Don Shula once said of coaching: “What coaching is all about is taking players and analyzing their ability and putting them in the position where they can excel within the framework of the team winning.”
The Dolphins legend certainly did that, reaching six Super Bowls and winning an NFL-record 347 games (including playoffs) with just two losing seasons in 33 years.
Alabama coaching great Bear Bryant summed up a coach’s job like this: “You must learn how to hold a team together. You must lift some men up, calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat. Then you’ve got yourself a team.”
No coach — male or female — won more NCAA basketball games than Tennessee’s Pat Summitt. Her secret? “I won 1,098 games and eight national championships, and coached in four different decades, but what I see are not the numbers. I see their faces. They don’t know how much you know unless they know how much you care.”
And another famous coaching Pat, Heat president Pat Riley, said: “To have long-term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way.”
By those definitions, who is the best coach in South Florida right now? Who is making the most of the team’s talent? Who has the best record? Who fosters a singular team heartbeat? Who cares the most? Who is obsessed?
Is it one of the pro coaches? The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra, with two NBA titles and four consecutive Finals appearances? The Dolphins’ Joe Philbin? The Marlins’ Dan Jennings? The Panthers’ Gerard Gallant?
Or is it Miami Norland boys’ basketball coach Lawton Williams III, who led his program to its fourth consecutive state title last season — a first in Miami-Dade history? The feat was particularly notable because Williams had to replace 10 players from the previous season’s state championship team.
Does a college football coach — the University of Miami’s Al Golden or FIU’s Ron Turner — deserve the title?
Or is Miami Dr. Krop High tennis coach Mike Kypriss more deserving? Kypriss’ career record over 35 years is 1,155-35, and he recently was named the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s National Coach of the Year. His teams have won 16 state titles and were runner-up 11 times. Among his former players are 2015 Wimbledon doubles champion Jean-Julien Rojer and UM women’s tennis coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews, a candidate herself for leading the Canes to eight NCAA elite eight appearances in 12 years.
Could the best coach be Palmetto Bay resident Jill Ellis, who a few weeks ago led the U.S. Women’s World Cup team to the championship for the first time since 1999?
Or is it UM men’s basketball coach Jim Larrañaga? He took an unheralded George Mason team to the NCAA Tournament Final Four in 2006 and two years ago led the Hurricanes to their first Atlantic Coast Conference title, beating heavyweights Duke and North Carolina. That UM team went on to the NCAA Sweet 16, and Larrañaga was named Associated Press National Coach of the Year.
You could also make a strong case for UM women’s basketball coach Katie Meier, who in 2013 was named co-USA Basketball National Coach of the Year after leading the under-19 national team to a 9-0 record and gold medal at the FIBA World Championships. In 2011, Meier was named AP National Coach of the Year, sharing the honor with Geno Auriemma and Tara VanDerveer. That UM team won 17 games in a row, reached No. 5 in the national rankings and won the conference title.
Fort Lauderdale Dillard High girls’ basketball fans might argue that coach Marcia Pinder is South Florida’s top coach. She has won nine state titles — more than any girls’ basketball coach — and her team was 30-1 last season.
What about UM diving coach Randy Ableman? He has been at the school for 23 years and is a nine-time NCAA Diving Coach of the Year. He has coached his teams to an NCAA-record 23 national titles, was on the U.S. Olympic coaching staff in 1996, 2000, ’04 and ’12, and coached the South African Olympic team in ’08. He has coached 11 Olympic divers from seven countries and was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted the Moscow Games.
Barry University boasts three coaches with multiple Division II national titles, all worthy of consideration — men’s tennis coach George Samuel, women’s tennis coach Avi Kigel and golf coach Jimmy Stobs.
Maybe the best coach is Nova women’s golf coach Amanda Brown, whose team has won four consecutive national titles.
Or maybe it’s Pompano Beach Blanche Ely boys’ basketball coach Melvin Randall, who last season was named USA Today National Coach of the Year after leading his team to a 28-0 record and the Class 7A state title — his sixth state title in 23 years of coaching.
If academics are a key factor, then FIU swim coach Randy Horner should be in the running. Last season, he not only led his team to a 10-0 dual-meet record (including an upset of UM) and its first conference title, but the Panthers also were named a Nike Scholar All-American team with a 3.17 cumulative GPA.
So, who’s the best South Florida coach? It’s a tough call. Vote for your favorite. Write in a candidate if you like. And let the debate begin.
Randy Ableman (UM, Olympic diving): Nine-time NCAA Diving Coach of the Year. He has coached his teams to an NCAA-record 23 national titles, was on the U.S. Olympic coaching staff in 1996, 2000, ’04 and ’12, and coached the South African Olympic team in ’08. He has coached 11 Olympic divers from seven countries, and was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.
Amanda Brown (Nova women’s golf): Four Division II NCAA titles in nine years, five national players of the year, 18 All-Americans, national coach of the year.
Amy Deem (UM, Olympic track): Sixth female to coach Division I men’s/women’s track team. U.S. Olympic coach in 2012. Coached 11 NCAA outdoor champions, seven indoor. Over 25 years has coached 60 NCAA qualifiers.
Jill Ellis (U.S. women’s soccer): Led the United States to the 2015 Women’s World Cup title, ending a 16-year U.S. drought.
LeAnn Freeland (Nova women’s basketball): Division II elite eight three years in a row, first-ever No. 1 ranking, Sunshine State Conference Coach of the Year.
Gerard Gallant (Panthers): Two-time coach of the year in the Canadian Hockey League, Gallant took over the Panthers in June 2014 and led the team to a 38-29-15 record and 91 points, a 25-point improvement over the previous season.
Al Golden (UM football): He has his critics, but you could argue no South Florida coach faced bigger challenges than Golden when he took over a program embroiled in an NCAA scandal with a roster depleted by sanctions.
Tim “Ice” Harris (UM assistant football coach): Led Miami Booker T. Washington High to three state football titles and a state track title.
Randy Horner (FIU swimming): First-ever conference title, 10-0 dual record in 2014-15, Nike Scholar All-American team with 3.17 cumulative GPA. Also, urges his swimmers to support other FIU teams, and they do.
Ryan Jamison (Nova men’s golf): 2014 national championship, runner-up in ’13, third place in ’12.
Dan Jennings (Marlins): The team’s former general manager was named manager in May 2015 and is trying to turn things around.
Avi Kigel (Barry women’s tennis): Two Division II national titles (2011, ’14) and last season national runner-up. Team record is 132-6 over the past five seasons and last year was named ITA National Coach of the Year with a 29-1 record.
Mike Kypriss (Dr. Krop tennis): Twice named national coach of the year. Career record is 1,155-35, with 16 state titles, 11 runner-up, 24 regional titles.
Jim Larrañaga (UM men’s basketball): 2013 national coach of the year after leading the UM men’s basketball team to the ACC title and NCAA Sweet 16.
Katie Meier (UM women’s basketball): 2013 co-USA Basketball National Coach of the Year after leading the under-19 national team to a 9-0 record and gold medal at the FIBA World Championships. Also named 2011 co-AP National Coach of the Year. That UM team won 17 consecutive games, reached No. 5 in the national ranking and won the conference title.
Jim Morris (UM baseball): Entering his 22nd season at UM, Morris has guided the program to national championships in 1999 and 2001, and was named national coach of the year both of those seasons. He has led UM to the College World Series 11 times in his tenure, and has a 931-364-3 record at UM (1,435-631-4 in 33 years as a Division I head coach).
Joe Philbin (Dolphins): Heading into his fourth season after back-to-back 8-8 seasons, Ryan Tannehill has developed as quarterback, and the offseason addition of Ndamukong Suh has fans hopeful.
Marcia Pinder (Dillard girls’ basketball): Nine state titles, most ever by any girls’ basketball coach. Five-time Florida Coach of the Year.
Danny Price (Miami Dade College baseball): After three decades at FIU, Price continues to win at Miami Dade, finishing runner-up at the 2014 junior college World Series.
Melvin Randall (Blanche Ely boys’ basketball): National coach of the year, six state titles, 2014-15 team went 28-0 and won 7A state title. Has been coaching for 23 years in Broward.
Mike Rumph (Plantation American Heritage football): Back-to-back state football titles and one in track.
George Samuel (Barry men’s tennis): In his 26th year, won Division II national titles in 2010, ’13 and ’15. His ’13 team went 29-0, earning him national coach of the year honors, and his ’15 team repeated perfection at 26-0.
Erik Spoelstra (Heat): From video coordinator to scouting director to coach of back-to-back NBA championship teams in 2012 and ’13. Spoelstra took the Heat to the playoffs six consecutive seasons, including four NBA Finals (2011-14).
Jimmy Stobs (Barry golf): NCAA Division II crowns in 2007, ’13 and ’14.
Ron Turner (FIU football): Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears assistant coach took over FIU in January 2013. Went 1-11 (1-7 conference) first season and improved to 4-8 (3-5) last season.
Lawton Williams III (Norland boys’ basketball): Four Class 6A state titles in a row — first Dade team to do that.
Paige Yaroshuk-Tews (UM tennis): Over 14 years, led UM to 11 sweet 16 berths, eight elite eights and an appearance in the 2006 NCAA final, the program’s first since 1985. Winningest women’s tennis coach in school history.