A saying in sports coaching is that “you don’t want to be the coach who follows the legend, you want to follow the coach who follows the legend.” The coach who directly follows a legendary coach almost never repeats that success and is always compared to the legend. “‘What you want,’ he was advised, time and time again, ‘is to be the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend’” was cited in Sports Illustrated in September 1976. It’s not known if the saying has an exact origin with a particular legendary coach.
The saying has less frequently been applied to following legendary players and the saying has also been used in business.
September 06, 1976
New Boys On The Block
From the day he’s hired, a college football coach has two things in common with his predecessor—a belief he can do the job, a good chance he won’t. Meet four fresh optimists
The opportunity of becoming a head coach had apparently passed when he was suddenly faced with the offer to succeed Ralph (Shug) Jordan, the resident legend at Auburn—25 years on the job, national and conference championships, bowl games, etc. Everybody who knew anything about coaching told Barfield what a fool he would be to follow a legend. “What you want,” he was advised, time and time again, “is to be the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend.” Barfield listened to the good advice—and accepted the job.
16 November 1976, State-Times (Baton Rouge, LA), “College Football Wash” by Herschel Nissenson (AP Sports Writer), pg. 3-C, col. 6:
The saying goes that a coach who follows a legend is in for trouble...and it’s better to be the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend.
“Obviously you have some problems,” says Southern Cal’s John Robinson, who followed a legend named John McKay.
Google News Archive
17 December 1982, Gadsden (AL) Times, “Christmas comes early for new Alabama boss” by Jimmy Smothers, pg. 9, col. 1:
ORLANDO, Fla.—A lot of former Alabama players have said they’d like to one day be asked to return to coach the Crimson Tide. But most of them didn’t want to be the first to follow Bear Bryant. They want to be the second. The coach after the coach who follows the legend.
31 March 1985, Mobile (AL) Press Register, “Southeast Notes” by Ed Shearer (AP Sports Writer), pg. 12-B, col. 1:
It has often been said that coaches don’t want to follow legends, preferring to follow the coach who follows the legend.
December 06, 2001
Pink (slip) Floyd?
By Dan Patrick
Floyd became the coach after the dynasty ended, taking over on the heels of the Michael Jordan era in Chicago. He tried to convince Jordan to come back but could not pull it off. You don’t want to be the coach who follows the legend. You want to be the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend. But Floyd wasn’t afforded that luxury.
Stadium Stories: Dallas Cowboys:
Colorful Tales of America’s Team
By Brad Sham
Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press
There may be no better example of the existence of “the Thing” than the thirteen-year Cowboys career of Danny White. You don’t want to be the one who follows the legend; you want to be the one who follows the one who followed the legend.
Leadership: Mutiny Before the Hurricane
BY JOHN BALDONI | JULY 18, 2007
There’s a saying in sports that says you don’t want to be the coach who follows the legend. You want to be the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend. Bill Proenza, the former director of the National Hurricane Center, knows what it is like to follow a legend. He succeeded the very popular director, Max Mayfield who was seen by millions on television during hurricane season.
Bangor (ME) Daily News
Nelson victim of following legend at Husson
By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 09, 2010, at 5:08 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 09, 2010, at 7:55 p.m.
There is a sports adage that says “You don’t want to be the coach who follows the legend. You want to be the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend.”