Steve Kerr’s Coaching Lineage Led to Instant Success

Randall Faehnrich

Kerr waves


Steve Kerr knew what he was walking into when he agreed to become head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

He understood the value of one of the greatest shooting back courts of all-time. He didn’t undermine the value of a 6-foot-7 Swiss-Army knife named Draymond Green.

Most importantly, he realized taking over for a 51-win team from a well-respected player’s coach like Mark Jackson came with heavy expectations.

The five-time champion had plenty of preparation for this moment along the way. As a point guard, Kerr was already accustomed to running an offense, setting up situational plays and was also well aware that help-defense is the best defense.

Kerr also learned how to make contrasting egos mesh, playing alongside the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Tim Duncan just to name a few.

All these things helped in current Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver’s decision to hire his trusted hoops advisor as the team’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager in 2007.

All of these prior experiences set Kerr on a path to succeed.

But the main reason Kerr was ready for all of the things most rookie head coaches aren’t accustomed to?  The coaching lineage from which he came is second-to-none in the NBA today as we know it.

The following is a list of the five coaches most-influential in Kerr’s coaching success, what attribute he received from each coach and how Kerr applied those to bring Oakland its first championship in 40-years.


Lute Olson (589-187, 1x NCAA Champion, Basketball Hall of Fame):


The two-time collegiate National Coach of the Year mentored Kerr from 1983 to 1987, leading the Wildcats to its first NCAA tournament appearance during Kerr’s sophomore year. From that point forward, Olson would not miss another NCAA tournament until he retired in 2007.

If there’s any trait Kerr picked up from Olson, it is consistency. No team was more consistent than the Warriors, never losing more than two games in a row all season with efficient offense and tremendous defense. Kerr’s next step as a player would be The Association, where he’d take the next steps in developing one of the better basketball minds in the league.


Cotton Fitzsimmons (832-775, 2x NBA Coach Of The Year): 


The often criticized Fitzsimmons was Kerr’s first head coach in the NBA where he was taken in the second round of the 1988 draft by the Phoenix Suns. The attribute Kerr received from his first NBA head coach would be grit.

Fitzsimmons was known for having the resolve to make decisions in game as much as he was known for making hardened decisions with trades.

Kerr’s decision in Game Four of the NBA finals will go down as one of the grittier decisions in an NBA Finals. To start Andre Iguodala over Andrew Bogut – the team’s defensive anchor in the middle all season long – is what personifies grit and has a direct correlation to Kerr’s first NBA coach.

He’d soon be shipped off to the Cavaliers, and come under the tutelage of his first legendary NBA head coach.


Lenny Wilkens (1,332-1,155, 1x NBA Champion/COY, Basketball HOF): 


Just win, baby. After Kerr’s short stint in Phoenix, the young point guard was traded to Cleveland, where he would learn under the tutelage of a coach who ranks second in wins in NBA history.

Kerr’s attribute from Wilkins? The x’s and o’s of basketball. In Kerr’s first season, his team won 67-games, a great number to match the pace of his former coach.

Many who play sports – any sport for that matter – will tell you that the game itself is physical, but to be successful, you must have the mental toughness to boot. There’d be no better place for Kerr to land than the next place on our list.


Phil Jackson (1,155-485, 11x NBA Champion, 1x NBA COY, Basketball HOF): 


The man, myth and legend in NBA lure. Kerr landed with the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 season, right after Michael Jordan had retired to play baseball.

It would be obvious to say Kerr learned how to win from “The Zen Master,” but I’ll go with Jackson’s nickname instead. Kerr was able to take Jackson’s mental approach to basketball and apply it to Golden State.

Kerr kept a young, star-studded team composed on the biggest stage in the biggest moments in each game. Many argue about Jackson’s coaching prowess, but what they cannot argue is his ability to master mind control, and Kerr took full advantage of what he learned under “The Zen Master.”


Gregg Popovich (1,022-470, 5x NBA Champion, 3x NBA COY): 


To put it simply, there may not be a better motivator in NBA history than Popovich, and that’s the attribute he’s passed along to Kerr. Kerr signed on with the San Antonio Spurs in the 1998 season after winning three-straight NBA titles with Chicago.

In his first season with the Spurs, he won another. Kerr was able to take the motivation Popovich has used for years on his players – to get the most out of athletes with limited ability simply by working repeatedly on their craft – with him to Golden State, and motivate guys such as Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and David Lee to accept their limited roles in order to visualize the bigger picture: an NBA championship.

Steve Kerr was setup for success. Not because he inherited a 51-win team. Not because he inherited an all-time great shooting backcourt. Not because he inherited a team with the perfect balance of young legs and veteran minds.

No, Steve Kerr was setup for success because of the extraordinary lineage of coaching he had as a player in his 15-year NBA career. 


Pop and Kerr






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