Top 6 Longest-Tenured NBA Coaches

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PORTLAND, OREGON - DECEMBER 28: Head coach Gregg Popovich talks with Victor Wembanyama #1 of the San Antonio Spurs before the game.
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Anatoly Pimentel @AnatolyPimentel Jan 02, 2024, 10:44 PM
  • Here’s a list of the top 6 longest-tenured NBA coaches.
  • Lenny Wilkens leads the list.

Parallel to the faster pace of today’s NBA game is the rapid change in the head coaching position in any team, as different franchises only give a short period for these coaches to succeed and improve their NBA championship odds. This is the exact reason why we see head coaches getting fired early in the season, even during the middle of the year.

In fact, this season, only two head coaches have been with their team for over a decade, namely, Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs (27 years) and Erik Spoelstra (15 years) of the Miami Heat, who were hired with their teams in December 1996 and April 2008, respectively, to continue the strong hold of the franchise high in NBA odds.

Despite this recent bent in the coaching position, we have witnessed several legendary mentors who could keep their place on the sidelines for over two decades. Here is the list of the top six longest-tenured coaches in the NBA.

Lenny Wilkens – 32 seasons

Lenny Wilkens tops the list for the longest-tenured NBA coach of all time. He was able to coach six teams during his 32-year run in the league between 1971 and 2005. He spent 11 seasons with the Seattle Supersonics, seven seasons apiece with Cleveland and Atlanta, three seasons with Toronto, and two seasons with Portland and New York. Wilkens’ coaching career is highlighted by his title in 1979 with the Sonics and a Coach of the Year honor in 1994 as Atlanta’s head coach. Overall, he is the second-most winningest coach in NBA history after he collected 1,335 wins.

Don Nelson – 31 seasons

Another legendary coach who sits on the longest-tenured list is Don Nelson. He handled four teams in his 31-year career in the NBA, spending 11 years each with Milwaukee and Golden State, eight seasons with Dallas and one season with the New York Knicks. Nelson has surpassed Wilkens in the all-time wins as a coach in 2010, but unfortunately, he was left empty-handed without a championship trophy. Still, he received the Coach of the Year award in 1983, 1985 and 1992 to cap off his coaching journey.

George Karl – 27 seasons

Following Wilkens and Nelson is George Karl with 27 seasons as a head tactician in the NBA. Karl has coached six teams – Denver Nuggets (nine seasons), Seattle Supersonics (seven seasons), Milwaukee Bucks (five seasons), Cleveland Cavaliers (2 seasons), Golden State Warriors (2 seasons) and the Sacramento Kings (2 seasons). Much like Nelson, Karl never won a title as a head coach, and his best finish was in 1996 when he was able to lead the Sonics to the NBA Finals. Additionally, George Karl took home the Coach of the Year award in 2013 with the Denver Nuggets.

Gregg Popovich – 27 seasons

Gregg Popovich is the lone active tenured NBA coach as he will be entering his 27th year in the 2023-24 season as the head tactician of the San Antonio Spurs. He broke the record of Lenny Wilkins as the top coach in the 25 winningest NBA coaches of all time when his squad defeated Utah in March 2022. With 1,364 wins and counting, Coach Pop can set the record even further after signing a five-year contract extension with San Antonio. Popovich also collected five NBA championships and three coach of the year honors.

Larry Brown – 26 seasons

One of only ten coaches in NBA history to break into the 1,000 wins as a head coach, Larry Brown, devoted his 26 years to coaching in the league. Brown has jumped around to multiple teams throughout his time on the sidelines, but his longest stay was with Philadelphia for six years, where he also brought home the Coach of the Year award in 2001. If the Sixers is his longest stay in a team, then his time with Detroit might be his most memorable one because this is where he won the lone NBA Championship in 2004.

Jerry Sloan – 26 seasons

Jerry Sloan placed himself in the fourth spot in the winningest NBA coach of all time mainly because of his 26-year coaching post with the Chicago Bulls (3 seasons) and Utah Jazz (23 seasons). He is also one of five coaches in the NBA to win over 1,200 games. Sloan’s best years were with the Utah Jazz, where he led the franchise to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998 but fell short of a title. As a head coach, Jerry Sloan never won a title and a Coach of the Year accolade despite this legendary resume.

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About the Author

Anatoly Pimentel

Read More @AnatolyPimentel

Anatoly Pimentel is an NBA and MMA writer previously featured in ASEAN Sports, Asian Persuasion MMA, and Overtime Heroics MMA. He graduated from Adamson University with a B.A in Communication and is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM.

Anatoly Pimentel is an NBA and MMA writer previously featured in ASEAN Sports, Asian Persuasion MMA, and Overtime Heroics MMA. He graduated from Adamson University with a B.A in Communication and is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM.