Inside LA’s turbulent timeline of leaders

Lakers coaching history: Inside LA’s turbulent timeline of leaders, from Pat Riley to Phil Jackson

The Lakers are one of the most prestigious franchises in professional sports. Expectations tend to be unreasonably high, and just making the playoffs is rarely good enough. For head coaches, that means the job comes with perils.

Each of the last six Lakers coaches has lasted no more than three seasons, even with a championship in that stretch. That trend persisted when Darvin Ham was fired after only two years on the job, ensuring the Lakers would lead another head coaching search as they try to keep their championship window open before the end of LeBron James’ career.

The next Lakers coach will arguably walk into an even more uncertain situation than Ham did. James is set to turn 40 in December, and it’s fair to question what the franchise’s ceiling can be with a 40-year-old star regardless of how well he’s doing in his battle against Father Time. Adding to the uncertainty is the possibility James won’t be with the Lakers at all, as he can become a free agent this summer.

Reports have indicated the Lakers are looking for a foundational coach who can establish a culture and lead the franchise into a new era focused on Anthony Davis when James does walk away. Will the Lakers’ next coach be given the patience to build a new culture, or will expectations and impatience make it another short stint?

Here’s a look at the Lakers’ coaching history, from John Kundla all the way through to Ham.

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Lakers coaching history

The Lakers have had 28 head coaches in their history, with two (John Kundla, Phil Jackson) receiving two separate stints.

Here’s a look at all 28 Lakers head coaches and their records in Los Angeles

Despite the Lakers’ success over the years, very few coaches have enjoyed extended stays in Los Angeles. Only five — Kundla, Fred Schaus, Bill Sharman, Pat Riley and Jackson — completed five full seasons as head coach of the Lakers.

The Lakers have won 17 NBA championships, but 14 of them are split between Jackson, Kundla and Riley. Bill Sharman, Paul Westhead and Frank Vogel each won one championship with the Lakers.

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The history of Lakers coaches is hit-or-miss, to say the least. Riley and Jackson are legends of the game and have won championships elsewhere. Jackson also happens to be the only Lakers head coach in the 21st century who lasted more than three seasons on the job, so finding a long-term solution for the job has been a major challenge over the last decade-plus.

In some cases, the Lakers were beset by bad coaching luck in their history. Jack McKinney lasted only 14 games in 1979 because he suffered a serious head injury in an accident. He was replaced by Westhead, who went on to lead Los Angeles to a title.

Rudy Tomjanovich, chosen as the initial successor to Jackson, saw his first and only season in the role cut short by “physical and emotional difficulties” after undergoing cancer treatment. Jackson would return to the role the following season.

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The Lakers have also had short leashes on certain coaches. Del Harris was fired 12 games into a lockout-shortened season in 1999, while Mike Brown lasted only five games into his second season before his firing in 2012.

The elevated expectations and brighter spotlight that come with coaching the Lakers tend to take their toll on most who hold the position. That makes finding the right personality in this coaching search just as critical for the franchise as finding the right tactical coach.

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