Penny Hardaway is latest legend to return to lead former team

The logic seems so simple. Want to pump up your die-hards? Hire a heavy hitter as your next coach, especially one who brought your fan base joy while achieving milestones as a player.

The University of Memphis is the latest school attempting to wake up its fan base by hiring a legendary former player. In March, Penny Hardaway was introduced as the school’s new men’s basketball coach. He was an All-American in the early 1990s at what was then known as Memphis State before he went on to become an NBA sensation and a Madison Avenue marvel.

Season-ticket sales for Memphis hoops have reportedly soared with Hardaway at the helm, and his early recruiting efforts — he has put together a strong six-man class for 2018 — have given Tigers fans a jolt.

Here are some of the most prominent recent examples of Hall of Fame-level players who returned to their old stomping grounds and served as head coaches.


Clyde Drexler, Houston Cougars

Playing career at Houston: Drexler dazzled with his dunks in college and was the leader of a fraternity that the Average Joe in Houston could only dream of belonging to: Phi Slama Jama. But it wasn’t just the flashy dunks that brought Clyde the Glide notoriety. He was a winner, leading the Cougars to two Final Fours in his three seasons. He was an All-American and had averages of 14.4 points, 3.3 assists and 9.9 rebounds.

Finding his way back: Drexler stunned many when he announced in March 1998 that he was retiring from the Houston Rockets after the completion of the NBA season to become the head coach of the Cougars. Making it all the more surprising was the fact that Drexler was still a high-level player, averaging 18.4 points per game in his final NBA season, and he had zero coaching experience.

How it went: Anticipation at Houston was on high with Drexler coming in to revitalize a sputtering program. According to the school’s website, season-ticket sales for the 1998-99 season more than quadrupled, and for the first time in school history, Hofheinz Pavilion was sold out for the entire season. Those fans might have wanted a refund. Drexler went 10-17 in Year 1 and failed to improve the following campaign, going 9-22. He resigned after his second season with a 19-39 record, including a 7-25 mark in Conference USA play.

Patrick Ewing, Georgetown Hoyas

Playing career at Georgetown: Talk about intimidating. Ewing might have been the most physical presence during his era in college basketball. He averaged more than three blocks per game in each of his four seasons and finished with career averages of 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He led Georgetown to three national finals appearances, winning the 1984 crown, and was a three-time first-team All-American.

Finding his way back: In 2017, after missing the NCAA tournament in three of John Thompson III’s last four seasons, Georgetown fired the man whose father put the program on the map in the ’80s. The call went to Ewing to restore Hoya Paranoia. It was the Hall of Famer’s first head-coaching gig after he spent much of the previous 15 years as an NBA assistant.

How it’s going: Optimism was flowing after the Hoyas won their first eight games under Ewing last season. But those wins came against the likes of Maryland-Eastern Shore and Maine, and reality set in during Big East play. Georgetown went 5-13 in the conference and finished 15-15 overall. There appears to be hope for the future, with three four-star recruits set to play for the Hoyas next season.

Tony Gwynn, San Diego State Aztecs

Playing career at San Diego State: College baseball coaches everywhere flat-out whiffed when it came to evaluating Gwynn, perhaps the greatest hitter in the majors during the modern era. With zero scholarship offers to play baseball, he went to San Diego State on a basketball scholarship, promising coach Tim Vezie that he would not pursue baseball there for at least two seasons. But when those seasons were up, Gwynn dazzled on the diamond. He played for three seasons, finishing with a career average of .398, and earned first-team All-America honors in his final year. Gwynn, who played four seasons of basketball, is the only player in the history of the Western Athletic Conference to earn all-conference honors in two sports.

Finding his way back: When Jim Dietz, Gwynn’s coach at SDSU, announced he was going to retire after the 2002 season, Gwynn lobbied to become the school’s next head coach. During Gwynn’s final major league season in 2001, he signed a contract to take over in 2003. It was likely an easy call for the school, considering its baseball stadium is named after Gwynn.

How it went: While there were some turbulent times — the program from 2007 to 2011 was penalized with a reduction in scholarships for failing to meet the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate — Gwynn had his share of success. He won three Mountain West Conference titles, made three trips to the NCAA regionals and produced a No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft: Stephen Strasburg in 2009. Gwynn, who missed time intermittently due to his bout with cancer, finished with a 321-342 record over 12 seasons. Days before he died in June 2014, he was given a one-year contract extension.

Chris Mullin, St. John’s Red Storm

Playing career at St. John’s: Mullin brought sizzle to St. John’s as arguably the nation’s top scoring guard during his era. The lefty averaged 19.5 points per game in his four-year career, finishing as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,400 career points. A three-time All-American, Mullin was Big East Player of the Year in his final three seasons. As a senior in 1985, he led St. John’s to the Final Four.

Finding his way back: After Steve Lavin was dismissed following the 2015 season, St. John’s reached out to Mullin, despite the fact that he had no coaching experience. A nonissue, said Hall of Famer Lou Carnesecca, Mullin’s coach at St. John’s. “People seem to be worried about his lack of coaching experience, but how many people have had the basketball education he has?” Carnesecca told the Associated Press.

How it’s going: That hoops experience, which includes 16 NBA seasons, two trips to the Olympics and seven years as an NBA executive, hasn’t exactly paid off. Mullin has failed to record a winning season in his three years at St. John’s, compiling a 38-60 mark, including going 12-42 in the Big East. One has to wonder if the Hall of Famer is on the hot seat.


Maurice Cheeks, Philadelphia 76ers

Playing career with the Sixers: While guys named Dr. J, Moses and Sir Charles garnered nightly attention, it was the point guard who steadily drove the Sixers during their run in the ’80s. Cheeks helped the Sixers earn three trips to the NBA Finals in a four-year span from 1980 to 1983, winning the crown in ’83. He played 11 years in Philly, earning four trips to the All-Star Game. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive team for four straight seasons from 1983 to 1986 and ranks fifth in league history in steals and 11th in assists.

Finding his way back: According to Sixers president Billy King back in 2005, hiring Cheeks to lead the Sixers was a no-brainer. “Mo is family. Mo bleeds 76ers. He bleeds Philadelphia,” King said. Cheeks took over for Jim O’Brien, who was fired after one season despite going 43-39. Cheeks had spent the four seasons prior as coach of the Blazers.

How it went: Cheeks struggled running the Sixers’ show, failing to break the .500 mark in each of his four seasons. Despite a 40-42 record in 2007-08, a young Sixers team reached the playoffs, but there were no signs of advancement early in the following season. The Sixers moved on from Cheeks after a 9-14 start in 2008.

Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers

Playing career with the Lakers: Of all the shows stemming from Hollywood in the 1980s, the one nobody in L.A. wanted to miss was the one spearheaded by Magic. Indeed, the “Showtime” Lakers were the hot ticket, thanks in large part to their flashy point guard. Behind their up-tempo style, Johnson led the Lakers to nine trips to the NBA Finals, winning five titles. He was named Finals MVP three times, including as a rookie in ’80, earned three league MVP awards, played in 12 All-Star games and is one of five players in NBA history to record more than 10,000 career assists.

Finding his way back: After Johnson announced that he had contracted HIV and was forced to retire in 1991, the Lakers were no longer must-see. They were a sub-.500 team, and coach Randy Pfund was dismissed during the 1993-94 season. Lakers owner Jerry Buss urged his former star to take over as the team’s coach, and Magic accepted.

How it went: The Lakers rolled early with Magic on the bench, winning five of his first six games. Then the good vibes faded. L.A. lost its next five, and Johnson announced that he would resign at season’s end. The Lakers lost five more, giving Johnson a 5-11 record, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1976.

Jason Kidd, New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets

Playing career with the Nets: The Nets were a virtual laughingstock, finishing 20 or more games under .500 in five of seven seasons prior to the savvy veteran’s arrival in 2001. And what an impact he made. Kidd sparked a 26-game turnaround and led the 52-win Nets to their first NBA Finals appearance in 2002. He guided the Nets back to the Finals the following season after leading the league in assists. In his seven seasons in New Jersey, Kidd averaged 14.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 9.1 assists. He finished his career second in NBA history in assists and steals.

Finding his way back: It’s safe to say, Kidd couldn’t kick the basketball bug. Less than 10 days after announcing his retirement in 2013, Kidd agreed to take over as coach of the Brooklyn Nets. “He has the fire in the belly we need and has achieved as a player everything the Brooklyn Nets are striving to achieve. We believe he will lead us there,” Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said.

How it went: Kidd had a successful first season, leading the Nets to a 44-38 record and a win in their first-round playoff series. But according to reports, Coach Kidd wanted to become the boss of the entire operation, too, and the Nets said no. After denying Kidd’s request to become the team’s president of basketball operations, the Nets allowed the Bucks to talk to Kidd about becoming their coach. Kidd accepted, and the Bucks sent the Nets two second-round draft picks as compensation.

Wes Unseld, Baltimore/Washington Bullets

Playing career with the Bullets: Clearly, Wes Unseld didn’t care to mess around when he started his NBA career. The No. 2 overall pick in the 1968 NBA draft, Unseld became the second player in NBA history to be named Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season (Wilt Chamberlain was the other) after leading the Bullets to a 57-25 record in 1968-69. He averaged 13.8 points and a whopping 18.2 rebounds that season. Unseld played all 13 seasons for the Bullets franchise. He went to the NBA Finals four times, winning the title in 1978. Known for his strength in the paint, Unseld finished with career averages of 10.8 points, 14 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.

Finding his way back: After his retirement in 1981, Unseld served as the Bullets’ vice president for six seasons. He was named head coach in 1988 by team owner Abe Pollin, taking over a squad that started the season 8-19.

How it went: The Bullets showed early signs of promise under Unseld, recovering from their miserable start in 1987-88 to make the playoffs. They went 30-25 with Unseld in charge, but that was the only season in which he finished over .500. Unseld won 40 games the following season but never won more than 31 in his final five seasons. He resigned after the 1994 campaign with a 202-345 record.

Lenny Wilkens, St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks

Playing career with the Hawks: While Wilkens had several stellar seasons in Seattle, he had his longest run with the Hawks during his 15-year career. Wilkens was a five-time All-Star in his eight seasons with the Hawks, leading them to a Finals appearance as a rookie in 1960-61. In 1967-68, he placed second in MVP balloting to Wilt Chamberlain. Wilkens, who at the time of his retirement in 1975 was second all time in career assists, was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1989.

Finding his way back: After Wilkens resigned from his post as the Cavaliers’ head coach in 1993, the Hawks, along with several other teams, quickly came calling. Already with an 869-749 career record, Wilkens accepted the Hawks’ offer, taking over for Bob Weiss.

How it went: Wilkens just added to his Hall of Fame résumé. He coached the Hawks for seven seasons, leading them to the playoffs in his first six, and finished with a 310-232 record. His greatest individual coaching achievements also came with the Hawks. Wilkens became the winningest coach in NBA history in 1995, earning his 939th victory to surpass Red Auerbach. (Wilkens is currently second all time in wins behind Don Nelson.) The following season, Wilkens became the first coach in NBA history to record 1,000 regular-season victories. He was enshrined as a Hall of Fame coach in 1998.


Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins

Playing career with the Twins: While Molitor built his résumé with the Brewers during his first 15 seasons, he cemented his Hall of Fame status where he grew up — in Minnesota. The St. Paul native wowed Twins fans in his final three seasons, especially in 1996, his first with the club. Molitor, who turned 40 during that season, hit .341 and led the American League with 225 hits. He drove in 113 runs and stole 18 bases. His biggest highlight in ’96, though, came late in the season, when he joined the 3,000-hit club. Molitor hit a combined .312 in those three seasons with Minnesota.

Finding his way back: Following four straight 90-loss seasons, the Twins fired longtime skipper Ron Gardenhire in 2014 and turned to Molitor to spark the team. He was nicknamed “The Ignitor” as a player, after all. Molitor had served on the Twins’ coaching staff in 2014 and spent the 2005-13 seasons as a Twins minor league instructor.

How it went: The Twins found their way back to the postseason in Year 3 under Molitor, claiming an AL wild-card berth in 2017. He was named AL Manager of the Year and was rewarded by the club with a three-year contract extension through 2020. However, things didn’t go so well in 2018, and Molitor was fired on Oct. 2 with an overall record of 305-343.

Tony Perez, Cincinnati Reds

Playing career with the Reds: Perez proved to be a major key in jump-starting the “Big Red Machine.” From 1967 to 1976, Perez drove in 90 or more runs in each season, making seven NL All-Star teams in that span. Beginning in 1970, he helped the Reds reach the World Series four times in a seven-year stretch, with the team winning consecutive titles in 1975 and ’76. In his career, Perez had 100 or more RBIs in a season seven times, with six coming with Cincinnati.

Finding his way back: The Reds named the popular Perez the team’s manager after Lou Piniella resigned following the 1992 season. Perez had been a coach with the team the previous six seasons. He was signed to a one-year contract. Keep that in mind …

How it went: Proving that it’s much easier to get rid of someone with one year left on a deal, the Reds axed Perez just 44 games — yes, 44 — into the ’93 season. The Reds, who finished in second place in the NL West the prior season, weren’t playing up to par, and GM Jim Bowden made the call to part with Perez after a 20-24 start. “I don’t think it’s fair. It’s a quick hook. … I’ve never been more disappointed,” Perez said.

Frank Robinson, Baltimore Orioles

Playing career with the Orioles: The Orioles pulled off what turned out to be one of baseball’s most lopsided trades when they acquired Robinson, a six-time All-Star still in his prime, from the Reds for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson before the 1966 season. All Robinson did in ’66 was win the Triple Crown and AL MVP and lead the Orioles to a world title. He was named World Series MVP. His strong work continued throughout his six seasons in Baltimore. He again led the Orioles to a world championship in 1970, beating who else but the Reds, and was an All-Star in five of those six seasons.

Finding his way back: Robinson, who in 1975 became the first African-American manager in baseball history, was named Orioles manager after they fired Cal Ripken Sr. early in the 1988 season. Robinson was a coach with the Orioles the previous three seasons.

How it went: Robinson had just one winning season in Baltimore from 1988 to 1991. That came in Year 2, when he led the Orioles to an 87-75 mark and a second-place finish in the AL East. It was a 33-win turnaround that earned Robinson the AL Manager of the Year Award. But after a losing season in 1992 and a 13-24 start in ’93, the Orioles fired the man who had helped them win four pennants as a player.

Pete Rose, Cincinnati Reds

Playing career with the Reds: He might not be in Cooperstown, but Rose’s name is all over baseball’s record book, mostly through his work in Cincinnati. Rose, baseball’s all-time leader in hits, singles, games played and at-bats, spent 19 seasons with the Reds and was a major key in helping the “Big Red Machine” earn consecutive world championships in 1975 and ’76. With Cincinnati, Rose was named NL Rookie of the Year in 1963 and NL MVP in ’73, won three batting titles and was a 13-time All-Star. Of his 4,256 career hits, 3,358 came with the Reds. In 1978, Rose recorded a 44-game hit streak — the third-longest in history.

Finding his way back: Rose was traded by the Expos to the Reds in August 1984 and immediately became a player-manager, replacing Vern Rapp. The Reds reportedly wanted Rose back only as manager, but team president Robert Howsam gave in to Rose’s request to continue playing.

How it went: Rose was a successful manager, recording a 412-373 mark from 1984 to 1989, and he finished second in the NL West four times. But he found himself at the forefront of controversy. In April 1988, Rose was suspended for 30 days — the longest suspension levied on a manager in history for an on-field incident — after he pushed umpire Dave Pallone. But that was a wrist slap compared to what happened the following year.

Amid reports that he had bet on baseball, Rose was questioned in February 1989 by baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth and NL president Bart Giamatti. After Giamatti took over as commissioner two months later, he appointed lawyer John M. Dowd to investigate the charges against Rose. The Dowd Report documented alleged bets by Rose on 52 Reds games in 1987. Rose denied all accusations, but on Aug. 24, 1989, he voluntarily accepted a permanent place on baseball’s ineligible list. All of his attempts at reinstatement have been denied.

Alan Trammell, Detroit Tigers

Playing career with the Tigers: Trammell, who spent all 20 of his big league seasons with the Tigers, was one of the steadiest players in his era. He helped lead the powerful 1984 Tigers to an eye-popping 35-5 start en route to a world title, and he was named World Series MVP. A six-time All-Star, Trammell’s best season came in 1987. He set career highs with a .343 average, 28 homers and 105 RBIs and finished second in AL MVP balloting.

Finding his way back: The Tigers turned to their former star shortstop to take over during a woeful time. Trammell, who had been the Padres’ first-base coach, was named Tigers manager after the 2002 season, when the team parted with Luis Pujols. The Tigers had suffered through nine consecutive losing seasons, and Trammell was their fifth manager in seven seasons.

How it went: Yikes! Trammell and the 2003 Tigers lost more games than any other AL team in history, going 43-119. They won five of their final six games of the year to avoid matching the 1962 Mets for the most losses in a season. Trammell had two more losing seasons, finishing 186-300 overall, and was fired in October 2005.


Mike Ditka, Chicago Bears

Playing career with the Bears: Ditka was an immediate hit in Chicago, transforming the tight-end position as a rookie in 1961. While he was known for being a fierce blocker, Ditka doubled as a star pass-catcher, recording 1,076 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in earning Rookie of the Year honors. He was a Pro Bowler in each of his first five seasons and was part of the Bears’ 1963 NFL championship team. Despite playing just six seasons in Chicago, Ditka is in the top five in franchise history in receiving yards, receptions and touchdown catches. In 1988, “Iron Mike” was the first tight end in history inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Finding his way back: After the Bears fired Neill Armstrong after the 1981 season, team owner George Halas, who also coached Ditka in Chicago, brought his former star tight end back to lead the team back to prominence. Turning to Ditka was considered a surprise move at the time, as other candidates with head-coaching experience — including George Allen — were still available. Ditka’s previous coaching experience came as an assistant in Dallas from 1973 to 1981. In Ditka’s nine seasons with the Cowboys, they made the playoffs eight times and won Super Bowl XII.

How it went: Not only did Ditka win a Super Bowl, but he also became one of the most recognizable sports figures in America while leading the Bears for 11 mostly successful seasons. Among his achievements: two NFL Coach of the Year awards, seven playoff appearances and leading the 1985 squad — widely regarded as one of the NFL’s greatest teams — to a 15-1 regular season and a victory in Super Bowl XX. He finished with a record of 106-62, becoming the second-winningest coach in Bears history behind Halas.

Forrest Gregg, Green Bay Packers

Playing career with the Packers: Gregg anchored the offensive line of one of the greatest dynasties in football history, the 1960s Packers. Gregg won five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls, in his 14 seasons with Green Bay. He was a seven-time first-team All-Pro and a nine-time Pro Bowler, and he played in what was then a league-record 188 consecutive games from 1956 to 1971.

Finding his way back: When the Packers fired coach Bart Starr in 1983, Gregg was allowed out of his contract as coach of the Bengals to take over for his former teammate. Just two seasons prior, Gregg had led the Bengals to a berth in Super Bowl XVI.

How it went: Gregg was far from a success in leading the Packers from 1984 to 1987. He never finished a season above .500, recording a 25-37-1 overall record. Gregg left the Packers in January 1988 to take over at his alma mater, SMU, which was attempting to rebuild its program after receiving the “death penalty” from the NCAA for major rules violations.

Mike Munchak, Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans

Playing career with the Oilers: Munchak played his entire 12-year career with the Oilers, providing stability on the left side of the offensive line. He was named a Pro Bowler in nine of the final 10 seasons of his career and was named to the 1980s All-Decade Team.

Finding his way back: Munchak technically never left the franchise, taking on an assistant-coaching role after he retired as a player in 1993. He coached the O-line from 1997 to 2010 and was promoted to head coach after the Titans fired Jeff Fisher after 14 seasons in 2011.

How it went: Sadly for Munchak, it appeared that his loyalty ended up costing him his job. He went 22-26 in three seasons, including two second-place finishes in the AFC South. The team reportedly was willing to give him another year after a 7-9 showing in 2013, but under one condition: Munchak had to part ways with a number of his assistants. He was unwilling to do so, thus ending a 31-year run with the franchise.

Art Shell, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders

Playing career with the Raiders: Shell was one of the most dominant offensive linemen in football during his 15-year career, earning eight Pro Bowl nods in a nine-year span from 1972 to 1980. He won two Super Bowls and was inducted into Canton in 1989.

Finding his way back: After team owner Al Davis pink-slipped Mike Shanahan four games into the 1989 season, Shell, who had served as the Raiders’ offensive line coach the previous six seasons, was named head coach. He became the NFL’s first African-American coach in the modern era.

How it went: Shell just won, baby. After taking over for Shanahan, Shell led the Raiders to a 7-5 mark in their last 12 games, setting the tone for coming seasons. He went 12-4 in 1990 as the Raiders played in the AFC Championship Game. He made two more trips to the playoffs and had a 54-38 overall record after the 1994 season. But that apparently wasn’t good enough for Davis, who fired Shell following a 9-7 campaign in ’94. Shell was brought back by Davis to lead the Raiders in 2006 but was again fired after a 2-14 campaign.


Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche

Playing career with the Avalanche: Already a superstar, Roy helped make the Avalanche’s first year in Denver a memorable one upon his arrival after a midseason trade with Montreal during the 1995-96 season. Roy helped Colorado win the Stanley Cup that season and did it again in 2000-01, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP. Roy is the only player in NHL history to earn the award three times. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.

Finding his way back: After missing the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons, the Avalanche hired Roy as head coach and vice president of hockey operations in 2013. At the time, he was considered the only coach in the NHL to have the final say on hockey decisions.

How it went: Roy’s coaching career in Colorado resembled his start there as a goaltender. No, he didn’t win a Stanley Cup, but he brought the Avs back to relevance, tying a franchise record with 52 wins in 2013-14. He won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach. The Avalanche failed to make the playoffs the next two seasons, however, and Roy resigned. He had a three-season record of 130-92.

Denis Savard, Chicago Blackhawks

Playing career with the Blackhawks: Savard’s NHL debut was apparently a sign of things to come. The No. 3 overall draft pick in 1980, Savard had three assists in his first game as a rookie that year. He went on to play in six All-Star games during his 13 years with the Blackhawks. Savard, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000, trails only Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita for total points in franchise history.

Finding his way back: The Blackhawks turned to Savard to get the team out of a funk in 2006. They canned Trent Yawney after losing 12 of 15 games and looked to Savard, who was on the bench as an assistant, to speed up the team’s pace of play.

How it went: Savard’s stint as head coach was relatively short-lived. He finished with a sub-.500 overall mark from the time he took over in 2006 to 2008, when he was fired four games into the season. Savard did have some success in Year 2, going 40-34-8 and finishing three points shy of a playoff berth, despite having an abundance of rookies in the regular rotation.


Pep Guardiola, Barcelona

Playing career with Barcelona: Born in Catalonia, Guardiola came through the Barcelona system before making almost 400 appearances for the club’s first team. He was a pivotal player in Johan Cruyff’s early-1990s “Dream Team” and won six Liga titles in Spain. Moreover, at the age of 21, Guardiola was part of the team that lifted the European Cup for the first time in club history.

Finding his way back: Guardiola left the Camp Nou in 2001 and finished his playing career with spells in Italy, Qatar and Mexico. In 2007, he took his first coaching job as manager of Barcelona’s “B” team, and within a year, he had been promoted to take charge of the senior side, succeeding Frank Rijkaard.

How it went: Guardiola inherited a talented, home-grown group of players — Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta among them — and, having sold two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, created arguably the greatest team of all time. Barcelona won La Liga three times during his four seasons in charge, as well as the Champions League on two occasions.

Diego Maradona, Argentina

Playing career with Argentina: Spread over 17 years, Maradona’s international career was as controversial as it was spectacular. Take his four World Cup appearances: The 1982 tournament ended with a red card vs. archrival Brazil, but four years later, he almost single-handedly dragged Argentina to glory. He nearly repeated the trick in 1990, only to end the final in tears after defeat to West Germany. He began USA ’94 with a goal vs. Greece but ended it by testing positive for a banned substance.

Finding his way back: For more than a decade, Maradona struggled from various health problems, as well as issues pertaining to alcohol and drug use. Meanwhile, his beloved Argentina slipped from the top level of the game, failing to get past the quarterfinal stage at three straight World Cups. Things got even worse when it seemed the team might not qualify for the 2010 tournament.

How it went: Maradona took over as national team manager after Alfio Basile resigned, but a 6-1 defeat in Bolivia deepened Argentina’s woes. However, wins in their last two games saw Maradona’s men redeemed, and they looked like potential favorites when coasting through group play in South Africa before beating Mexico in the Round of 16. The run came to an abrupt end vs. Germany in the quarterfinals, though. Within weeks, Maradona was told his contract would not be renewed.

ESPN editor Andrew Hush contributed to this story.

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