The 10 Most Philly Coaches Ever
10. Dick Vermeil
Winning %: .535
Phillyess Quotient: 45
It may be surprising to find Vermeil on this list at all, especially for those of a certain generation who only think of him as the guy on the Blue Cross billboards or the dude Greg Kinnear played in Invincible. He also cries too often in public. But Vermeil is the best example of what so many coaches and athletes have done—honed their skills here, then won a championship somewhere else. (See: Schilling, Curt; White, Reggie; Jones, Smarty.) He led the Birds to their first Super Bowl, lost, then won the damn thing in another city with a quarterback who’d literally been bagging groceries a few years earlier. As was not the case with former Phillies manager Terry Francona—one more exemplar who saved his championships for another town—we liked Vermeil. But again … the weeping. This position feels right.
09. Harry Wright
Quakers, 1884-’89; Phillies, 1890-’93
Winning %: .529
Phillyess Quotient: 45.5
Wright’s name isn’t exactly one that rolls off the tongues of most Phillies fans—or anyone who can’t recall the Cleveland administration firsthand. He was an Englishman, favored three-piece suits, and spoke in a distinguished manner. None of this is very Philadelphian, so he can’t rank too highly. But when he first arrived here, the local baseball squad was coming off a 17-81 season. Needing any edge he could find, Wright decided to get a jump on the competition and take his boys on a “Southern trip” six weeks before the season began. That’s not a British euphemism for cat-housing—Wright became the Father of Spring Training (so all of you folks with Clearwater tans in April have a pasty foreigner to thank). Wright was also the first in what would be a very long line of managers and coaches in this town who wrestled with cheap, micromanaging owners, and he was fired to much protest from the fans. When you curse the front office for being inept or stingy, Wright curses (politely, with an accent) along with you.
08. Danny Ozark
Winning %: .538
Phillyess Quotient: 46
Only a handful of games in the history of Philadelphia sports have earned nicknames. Some of them have little to do with the final score, like “The Body Bag Game”; most are losses that tortured fans then and still haunt them now. “Black Friday” is one of those—and a rare instance where the manager played a direct role in the outcome. The short version: With a 5-3 lead in game three of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers in 1977, Phillies manager Ozark decided not to make his usual ninth-inning move—pulling Greg Luzinski for a defensive sub. Guess who misplayed a ball in left field? Los Angeles rallied to a 6-5 win and eventually took the series. As Ozark explained of his head-scratching tactic: “[Luzinski] was the third batter up in the ninth. I wanted him in the lineup in case the game was tied.”
In other words, Ozark was managing to avoid a loss, despite having a commanding lead with only three outs to go. His philosophy was one that too many Philadelphia teams have adopted over the years: Assume the worst, hope for the best. Every time our teams hold a late-game lead and you know they’ll find some way to blow it, that shiver you feel is the ghost of Ozark whispering in your ear: “Leave the Bull in.”
07. Mike Keenan
Winning %: .638
Phillyess Quotient: 46.5
There’s a reason Keenan is nicknamed “Iron Mike,” and it has nothing to do with any appreciation he may have for Mike Tyson. He’s a bastard. Keenan was the opposite of the “player’s coach,” the guy who gets chummy with his athletes and keeps the room loose. Instead, he ran practices like games and games like North Korean calisthenics sessions. He took regular-season losses about as well as a mobster takes guys who don’t repay loans in a timely manner. His nicknames for his players included “Chickenshit” and “Motherfucker.” In other words, Keenan was the perfect coach for the Flyers, a team built on toughness, villainy, and general not-giving-a-damn about decorum and good taste. He was the first Broad Street Bully behind the bench. Keenan also got results: two Stanley Cup finals, including the epic seven-game series in 1987. No coach since—in any of the four sports—has so fully embodied his team’s ethos. Or worn a mustache that demanded such respect.