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Monday, October 27, 2003
Updated: October 29, 12:32 PM ET
Best coaching in a game or series

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

Jack McKeon took over the sub-.500 Marlins in May and led them to the World Series, defeating two 100-win teams in the process.

Besides his decision to start Josh Beckett on three days' rest in Game 6, McKeon made two other key moves during the postseason:

1) Batting 20-year-old rookie Miguel Cabrera cleanup (he hit four home runs and drove in 12 runs in 17 playoff games).

2) He wasn't afraid to tinker with his rotation. Brad Penny started in the rotation, went to the bullpen, and then moved back into it and beat the Yankees twice. Carl Pavano started in the bullpen but went to the rotation and pitched a great World Series game. Mark Redman struggled, so McKeon went with Beckett instead in Game 6.

As clutch as McKeon's moves were, however, he didn't make our top 10 list of greatest coaching or managing in one game, series or tournament:

Herb Brooks
Brooks led a bunch of college kids to the greatest upset in sports history.

1. Herb Brooks, 1980 Olympics
Do you believe in team spirit, confidence, and humor? U.S. Hockey coach Herb Brooks did. Among his "Brookisms," which, oft-repeated, made a difference: "Don't dump the puck in."

"Throw the puck back and weave, weave, weave. But don't just weave for the sake of weaving."

"Let's be idealistic, but let's also be practical."

The team followed this advice, and Brooks' leadership, to an upset over the Soviets, gold and glory.

2. Howard Schnellenberger, 1984 Orange Bowl
No. 1-ranked Nebraska, which had averaged 52 points a game in going 12-0, was an 11-point favorite over No. 5 ranked-Miami, coached by Schnellenberger and appearing in just its second bowl game since 1967. Behind freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar, the Hurricanes jumped to a 17-0 first-quarter lead, confusing the Cornhuskers with their pass-first approach.

The Cornhuskers rallied back and the game would go down to a final play: after Nebraska scored to make it 31-30 with 48 seconds left, the Cornhuskers went for two. It failed and Miami had the upset win and its first national title.

"A miracle? I'd prefer to say this was a team of destiny," Schnellenberger said. "I wasn't surprised. All along I'd felt it coming."

Bill Belichick
Belichick's Patriots shocked the Rams, 20-17.

3. Bill Belichick, 2002 Super Bowl
The Rams' high-powered offense was known as "The Greatest Show on Turf." But Belichick's Patriots shut it down and Rams coach Mike Martz and quarterback Kurt Warner couldn't figure out the ever-changing D. Once in a while, a blitz. For most of the first half, six defensive backs. For part of the game, a five-man front. For most of the game, a Marshall Faulk shadow named Antwan Harris. Pats QB Tom Brady got the Disney ducat, but only because Belichick wasn't eligible for MVP.

4. Walter Alston, 1955 World Series
Brooklyn had never beaten the Yankees and had never won the World Series, but did both in 1955 -- and became the first team to win the World Series after losing the first two games. Alston's brilliance came in maneuvering a pitching staff in which his two best starters -- Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine -- both had sore arms. As a result, Alston started six different pitchers in the first six games.

In Game 7, Alston bypassed 20-game winner Newcombe (who had started Game 1 and always had trouble in big games anyway) and Erskine (who pitched poorly in Game 4) for 23-year-old Johnny Podres, who was just 9-10 during the season but had won Game 3. Leading 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Alston made another key move: he moved left fielder Jim Gilliam to second base (replacing Don Zimmer) and put Sandy Amoros in left. With two runners on and no outs, Yogi Berra drove a ball into the left-field corner and Amoros made a fantastic catch with his glove hand and doubled Gil McDougald off first base. Podres finished off the 2-0 victory.

5. Jim Valvano, 1983 NCAA Championship
Houston Cougar center Akeem Olajuwon: "We figure the team with the most dunks will win." Since he was the centerpiece of Phi Slamma Jamma, the dominant dunkers that led Houston to the NCAA finals against North Carolina State with a 25-game winning streak in hand, you had to figure he figured right.

Jim Valvano
Valvano led the Wolfpack to one of the most amazing title runs in NCAA history.

But Jimmy V, whose N.C. State team had lost 10 games before taking the ACC tournament and advancing, surprisingly, to the Final Four, figured something different: slow it down. Force Houston outside. The strategy worked, as did his end-game tactics. With the score knotted at 52 with two minutes left, V said to foul Cougar frosh Alvin Franklin. Good choice. Franklin missed the front of a one-and-one, the Wolfpack rebounded, and held the ball for the last shot. Which, unfortunately, turned out to be a 30-foot desperate heave by Dereck Whittenburg. Which, fortunately, fell short into the leaping Lorenzo Charles' hands. Charles slammed the real last shot down with one second remaining, giving N.C. State a 54-52 win. And a triumph of brains over brawn.

6. Jon Gruden, 2003 Super Bowl
Tampa Bay defensive back John Lynch, miked for the Super Bowl against the Raiders, in the second quarter: "Every play they've run, we've run in practice. It's unreal." 'Nuff said.

7. Steve Fisher, 1989 NCAA Tournament
Under longtime head coach Bill Frieder, the Wolverines had been hoops underachievers -- big, fast, deep, talented. But they would fold during tourney time. But at the end of the regular season, Frieder signed to coach Arizona State, and Fisher, an assistant who had never been the head coach of a college team before, was handed the reins.

In a situation that could have devolved immediately into chaos, Fisher took control. He told forward Glen Rice that he was The Man. Good move: Rice responded with big game after big game, scoring a record 184 points in six games. He instilled, and reinforced, confidence in his team. Good move: "Coach Fisher is easier to relate to [than Frieder]," Michigan forward Loy Vaught said before the final. "He seems to have us a little more fired up both on the court and off. In the locker room before games, he makes it a positive situation. He'll tell us, 'I've viewed the tapes six times and if we do this, I've got confidence that we're the better team.' Whereas Coach Frieder used to stand up and say, 'If we play our best basketball game, we might have a chance to win.'"

In the final against Seton Hall, Michigan won in overtime 80-79, as Rice scored 31 and Rumeal Robinson sank two free throws with three ticks left. Fisher started his head coaching career with six straight wins, all in the NCAA Tournament. Can it get any better?

8. Mayo Smith, 1968 World Series
Getting ready for the World Series against the Cardinals, the Tigers had a problem: they had four outfielders who could hit, but a shortstop who hit .135. Smith's unconventional solution? He moved center fielder Mickey Stanley to shortstop, so he could play Willie Horton, Jim Northrup and Al Kaline in the World Series.

Smith had another big decision. Down 3 games to 2, he elected to start Denny McLain in Game 6 on two days' rest (McLain had only lasted two innings in his previous start), but that meant starting Mickey Lolich in Game 7 on two days' rest -- against Bob Gibson.

It all paid off. Stanley played errorless ball at short, Northrup had the key hit in Game 7 and Lolich beat Gibson, 4-1.

9. Mike Krzyzewski, 1991 NCAA semifinals
In the 1990 NCAA Championship, UNLV crushed Krzyzewski's Blue Devils by 30 points, and the Rebels came into their 1991 semifinal matchup a huge favorite. UNLV was a fast-gunning offensive powerhouse, unbeaten in 34 games and boasting an average margin of victory of 27 points.

But Krzyzewski outsmarted Jerry Tarkanian. First, he showed his team some game film, and convinced his players that the previous year's blowout wasn't entirely deserved. Then he came up with a strategy: On offense, attack inside with Christian Laettner. On defense, double-team Larry Johnson and shut down the Rebels' running game. Be careful: let the Rebels make mistakes, but don't make them yourself. It worked. Laettner scored 20 points in the first half and iced the game when he sunk two free throws with 12 seconds left. Duke won, 79-77.

"They followed Coach Mike Krzyzewski's formula for success as if it were gospel," wrote Gene Wojciechowski in the L.A. Times, and that formula would work again as Duke beat Kansas in the final.

10. Jesse Harper "invents" forward pass
Notre Dame was an obscure little school from the Midwest when it traveled eastward to face mighty Army in 1913. While the forward pass had been legalized in 1906, it was a play rarely used in college football. But Irish coach Harper, quarterback Gus Dorais and end Knute Rockne had developed a wide-open offense the likes never seen on the East Coast. Dorais threw for an amazing 243 yards as Notre Dame romped 31-13. The forward pass was here to stay.

Also receiving votes:
Connie Mack, 1929 World Series
Gil Hodges, 1969 World Series
Jack Ramsay, 1977 NBA Finals
Lou Holtz, 1978 Orange Bowl
Bela Karolyi, 1984 Summer Olympics
Bill Parcells, 1991 Super Bowl