New York Knicks’ most successful coaches of all time

New York Knicks Pat Riley (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
New York Knicks Pat Riley (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

A look back at the New York Knicks’ most successful coaches ever.

Looking back at the New York Knicks’ coaches since there were Knicks coaches, who were the most successful?

A successful coach takes his (or her) team to the playoffs. For the purposes of this piece, we will highlight the coaches who not only made it to the playoffs but had winning seasons of 50 games or more or went past the first round in the playoffs.

5. Rick Pitino

At age 35, Rick Pitino coached the Knicks for two years and took them to the playoffs both years. The first year with a meager (at the time) record of 38-44 and the Knicks landed the eighth seed. They lost in the first round to the Boston Celtics.

The second year, however, Pitino took the team to the Eastern Conference semi-finals where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.

4. Mike Woodson

Mike Woodson went from interim coach to head coach after the resignation of Mike D’Antoni. With Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, Woodson took the Knicks to the playoffs twice.

In the 2011-12 season, he only coached 24 games due to being promoted as the interim after D’Antoni’s departure. The Knicks lost dismally in the first round to the Miami Heat.

The 2012-13 season was a blockbuster season; one they hadn’t seen since the Van Gundy era. The Knicks had 54 wins and the Atlantic Division title, but they lost the Eastern Conference semi-finals in six games to the Indiana Pacers. They have not gone to the playoffs since.

3. Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy was the coach from 1996-02, resigning during the 2001-02 season. Every year he was coach, the Knicks went to the playoffs.

Under Van Gundy, the Knicks went to the Eastern Conference semi-finals every year, winning the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999, before losing to Greg Popovich and the Spurs in the Finals.

While Van Gundy was coach the Knicks had two 50-plus win seasons, they were 57-25 in 1997 and 50-32 in his final full year at the helm.

2. Pat Riley

Pat Riley, now part-owner and president of the Miami Heat, was successful from 1991-95. This was a most exciting time for the Knicks and they were as exciting as they had been since Red Holtzman.

One might fantasize about what the Knicks would be like if Riley had stayed. Would they have five championships instead of two? Would LeBron James have taken his talents to New York instead of South Beach? It was not to be, but the Knicks had some of the most entertaining seasons of basketball that have yet to be repeated.

In his first season, the Knicks went 51-31 but lost to the Bulls in the second round. During the 1992-93 season, the Knicks won 60 games and were Eastern Conference champions, and Riley was NBA Coach of the Year. In the next two seasons, the Knicks had 50-plus wins each year but failed to make the Finals.

1. Red Holtzman

Red Holtzman coached the Knicks from 1967-82 and is considered one of the greatest coaches of all-time, second only to Red Auerbach. Holtzman is also the only coach to take the Knicks to a championship, and he did it twice.

Before coaching Holtzman was a scout for the team and was responsible for bringing in Willis “the Captain” Reed and Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Although no longer a scout he was also influential in bringing Earl “the Pearl” Monroe to the team, too.

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When he retired, Holtzman had 613 wins as New York Knicks coach, and that number was used to hang his jersey from the rafters. Needless to say, no coach has come near the number of wins as Holtzman and of course, no other coach is a Champion.