On the court, a center is a necessity; on the bench, he's a rarity. Only one current head coach—Dave Cowens of the Hornets—was a full-time pivot during his playing days. "I don't know why there are so few of us in coaching," says Cowens. "I guess most centers are smart enough to know better."
Since 1977-78, only four centers—Cowens, Dan Issel (Nuggets), Willis Reed (Nets) and Wes Unseld (Bullets)—have coached a full season in the league. No center can be found in the top 20 on the NBA's list of total games coached, and only Bill Russell, who put together a 341-290 record in stints with Boston, Seattle and Sacramento, ranks among the top 60 in victories. "Most coaches in the NBA are former guards," says Reed, vice president of player development and scouting for the Nets. "Guys who handle the ball are used to running the team on the floor. So it's more natural for them to become coaches."
Because the position requires highly specific skills and training, a center often doesn't get the all-around instruction he'll need to draw on as a coach. Cowens, who has guided the Hornets to a surprising 29-19 record this season, believes the dearth of clipboard-wielding ex-pivotmen might also be a function of personality. "Centers are good guys," he says with a chuckle. "We're not into control issues as much as those little guys."
Then there's the following theory, offered by a perfectly coiffed and fashionably attired coach who wishes to remain anonymous. "The reason there are so few centers coaching in the NBA?" this fellow said. "That's easy. Ever try to find a good Armani suit in the big-and-tall shop?"