The occupation of professional sports coach has a super-duper-short shelf life. Just ask former Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown, who was fired four games into his second year at the helm—or over the last decade, any Cleveland Browns head coach who has been kicked to the curb after a single season.
But the good ones, the ones who may not have been in the right situation or just needed more experience, usually land on their feet. They pay their dues and then, before you know it, they rise back to the top. Here are five coaches you need to know about in 2015 as they ascend to the pinnacle of their profession and become household names.
Assistant coaches for the San Antonio Spurs work in relative anonymity, since head coach Gregg Popovich is the scowling face of one of the most successful NBA franchises ever. This is especially true for Mike Budenholzer, who spent 18 years under Pop before leaving the serenity of the Riverwalk for the eclectic streets of Hotlanta.
The Atlanta Hawks have been, in a matter of speaking, like the Kid Cudi of basketball. Good enough to be relevant each year but perpetually stuck in one gear lower than they’d like to be. They’ve made the Playoffs seven straight seasons, never advancing past the second round, even as the team’s organist urges them on with all of today’s hits.
Insert Budenholzer. After taking over the Hawks in 2013, the Popovich apprentice has Atlanta off to its best start in years, occupying first place in the East for the first time since what seems like forever.
Budenholzer is a proponent of the infamous Triangle Offense. He spent many of his years with the Spurs trying to figure out how to stop the Los Angeles Lakers from running it successfully. His use of the Triangle with the Hawks has propelled them to 9th in the league in points, averaging 102.6 per game.
Ball movement and players constantly moving without the ball are staples of the beautiful San Antonio offense, and they have now found their way to Atlanta. Budenholzer also turned Kyle Korver into a silent ninja assassin from deep range. The rest of the East should take notice. The Hawks are here to stay, finally.
Haley flamed out as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs after leading them to a surprising playoff appearance in 2010, and he struggled early on as the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But 2014 was the year Haley took off like a comet (get it?).
The Steelers became the first team in NFL history to feature a 4,500-yard passer, 1,500-yard receiver and 1,300-yard rusher in the same season. Ben Roethlisberger finished with 4,952 yards passing, far and away his career best. Haley used running back Le’Veon Bell’s versatility to get him the ball both on handoffs and passes out of the backfield. Wide receiver Antonio Brown also had a career year, hauling in 13 touchdowns and racking up 1,698 yards receiving—despite the loss of Emmanuel Sanders, whose skills once freed up Brown on the other side of the field.
The Steelers’ historic offensive season led to Haley signing a two-year contract extension. The rest of the league should take notice as teams plan to defend the Steelers in 2016.
There’s a reason Kyle Shanahan became the youngest offensive coordinator in NFL history when the Houston Texans promoted him to the position in 2008. The guy knows how to run an NFL offense, no matter who is behind center.
In 2009, his second year coaching the offense in Houston, quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 4,770 yards and 29 touchdowns, the best season of his 11-year career. The Texans’ performance landed Shanahan in Washington with his father Mike, where, in 2012, he turned Robert Griffin III into the Offensive Rookie of the Year and used his zone blocking scheme to let running back Alfred Morris loose to the tune of 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Though the Redskins regressed in RGIII’s second year, Shanahan was a highly coveted coordinator when he and his father were let go following the 2013 season. He landed in Cleveland, where he led career backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, a handful of unknown receivers and two rookie running backs to a 7-9 mark.
Shanahan has jet-stetted once again, leaving Cleveland after just one season, but his name has been attached to head coaching jobs in places like San Francisco and offensive coordinator positions all over.
The way Kidd left Brooklyn rubbed a lot of people—OK, everyone—the wrong way, but the second-year coach has already put his stamp on the Milwaukee Bucks.
Just two years removed from playing point guard for the New York Knicks, the non-tie wearing, purposely drink-spilling coach has elevated an extremely raw Bucks team to respectability.
Despite losing the number 2 pick in the draft, Jabari Parker, for the season due to injury, and dealing with a guy who may not actually like basketball, Kidd has the Bucks playing over .500 basketball for the first time in over four years.
Kidd has figured out creative ways to use Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 6-foot-11 “Greek Freak” with handles like a point guard. Kidd has also been able to turn Brandon Knight into more than just the serviceable point guard he’s been for much of his career, as he leads the team in both scoring and assists.