For many athletes, the list of men who have influenced them is a short one. The majority of us probably have at least one coach on our list. If we were lucky, this person helped us reach our full potential both on and off the field of play. Conversely, a bad experience with a coach can turn us off to sports for life. A coach is a teacher, a motivator, and a mentor. For me, Matt Thornton was my coaching mentor when I started out. Coaching young men is a challenge, but the rewards far outweigh the tribulations.
Every sport has its famous and iconic coaches—coaches whose locker room speeches and proverbs are repeated long after the coach is gone. There are different types of top coaches: some win championships, some develop talent, some make lasting innovations in the sport, and some do all three. There are those whose knowledge and understanding transcends their particular sport.
A coach’s purpose is to serve the needs of the athletes first and to lead second. A great coach must be able to work with any type of athlete. From helping a veteran fix a weakness to building a champion from the ground up. Here are the five qualities I believe a great MMA coach must possess.
The majority of coaches have legitimate experience in the world of MMA. This is not to say that a great coach has to have a successful competitive history. However, experience only improves a coach. Most of the coaches on this list are also some of the toughest training partners their fighters have. Leading by example is a great way to get your guys to follow.
A coach has to love his guys and they have to love him. There is a bond that must be forged through mutual respect and hard work. A great coach never measures success by wins and losses, but in the growth of his fighters as young men.
No one “way” works in MMA. The coach must be able to adapt his teaching to a diverse group of athletes. A coach should always be ready and willing to modify his methods for different situations. Every person learns differently, so the coach much be ready to teach the same lesson in different forms.
The best coaches are always students of the game, always seeking a deeper understanding of the sport. They are willing to learn from anyone that can help. Once a coach stops learning, the game passes him and his fighters very quickly. Coaches need to learn from victory as well as defeat.
A coach’s passion for MMA, his fighters, and what his fighters are doing creates the positive environment needed for success.
Coach ’s List
Lists are always fun to make because they create so much debate. It might be sacrilegious to leave Pat Miletich or Matt Hume off a coaching list, but I did not feel they fit here. However, they are both Hall of Famers. So, who are the best coaches in America? These are my picks.
Big Gym Coaches
These are the big name coaches that most casual fans know by heart. Watch any big show and you will see these coaches in the corner.
He is the Bill Belichick of MMA. What else needs to be said?
Great coach, better person. He is the reason my gym is affiliated with American Top Team.
He was called “Crazy” Bob Cook for his determination in training. He brings that same drive to coaching.
Has any coach ever dominated an event like Cesar and Strike force?
Obviously, this is not a person, but the Mecca of MMA. Wrestle with Randy Couture, roll BJJ with Robert Drysdale or Marc Laimon, strike with Ron Fraser or Mark Beecher, and finish it off with Shawn Tompkins. Who could ask for more?
Here are the coaches who move under the radar. Each has had his hand in making a world champion (or two). These guys have been at the top for a little while, you just didn’t know it.
He has never gotten his full due. Follis is a vital part of the huge success that Team Quest has achieved.
Greg Nelson/Erik Paulson
Two heads are better than one. And these two are better than most, just ask Brock Lesnar.
My brother Rory has trained with a lot of MMA coaches, and he ranks Saul near the top. Watch TUF 3 if you don’t believe me.
BJ Penn. Enough said.
Who do you call when you need to fix a certain aspect of your fight game? Start here.
Mark Della Grotte
One of the top guys in the world when it comes to using Muay Thai in MMA.
If you need to improve your strength and conditioning for MMA, no one is better that Rooney.
More and more fighters are reaching out to Bravo to develop their BJJ for MMA.
If I could spend a day picking the brain of any coach on this list, it would be Danaher. His BJJ knowledge is out of this world.
This striking coach helped put Team Alpha on the map. Plus, he’s a master.
The Dutchman’s standup game is just sick.
You might not know these guys just yet, but pay attention… you will.
He’s not just a kickboxing coach anymore. If you’re ever in Wisconsin, look him up.
Known primarily as a BJJ coach, Irvin’s guys are quietly making a name for themselves.
Todd and Trevor Lally
Their work at Arizona Combat Sports may soon push these brothers onto the “Big Gyms” list.
He’s gone from great wrestling coach to great MMA coach.
Trying to take over MMA from NJ, he has his first world champion in Frankie Edgar.