Longest gaps between stints managing 1 club

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There have been 50 managers in the Modern Era (since 1900) to manage the same team with at least a one-year gap in between stints. But doing so with a long gap is particularly impressive, and not many managers have returned to the same team after a gap that spanned more than a decade.

Tony La Russa will be managing the White Sox in 2021, 35 years since he last managed them in 1986 -- that’s a 34-year gap. That’s the longest gap between leading a team by anyone in the four major North American professional sports.

We don’t have an official list for college sports, but there are a few examples worth noting, like Bill Walsh, who coached Stanford football from 1977-78 and then again from 1992-94, with a stop with the 49ers in between. That’s a 13-year gap. And Mack Brown, who coached UNC football from 1988-97, then went to Texas, and returned to the Tar Heels for the 2019 season -- a 21-year gap.

Here’s a look at the five largest gaps in baseball history, as well as the longest in each of the three other major sports among head coaches (including interims), with help from the Elias Sports Bureau.

BASEBALL

Tony La Russa, White Sox: 34-year gap (1986-2021)
La Russa was initially hired to manage the White Sox as a 34-year-old in the 1979 season. He had no managerial experience and was the youngest manager in the Majors at the time. Now, he’ll be the oldest manager in the Majors -- and the third-oldest individual to ever manage a game, including interims. The team made the playoffs once in his initial stint, in 1983, when it lost in the ALCS to the Orioles.

Paul Richards, White Sox: 21-year gap (1954-1976)
Richards first managed the White Sox from 1951-54. The team finished above .500 each year, but did not appear in the World Series under Richards. During that initial managerial stint, he was credited with bringing back a tactic where a manager would shift a pitcher to the outfield and bring in another pitcher for a platoon advantage, before putting the first pitcher back on the mound. The move was later deemed the “Waxahachie Swap,” after Richards’ Texas home. After a managerial stint with the Orioles and time in the front offices of the Orioles, Astros and Braves, Richards returned to managing the White Sox for a year in 1976, before retiring from field managing.

Bucky Harris, Tigers: 21-year gap (1933-1955)
Harris’ managerial career began as a player/manager with the Senators from 1924-28. He held the same role for the Tigers in 1929 and '31, managing the club in some capacity from ‘29-33. With his playing career over after 1931, he then managed the Red Sox, Senators, Phillies, Yankees and Senators again -- before returning to the Tigers in 1955 and '56 as their manager in his late 50s. Harris managed teams to two World Series titles, but neither with the Tigers -- the Senators in 1924 and Yankees in 1947.

Joe Maddon, Angels: 20-year gap (1999-2020)
Maddon’s case includes interim status -- which he held for the Angels in both 1996 and 1999, when he managed a combined 51 games for the club, including 29 in ‘99. Maddon, of course, went on to manage the Rays from 2006-14, before joining the Cubs from 2015-19 -- a stint during which he helped the Cubs win their first title since 1908 in 2016. After his contract expired in Chicago following the ‘19 season, Maddon headed back west to the Angels, the organization for which he spent his Minor League playing career and coaching career.

Yogi Berra, Yankees: 19-year gap (1964-1984)
Berra began his managerial career in 1964 with the Yankees, guiding the club to an American League pennant, but he was dismissed following that season. Berra went on to manage the Mets from 1972-75, before returning to the Yankees in 1984 for a stint that would last 16 games into 1985. The Yankees went 87-75 in ‘84.

LONGEST GAPS IN OTHER SPORTS

NHL -- Dick Irvin, Blackhawks: 24 seasons (1930-31 to 1955-56)
Irvin coached the Blackhawks in his mid-30s in 1928-29 and 1930-31, before going on to coach the Maple Leafs for nine years and the Canadiens for 15. He won four Stanley Cups -- one with Toronto and three with Montreal -- before returning to Chicago to finish his coaching career in 1955-56.

NFL -- Jon Gruden, Raiders: 16-year gap (2001-2018)
Gruden was just 35 years old in 1998 when he began his head coaching career with the Raiders. He led them through 2001, before going to the Buccaneers, for whom he won a Super Bowl in his first season. After his Buccaneers coaching career ended after 2008, Gruden found his way to the broadcast booth, before an eventual return to Oakland (and now, Las Vegas) in 2018.

NBA -- Cotton Fitzsimmons, Suns: 16 seasons (1971-72 to 1988-89)
Fitzsimmons wasn’t even 40 years old when he began coaching the Suns in 1970-71. He coached them for two seasons before moving on to Atlanta, Buffalo, Kansas City and San Antonio. He returned to the Suns for the 1988-89 season and coached them for another six years before his career ended.

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