My very short journey through the greatest coaches in Nuggets history has already arrived at Number 2 and with that I bring you the second greatest coach in Denver Nuggets History……George Karl!
George Karl Spent more than 9 years on the Denver Nuggets bench and made a mark eclipsed by only one coach in the history of the franchise. He is second all time in wins for a Nuggets Coach with 423 (Doug Moe) and has the second highest winning percentage of a Nuggets Coach at .622 (Larry Brown). He led the Nuggets to the most wins in a season in franchise history by leading them to a 57-25 record in the 2012-2013 season. He also won the coach of the year award for the first time in his career during that season. Karl led the Nuggets to the playoffs in each of his 9 plus seasons as Nuggets coach and the major knock on Karl during his tenure with the Nuggets is that he only led the team out of the first round of the playoffs once taking them to the Western Conference finals after the 2008-2009 season. The Nuggets finished in first or second place in the Northwest Division in every one of Karl’s seasons at the helm and won 50 games or more in 5 of those seasons.
Karl was hired partially through the 2004-2005 season when he replaced interim Head Coach Michael Cooper on January 27, 2005 and led the Nuggets back from a dismal start to a finishing 32-8 record and a playoff birth. The 32-8 finish was one of the greatest final 40 games by any team in NBA history and started a string of winning the Nuggets had not seen since the Doug Moe days of the 1980’s. Karl also had stints with several other teams during his NBA Coaching career, most notably the powerful Seattle Supersonic teams of the 1990’s when Karl made his mark as a premier NBA Head Coach. He was also the Head Coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks. He made the playoffs at least once with every team he coached including taking the Sonics to the Western Conference Finals twice and made one appearance in the NBA Finals. He also took the Bucks to the Conference Finals while with Milwaukee. His teams won 60% of all the regular season games they played and 43% of all the playoff games they played.
When George Karl was hired by the Nuggets they were an up and coming franchise having just recently drafted Carmelo Anthoney, signed free agent Kenyon Martin and acquired point guard Andre Miller in a trade. Karl gave the Nuggets immediate credibility and molded that team with other changes and acquisitions into the team that took the eventual NBA Champion Lakers to 6 games in the Western Conference Finals.
The other significant story in the career of George Karl as Nuggets Head Coach is that he survived throat and neck cancer while coaching the team. He was diagnosed with cancer just before he coached the Western Conference All Star team in 2010 and announced his condition immediately after the game. Karl went through Chemo and Radiation therapy during his time away from the team and was deemed cancer free prior to the 2011-2012 season. He went on to coach every game until his firing after being cleared of neck and throat cancer and led the Nuggets to the 57 win season in 2012-2013 after his recovery.
Karl was fired after the 2012-2013 season when he requested a Contract extension as he only had one year left on the deal he signed in 2007. Just before his firing, Karl was named the NBA Coach of the Year for the 1st time in his career. He was also coach of the Western Conference All Star team 4 times in his career and once while with the Nuggets (2010).
Karl is currently an Analyst with ESPN on their NBA coverage and aspires to coach in the NBA again. If he is given the opportunity by another NBA team, there is no doubt in my mind that he will bring his winning attitude and culture to that team just like he did with the Nuggets.
So I give to you the second greatest coach in Denver Nuggets history……George Matthew Karl!