When the 2013-14 NBA season begins on October 29, new Celtics head coach Brad Stevens will be one week past his 37th birthday and, barring another hire, will be the youngest current coach in the NBA. The three headlines surrounding his hire are a) his six-year contract, giving he and the Celtics a sense of security that shows that they’re in the fight together for the long haul; b) the question of how Stevens will mesh with the mercurial Rajon Rondo and c) Stevens’ young age and lack of NBA expericence.
The six-year commitment sets the stage for a long and hopefully successful career with the potential for Stevens to join some of the greats of the game. Looking at the NBA’s alltime greatest coaches, many of them started their pro coaching careers in their 30’s. Perhaps the greatest coach of alltime, started in his 20’s (see below). Larry Brown, Lenny Wilkens (both 32), George Karl (33), Gene Shue (35), Don Nelson and Pat Riley (both 36) were all younger than Stevens when they first took control of an NBA squad. Even Stevens’ new boss, Danny Ainge, became a head coach at age 37.
With that as the backdrop, I decided to take a look at the age of other Celtics coaches when they began their NBA careers. What I found is Stevens will be the fifth-youngest coach in team history and the other four weren’t all that bad.
The youngest man ever hired for the Celtics head coaching job was Dave Cowens who was 30 during his only season at the helm, coinciding with with his final playing season on the parque. While Cowens’ team in Boston wasn’t very successful (27-41), he managed two 50-win seasons for the Charlotte Hornets later in his coaching career.
The second-youngest was Bill Russell, the best player in team history who became a player-coach in 1966-67 at the ripe old age of 32. All Russell did was win 66.1% of his regular season games, lead the team to two titles in three seasons before his 36th birthday.
Then there was a 33-year old who already had four-years of BAA/NBA coaching experience under his belt by the time he got to Boston. Arnold Auerbach got his first job in the fledgling BAA after coaching at the U.S. Naval Academy and managed a record of 61 games over .500 prior arriving with the Celtics. Nearly 1,000 victory cigars later, Red had transformed the Celtics into the greatest dynasty the NBA has ever seen with nine titles in his final 10 years on the bench, while revolutionizing virtually every aspect of professional basketball.
And finally there was Tom Heinsohn, who as a player, coach, broadcaster and unabashed cheerleader, might be the most visible Celtic of alltime. The 1972-73 NBA Coach of the Year gets plenty of Tommy Points for five 50-win seasons, a lifetime winning percentage of .619 in the regular season, .588 in the playoffs and two NBA titles, all starting at age 35.
Here's how old the Celtics other coaches were during their first Boston season:
39: Satch Sanders
42: Chris Ford
43: Doc Rivers
44: John Russell
45: M.L. Carr, Bill Fitch, Rick Pitino
46: Jimmy Rodgers
47: Alvin Julian
48: Jim O’Brien
49: Jim Carroll
51: K.C. Jones
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.