The 10 Most Philly Coaches Ever
06. Greasy Neale
Winning %: .568
Phillyess Quotient: 46.5
His coaching credentials are unrivaled in Eagles history: a worst-to-first turnaround, two of the franchise’s three championships, and a bust in Canton. But the nickname alone earns him a place here. Some sports historians mistakenly thought it was a reference to Neale’s slippery talent as a young running back, or his base-stealing prowess as a pro baseball player. In fact, it was neither. Growing up in West Virginia, Neale knew a grungy kid he called “Dirty Neck.” The ragamuffin fired back with “Greasy,” because Neale worked as a grease boy at a metal factory, and it stuck. Neale might as well have grown up in Bridesburg or Kensington.
Perhaps most endearing about Neale is his role as a pioneer in dealing with impossibly inflated expectations. A year after his second title, the Eagles suffered a rash of injuries and finished 6-6. The front office fired its future Hall of Fame coach. While he was on vacation. By telegram. Neale, soured by his dismissal, left football for good. There’s something sadly fitting about a man whose career was both defined and destroyed by coaching in Philadelphia.
05. Fred Shero
Winning %: .642
Phillyess Quotient: 47.5
Two Stanley Cups is enough to counteract Shero’s weird, untouchable personality and lend him a high ranking. But almost as valuable as the Flyers’ two championships is their victory over the Soviet Red Army team in 1976. The Commies were making mincemeat of the NHL teams they faced on their North American tour, and their last stop was the Spectrum. Philadelphia became their Waterloo. In the ’70s, the Flyers were the Darth Vaders of hockey, but when the Soviets came to town, even Canadians were rooting for the orange and black. For one day, the world not only watched but cheered for Philadelphia and Shero’s band of hooligans. No other team from this city has inspired such global goodwill. As a winner and a most unlikely civic ambassador, Shero deserves props. He also gives us claim to two of the all-time greats in sports: his nickname (“The Fog”) and his inspirational quote (“Win today and walk together forever”).
04. Billy Cunningham
Winning %: .698
Phillyess Quotient: 48
The Kangaroo Kid is one of those rare feel-good stories from start to finish (which, in a town that’s been shaped more by sports misery than joy, actually hurts his standing on this list). Drafted by the Sixers, Cunningham spent nearly his entire pro career here, became an All-Star, then returned as a coach and won the franchise’s second (and last) championship. That’s a feat no other marquee Philadelphia athlete has accomplished. (Gauntlet thrown, Coach Iverson.) Most coaches—especially here—talk about the passion of the fans and how there’s no place they’d rather be. Cunningham is one of the few who have backed that up: With the exception of two seasons in the ABA, he never played or coached anywhere else. Even more rare, Cunningham retired gracefully, on his own terms. One of our all-time class acts, and a reminder that you don’t have to be a raging jerkoff to win.