasn’t until right after he was fired in 1990 that the team would go on to reach the conference finals. After starting the season 18-24-4, Murray was fired and replaced by his brother, Terry, who would remain as coach for three-and-a-half more seasons.

Murray doesn’t have any hardware (outside of his Coach of the Year trophy) to hang his hat on, but his role in turning around the franchise makes him an all-time great coach in the city’s history.

Check back in tomorrow to see the Top Five.

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