Paul Westhead (born February 21, 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is an assistant basketball coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA, and a former head coach in the WNBA, NBA and the NCAA. He has coached three different NBA teams, and was also the coach of the Loyola Marymount University men's basketball team during that school's era of greatest basketball glory. Westhead is known for employing an unorthodox, run-and-gun style.
Westhead began his coaching career with the La Salle University men's basketball team in 1970. Westhead led the Explorers to one NIT and two NCAA tournament appearances in nine seasons (1970-1979). He finished with a record of 142-105.
Westhead started his NBA coaching career at the top of the NBA world, succeeding Jack McKinney as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. With rookie guard Magic Johnson and longtime star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his squad, the Lakers won the 1980 NBA Finals in Westhead's first year as the Lakers' coach, defeating Philadelphia in six games. However, the team was defeated in the playoffs the next year by the Moses Malone-led Houston Rockets. Westhead was fired early in his third season with the Lakers, and replaced with Pat Riley. It is commonly believed that Magic Johnson orchestrated Westhead's ouster.
Westhead was the head coach of the Chicago Bulls for the 1982-83 season, but lasted only one season as the Bulls went 28-54. Prior to that season, the Bulls traded away all-star center Artis Gilmore to the San Antonio Spurs, and the franchise was still two years away from the debut of Michael Jordan.
After that, Westhead returned to the college ranks, and took over as the head coach of the Loyola Marymount men's basketball program. From 1985-1990, Westhead oversaw an impressive run in which LMU--a smaller school which is not a traditional NCAA basketball power--became a legitimate contender in NCAA hoops. Westhead lured star players like Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, who both transferred from nearby USC, and rewrote many NCAA record books with Loyola Marymount's famous, up-tempo, run-and-gun style. Loyola, after the on-court death in their conference tournament of the team's best player and leader Gathers, proceeded to go on an inspired run in the NCAA tournament in 1990 that captured the attention of the entire college basketball world for those weeks, blowing out defending champion Michigan in the 2nd round and getting all the way to the West regional final before having their sentimental-favorite run ended by eventual champion UNLV.
At the conclusion of the 1989-1990 season, Westhead left LMU for the NBA's Denver Nuggets, a position he held for two seasons. His tenure in Denver was best known for attempting to incorporate the run-and-gun offense that worked for LMU to the NBA.
However, while Denver averaged a league-best 119.9 points per game in 1990-91, this resulted in Denver surrendering an NBA record 130.8 points per game, including one game versus the Phoenix Suns where Denver gave up 107 points in one half, which still stands as an NBA record. Westhead was fired from the Nuggets after two seasons after posting a combined W/L record of 44-120.
Following his tenure with the Nuggets, Westhead returned to college coaching as the head coach of George Mason University from 1993-1997. This time, Westhead's run-and-gun style did not succeed at the college level, ending his tenure at Mason with a 38-70 record. Westhead was succeeded at Mason by Jim Larranaga after the 1996-1997 season.
In 2005, Westhead was hired as the head coach of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, a position that he (as of September 2006) still holds.
Paul Westhead is occasionally confused with another NBA coach, Paul Westphal.