Worst Player-Coach Feuds
In sports, players and coaches sometimes have different approaches to winning.
Players may have gripes with a system or the way they are used, while coaches may not like the way a player practices (yes, we’re talking about practice). Not seeing eye to eye on these things, along with personality conflicts, often can manifest themselves into feuds between a player and coach, or even worse, an actual fight between the two.
There has been no shortage of beefs between player and coach in sports, and the consequences of the feuds have run the gamut. Players have been released or traded, coaches have been fired, fists have been thrown, chokeholds applied, and even a hitman was nearly involved.
These are the worst player-coach feuds in sports history — and some of them are still going on today.
25. Deron Williams vs. Jerry Sloan
What started the feud: Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan had a halftime "disagreement," which led to Sloan resigning just three days after signing a contract extension.
Bottom line: To this day, no one outside of those in the Jazz locker room knows what was said or done during halftime of the team’s loss to the Bulls on Feb. 9, 2011. But we do know that the next morning, Sloan’s 23-year coaching stint in Utah abruptly ended as he handed in his resignation.
The coach initially downplayed any friction with the point guard, but Williams later acknowledged having a disagreement with Sloan during that game.
Just two weeks after Sloan resigned, Williams was traded to the Nets, so the coach wasn’t the only one in the organization who had enough of him.
24. Shea Hillenbrand vs. John Gibbons
What started the feud: Shea Hillenbrand was upset about being demoted, so he called the Blue Jays "a sinking ship," which led to a confrontation with his manager.
Bottom line: Shea Hillenbrand’s acrimony with the Blue Jays started when he adopted a baby girl and received no recognition or congratulations from the team. His demotion from being a starter to a platoon player also drew his ire.
Frustrated, Hillenbrand proceeded to call out the team on a clubhouse whiteboard by writing "This is a sinking ship" and "Play for yourself." Once manager John Gibbons saw that, he confronted Hillenbrand, and the two had to be separated.
Gibbons then told management that "it’s either him or me," and Toronto chose to side with its manager. Hillenbrand was designated for assignment that same night, then traded two days later.
23. Magic Johnson vs. Paul Westhead
What started the feud: Paul Westhead wasn’t happy that Magic Johnson was ignoring him on the court while Johnson wasn’t happy playing in Westhead’s system.
Bottom line: Many of the feuds on this list boiled down to a "it’s either him or me" scenario, and that’s what happened to the Lakers. In 1980, Johnson won an NBA championship as a rookie under Westhead, but after an early postseason exit the next season and a sluggish start to the 1981-82 season, the Lakers were at a crossroads.
Johnson didn’t like Westhead’s system and told management that he wanted to be traded. But seeing as Johnson had just signed a 25-year contract — and was Magic Johnson — the Lakers weren’t going to deal their young superstar.
So they got rid of the coach who had won a title some 18 months earlier and replaced him with Pat Riley. Johnson and Riley then created "Showtime," and the Lakers won four more championships in the 1980s.
22. David Beckham vs. Sir Alex Ferguson
What started the feud: Alex Ferguson didn’t like David Beckham’s increased celebrity status and decreased commitment to Manchester United after he married Victoria Adams.
Bottom line: "[David Beckham] was never a problem until he got married," Alex Ferguson said in 2007. "Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing. ... He is such a big celebrity, football is only a small part."
Beckham was a national celebrity just from being one of the best players on Manchester United, but he became an international celebrity after marrying a Spice Girl in 1999. Ferguson said that his star player changed after that and preferred to enjoy the celebrity life instead of working harder at his craft, which is what he did beforehand.
The tension between player and coach peaked in 2003 when Ferguson, in frustration after a loss, kicked a boot in the Man U locker room that struck Beckham in the eye and required stitches. Four months later, Beckham’s 11-year stint with Manchester United ended as he transferred to Real Madrid.
21. Jim Harbaugh vs. Mike Ditka
What started the feud: Jim Harbaugh was under a strict no-audible policy, but he ignored his head coach, audibled and threw an interception on the play.
Bottom line: Knowing the fiery personalities of Mike Ditka and Jim Harbaugh, it comes as no surprise that these two got into it during a game.
The Bears were leading the Vikings 20-0, and Ditka instructed his quarterback to not audible any plays. Harbaugh didn’t listen and called for an audible that his receiver didn’t hear. The Vikings picked off the pass and returned it for a touchdown, and when Harbaugh returned to the sideline, Ditka lit into him and grabbed his facemask.
The Vikings went on to score another touchdown, and another, to win 21-20. After the game Ditka said, "When there's a player who knows more than a coach, you've got a problem. If this happens again, there will be definite changes."
There were changes. Ditka’s 11-year stint in Chicago came to an end after the season.
20. John Elway vs. Dan Reeves
What started the feud: Two stubborn individuals who each wanted to do things their own way clashed heads throughout their 10 years together.
Bottom line: John Elway and Dan Reeves always had a tenuous relationship during their time together, but things reached a crescent in 1990.
Elway told a reporter that Broncos players thought Reeves was aloof and inflexible while also revealing that he and the head coach rarely ever spoke. Reeves was surprised at Elway’s comments but seemed to get his revenge a year later when he fired offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan, who had become Elway’s confidant.
The relationship between Elway and Reeves was so splintered that the Broncos really had no choice but to fire Reeves in 1992, even though he had made the Super Bowl three times during his tenure.
19. Patrick Roy vs. Mario Tremblay
What started the feud: As teammates, Mario Tremblay mocked Patrick Roy’s English-speaking skills, and a decade later, Tremblay became Roy’s coach.
Bottom line: It had to have been Patrick Roy’s nightmare when a former teammate that teased him, Mario Tremblay, then became his head coach.
The two had a decade-long feud that included Tremblay criticizing Roy when the former hosted a sports radio show prior to becoming coach. When Tremblay was appointed Canadiens coach, he was no less harsh on his star goalie and infamously kept him in net in a game in which the opposition scored nine goals.
After that game, Roy told Montreal’s general manager that he would never play for the team again and, true to his word, he never did. He was traded to Colorado just days later.
18. Marcus Allen vs. Art Shell
What started the feud: Hall of Famer Marcus Allen had a contract dispute with Raiders owner Al Davis, and Art Shell sided with Davis.
Bottom line: In 1985, Marcus Allen was the NFL’s rushing champion, but then he spent the next couple of years as a part-time player alongside Bo Jackson.
When Jackson got injured and retired in 1990, Allen remained a part-time player much to his displeasure. The reason for that stemmed from a contract dispute with owner Al Davis, and many felt that Shell was simply a puppet for Davis, which he adamantly denied.
Regardless of who was pulling the strings, Allen had more carries in that 1985 season than he had from 1989 to 1992 combined. He left for the Chiefs in 1993 and played five seasons in Kansas City, rushing for 3,968 yards and scoring 47 total touchdowns.
17. Stephon Marbury vs. Isiah Thomas
What started the feud: Isiah Thomas told Stephon Marbury that he would be removed from the starting lineup, and Marbury responded by threatening to blackmail the coach.
Bottom line: After Stephon Marbury feuded with the previous Knicks coach, Larry Brown, the team replaced him with someone who could relate to Marbury, fellow point guard Isiah Thomas.
But their relationship was even more toxic than the Brown/Marbury one, and it peaked when Thomas said he would bench Marbury against his former team, the Phoenix Suns.
That’s when Marbury then went on the attack and said, "I've got so much [stuff] on Isiah, and he knows it. He thinks he can [get] me. But I'll [get] him first. You have no idea what I know."
Thomas did not return as the Knicks' coach after the 2008 season, and New York waived Marbury in 2009.
16. Keyshawn Johnson vs. Jon Gruden
What started the feud: Keyshawn Johnson wasn’t happy about his decreased role in Jon Gruden’s offense and lashed out at the coach on national TV.
Bottom line: Usually player-coach confrontations happen behind closed doors, but Keyshawn Johnson and Jon Gruden had one on the sideline of a "Monday Night Football" game. Johnson wasn’t happy being taken off the field for formations involving just one receiver, and he let Gruden know about it by getting in his face.
Gruden, predictably, wasn’t happy about this situation occurring in public, and his revenge was to deactivate Johnson for the last seven games of the season. The team could have just released him, but they purposely deactivated Johnson to keep him from joining another team.
Johnson was traded after the season, and the two reunited when they both worked for ESPN as analysts.
15. Dominik Hasek vs. Ted Nolan
What started the feud: The real feud was between Ted Nolan and the Sabres' general manager, who Dominik Hasek sided with.
Bottom line: There were two camps on the Sabres from 1995 to 1997 — one that stood by coach Ted Nolan and one that stood behind GM John Muckler.
Hall of Fame goalie Dominik Hasek backed Muckler, and after the team was eliminated in the 1997 playoffs, Hasek said in an interview at the NHL Awards Show that it would be best if Nolan did not return the following season.
But before Buffalo made a decision on Nolan, they fired Muckler. Nolan likely thought he was safe, but the team then lowballed him a contract offer, which he rejected, paving the way for his exit from Buffalo and Hasek.
14. Phil Linz vs. Yogi Berra
What started the feud: Phil Linz started playing a harmonica after a Yankees loss which drew the ire of skipper Yogi Berra.
Bottom line: After a four-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox, Yankees players boarded a team bus heading to the airport. The mood was glum onboard the bus, but utility infielder Phil Linz thought it would be appropriate to bust out his harmonica-playing skills.
First-year manager Yogi Berra, who was a teammate of Linz just one year prior, took offense and slapped the harmonica out of the hand of Linz. The rest of the Yankees on the bus thought the incident was hilarious, and it spurred the team to a World Series appearance.
But Yankees management didn’t think it was too funny. They saw the incident as a sign that Berra didn’t have control of the team, and the Yankees' Hall of Famer was fired after just one season.
13. Kobe Bryant vs. Phil Jackson
What started the feud: After straying outside of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense for years, Jackson wrote a book in which he labeled Kobe Bryant uncoachable.
Bottom line: Though not as big as Kobe Bryant’s feud with Shaq, the "Black Mamba" also didn’t see eye to eye with his head coach at times.
Bryant was in his early 20s during his first go-around with Phil Jackson and was headstrong and not always the best teammate. Jackson’s entire philosophy of coaching revolved around getting the whole team to buy in and be on the same page, but try telling that to someone of Bryant’s age and ability.
Outside of calling Bryant uncoachable, Jackson reportedly once had a kidney stone that wouldn’t pass, so he nicknamed it "Kobe." However, the two did reconcile and realized they work better together, which led to Jackson returning as Lakers coach in 2005 after a one-year hiatus.
And they won two more NBA championship together in 2009 and 2010.
12. Troy Aikman vs. Barry Switzer
What started the feud: Barry Switzer switched Oklahoma’s offense away from Troy Aikman’s strengths, which paved the way for the quarterback to transfer to UCLA.
Bottom line: This feud spans two decades and two different levels of football.
As the coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, Barry Switzer recruited Troy Aikman and tailored his famed wishbone offense to suit Aikman’s strengths. But when Aikman got hurt in his sophomore season, Switzer switched back to the wishbone and won a national championship under a different quarterback, making Aikman expendable.
Aikman transferred to UCLA, but the two were reunited a decade later with the Cowboys. By then, Aikman’s star power had exceeded Switzer’s, and the coach had a more laid-back demeanor, leading to a lack of discipline and professionalism from other Cowboys.
That drew the ire of Aikman, who felt the Cowboys should have won more than three Super Bowls during the 1990s if Switzer had better control over the team.
11. Randy Moss vs. Brad Childress
What started the feud: After a midseason trade from New England to Minnesota, Randy Moss praised Bill Belichick while criticizing Vikings coach Brad Childress.
Bottom line: During Week 5 of the 2010 season, the Patriots traded Randy Moss to the Vikings, and just three weeks after that, Moss’ new team played his old team.
After the Patriots defeated the Vikings, Moss spent the postgame news conference speaking glowingly of the coach who just traded him away while trashing the team who just traded for him. Moss also told Vikings management that Brad Childress wasn’t a good head coach and should be fired.
Obviously, Childress didn’t take too kindly to either of Moss’ comments and cut Moss the next day. The Vikings did end up listening to Moss, though, and fired Childress just weeks later.
10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Pep Guardiola
What started the feud: A formation change involving Lionel Messi led to Zlatan Ibrahimovic calling out Barcelona’s coach and the dissolution of their relationship.
Bottom line: Things started off well for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Barcelona as he scored in the team’s first five league matches. But Lionel Messi wasn’t happy with the squad’s formation and wanted to play in the middle instead of the wing.
Pep Guardiola gave in to his young star, which forced Ibrahimovic to then play out of position, which he was not happy with. The striker then lost it with his coach after being eliminated in the Champions League, saying Guardiola "had no balls" and was a "spineless coward."
Ibrahimovic left Barca after one season and had a quote that summed up his problems with Guardiola: "You bought a Ferrari, but you drive it like a Fiat."
9. Tiger Woods vs. Hank Haney
What started the feud: No one is still quite sure what caused the rift between the two other than there being philosophical differences in how Tiger Woods should play.
Bottom line: While under the tutelage of swing coach and instructor Hank Haney, Tiger Woods won six major championships from 2003 to 10. But they seemed to be a pair that had success together but didn’t necessarily like each other, and that led to Haney resigning in 2010.
Since then, there’s been a war of words with Haney repeatedly questioning some of Woods’ golf habits while also writing a tell-all book that made Woods’ private life public.
In 2019, Haney made disparaging comments about the LPGA that many viewed as racist, and Woods supported the decision of Haney’s employer to suspend him.
Haney responded by sarcastically tweeting that Woods had suddenly become "the moral authority on issues pertaining to women," alluding to the golfer’s scandalous past. This is one feud that shows no signs of slowing down.
8. Dwight Howard vs. Stan Van Gundy
What started the feud: Dwight Howard grew tired of Stan Van Gundy’s tough-love approach and reportedly asked management to fire the coach.
Bottom line: It remains one of the oddest scenes in NBA history. On April 5, 2012, Stan Van Gundy confirmed a report, on camera, that Dwight Howard had asked the Magic to fire him.
Just seconds later, Howard walked into the picture, put his arm around Van Gundy and played off the report, not knowing that the coach had just confirmed it to reporters. There was no way the relationship could be repaired, so the Magic got rid of both individuals — firing Van Gundy and trading away Howard weeks later.
A few years after that, Howard denied telling the Magic he wanted Van Gundy fired and Orlando’s CEO backed up that statement, which makes you wonder if Van Gundy simply said that to paint Howard out as the bad guy.
7. Reggie Jackson vs. Billy Martin
What started the feud: Reggie Jackson was pulled during the middle of a game by Billy Martin, leading to a physical confrontation in the Yankees' dugout.
Bottom line: Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin were first at odds in 1969 when Martin, as Twins manager, reportedly ordered his pitcher to throw at the head of Jackson, who played for the Athletics.
Things ramped up when they were both on the Yankees, and Jackson lazily played a flyball in right field. Jackson simply jogged to the ball and allowed the batter to advance to second base, which Martin was none too pleased with.
The skipper was so irate that he didn’t even wait for the inning to end to replace Jackson, who was just as upset at being replaced during the middle of an inning. After a shouting match in the dugout, Martin lunged at Jackson, and the two had to be separated by other Yankees coaches.
They settled down enough to win the 1977 World Series, but continued to have a tumultuous relationship over two more drama-filled years in pinstripes.
6. Allen Iverson vs. Larry Brown
What started the feud: Larry Brown called out Allen Iverson for missing and being late to several 76ers practices.
Bottom line: In case you missed it, Allen Iverson doesn’t think much of practice. But Larry Brown, who is a disciple of former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, adheres to the belief that practice makes perfect.
After the Sixers were eliminated in the 2002 playoffs, Brown blasted Iverson for missing practices throughout the season which could have played a part in the team’s performance. Iverson then had his infamous rant, further creating a rift between the two.
Brown lasted one more season with the team, but Iverson did mature a bit, and the two departed on good terms. Brown even returned to coach Iverson at the 2004 Olympics, and AI called LB "the best coach in the world."
5. Babe Ruth vs. Miller Huggins
What started the feud: Babe Ruth frequently challenged his manager and teased him for his small stature and soft-spoken nature.
Bottom line: Babe Ruth was on top of the sports world in the 1920s, yet he was supposed to answer to his 5-foot-6 manager Miller Huggins.
Ruth often disregarded the Yankees' skipper and frequently stayed out late at night and showed up to batting practice late and hung over the next morning. The last occurrence of this came in 1925, and Huggins responded by fining Ruth $5,000 and suspending him indefinitely.
Ruth then went to the team owner thinking that he would acquiesce to his star player and rescind the fine and suspension. But the owner sided with Huggins and upheld the discipline much to the surprise of the slugger. After apologizing to Huggins, Ruth was reinstated, and the two never had an issue again.
4. Rob Dibble vs. Lou Piniella
What started the feud: Rob Dibble said Lou Piniella lied to reporters about Dibble being hurt, and that lit a fuse for the manager, who went after the pitcher.
Bottom line: Reds pitcher Rob Dibble and manager Lou Piniella both possessed similar, fiery personalities and had many arguments during their three years together. But things came to blows after a game in 1992 in which Piniella oddly didn’t use Dibble out of the bullpen.
After the game, Piniella said that Dibble had a bum shoulder to which Dibble responded by saying his manager lied. Once Piniella caught wind of his player calling him a liar, he went after Dibble, and the two had a fight in the middle of the Reds' clubhouse and in front of reporters.
The "fight" was more of a shoving match than an actual brawl, but the damage was done. While Piniella used Dibble the next day, the manager was out of town after the season.
3. The French National Team vs. Raymond Domenech
What started the feud: Raymond Domenech sent home star striker Nicolas Anelka, nearly leading to a revolt by the rest of the team.
Bottom line: Dissatisfied with the play of Nicolas Anelka, Raymond Domenech criticized him during halftime of a World Cup game. Anelka responded by cursing out his coach, which earned the striker an early trip home.
At the team’s next practice, captain Patrice Evra then got into it with a trainer in which Domenech intervened. That confrontation, and Anelka being sent home, led to the rest of the French team becoming upset, canceling practice and returning to their team bus. This led to French papers labeling the scene a "mutiny," and the results on the field were just as bad as those off the field.
France didn’t win a single game at the 2010 World Cup, and Anelka was suspended 18 games by the French Football Federation. Three other French players also were suspended for their roles in the national embarrassment for France, and Domenech unsurprisingly was released of his duties.
2. Latrell Sprewell vs. P.J. Carlesimo
What started the feud: P.J. Carlesimo criticized the volatile Latrell Sprewell during a practice by telling him to "put a little mustard" on his passes.
Bottom line: Latrell Sprewell was not in a mood to be messed with in 1997 as his Warriors had started the season 1-13.
During a practice on Dec. 1, Sprewell was called out by P.J. Carlesimo, who was in his first year on the job. Sprewell didn’t take too kindly to be singled out, and after the "mustard" quote, Sprewell put his hands around his coach’s neck and dragged him on the ground.
After teammates broke up the altercation and Sprewell was kicked out of practice, he then showered and came back onto the court for another piece of his coach. He took a swing at Carlesimo and was again held back by teammates, and that would be the last time he participated in any activity as a member of the Warriors.
The NBA suspended Sprewell for 68 games, and he was traded to the Knicks after sitting out the remainder of the 1997-98 season.
1. Spencer Haywood vs. Paul Westhead
What started the feud: Paul Westhead kicked Spencer Haywood off the Lakers during the middle of the NBA Finals after he fell asleep during practice.
Bottom line: Spencer Haywood is a Hall of Famer now, but he was in a much different state in 1980. He was addicted to cocaine, and his addiction kept him up all night, which made functioning during the day difficult.
Between Games 2 and 3 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Haywood fell asleep during a Lakers practice, and Westhead decided to rid the team of Haywood entirely by kicking him off the squad. In his drug-induced state, Haywood then plotted to have Westhead murdered and even reached out to a hitman to do the job.
Fortunately, Haywood’s mother talked him out of going through with it, and even though he didn’t play another game for the Lakers, Haywood received a championship ring after the Lakers won the Finals.