A brief history of player-coaches in pro sports
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A brief history of player-coaches in pro sports

As if the Chicago Cubs signing Manny Ramirez for their Triple-A affiliate in Iowa wouldn’t have been enough of a surprise, the former MLB superstar will join the organization in a coaching capacity as well.

Ramirez owns a career slash-line of .312/.411/.585, to go along with 555 home runs and an MLB record 29 postseason bombs. While Ramirez’s MLB playing days are effectively over, Theo Epstein and co. see some potential in him as someone who can help mentor some of the franchise’s up and coming  young talents.

Player-coaches were rather common in the up to and through the Dead Ball Era, Live Ball Era, and Integration Era, before tapering off for good early in the Free Agent Era. Many all-time greats, and Hall of Fame members like George Wright, Connie Mack, Cy Young, Honus Wagner, and Frank Robinson served as a player-coach at points in their respective careers. Pete Rose was the last person to work in a player-coach role in Major League Baseball when he was reunited with the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-to-1986.

The NHL has never had anyone emulate Reg Dunlop and take on a true player-coach role in the modern era, but former players like Lou Nanne in Minnesota and Garth Snow on Long Island transitioned from an on-ice role to the front office immediately following retirement. Although former NBA greats like Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens have manned a player-coach post, today’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits players from wearing both titles.

While a glance at the sidelines in an NFL game on any given Sunday may give off the impression that many players share a hand in coaching, the league has not had an official player-coach since injuries forced former Dallas Cowboys running back Dan Reeves into that role under Tom Landry in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The player-coach concept has been much more common in soccer than other major professional sports through the modern era. The instances of player-managers have fallen off quite a bit across association football in the past decade, but this past May saw Manchester United player-interim manager Ryan Giggs take the field one last time before he retired to become a full-time assistant manager to Louis van Gaal.

In honor of Ramirez’s appointment to player-coach with the Iowa Cubs, here are several cases of players doubling up on duties by handling coaching or managerial duties during their playing careers.

Joe Torre

Incoming Hall of Fame member Joe Torre managed the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers over a span of 33 years. A four-time World Series Champion with the Yankees, and two-time American League Manager of the Year, Torre got his start as a manager in his final season as a player with the Mets in 1977.

Ruud Gullit-Gianluca Vialli

Former captain of the Dutch National Team Ruud Gullit was named Chelsea’s manager as a player in 1996. He would hold dual titles for two seasons before he was sacked in favor of teammate Gianluca Vialli in 1998, who would go on to assume player-coach duties for one more full season in 1999.

Bill Russell

Bill Russell led the Boston Celtics of the 1950s and 1960s to ten consecutive NBA Final appearances, winning the NBA championship nine times including eight straight from 1959-1966. The dynasty’s head coach, Red Auerbach, handed over the reigns to Russell for the 1966-67 season. Russell’s first turn as a player-coach saw the Celtics fail to land in the NBA Final for the first time in over ten years, but he would help the franchise capture its ninth title in ten years the following season.

Dan Reeves

Drawing from his own experience as a player-coach, Tom Landry leaned on Dan Reeves to help guide the Dallas Cowboys running back corps for three seasons, with the latter still taking a small share of snaps in the process.  

Craig Berube

Former NHL pugilist Craig Berube threw fists for 17 seasons in stints with the Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals, and New York Islanders. Berube finished his playing career with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, where he also served as an assistant coach before retiring from playing to focus solely on coaching. He was named head coach of the Flyers on October 7, 2013, succeeding Peter Laviolette following an insurmountable 0-3 start to the 2013-14 season.

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A brief history of player-coaches in pro sports
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