Frank Schmidt (c.) is the longest-serving coach in German football history - © DFL
Frank Schmidt (c.) is the longest-serving coach in German football history - © DFL
60 years of Bundesliga

Top 10 longest-serving coaches in German football history


Frank Schmidt officially surpassed Volker Finke as the longest-serving coach in German football history when his Heidenheim side faced Werder Bremen on Sunday, 17 September 2023 – exactly 16 years to the day since he took charge. takes you through the 10 coaches to have been in charge of a team for the longest spells in German football…

*Tenure lengths correct as of 18 March 2014

1) Frank Schmidt (Heidenheim) – 16 years, six months, one day (17 September 2007 – present)

Schmidt’s association with Heidenheim extends far beyond his 16 unbroken years as coach. He was born in the city and would later make over 100 appearances for predecessor club Heidenheimer SB, where he was also captain and enjoyed promotion to the fifth tier before the defensive midfielder retired in 2007. He stayed on to work as assistant coach under Dieter Märkle, but just weeks later was asked to replace his old boss. What originally started as an interim solution on 17 September 2007 has turned into a record-breaking success story.

His first campaign in charge ended in promotion to the fourth tier. The years after that, Schmidt led Heidenheim to the title in the 2008/09 Regionalliga Süd to earn promotion again to the 3. Liga, where he would establish them before a third promotion in 2014 to Bundesliga 2 for the first time in the club’s history, signing a new contract through to 2020.

Schmidt has taken Heidenheim from the fifth tier to the Bundesliga. - IMAGO/Team 2

Over the next decade, he would again establish the Baden-Württemberg club in the second division and came agonisingly close to a historic promotion in 2019/20, when only away goals denied them victory in the play-off against Werder Bremen. Another contract until 2027 followed in October 2021, when he was already Germany’s current longest-serving coach.

History was finally made in dramatic late fashion on the final day of 2022/23 as Heidenheim leapt from third to first in added time to secure promotion to the Bundesliga and top-flight football for the first time ever. Their first point at this level came in Dortmund on Matchday 3, before Schmidt overtook Finke and made history himself on Matchday 4 with Heidenheim’s game at home to Bremen – his 591st at the helm. He's now reached 614 in charge.

2) Volker Finke (Freiburg) – 16 years (1 July 1991 – 30 June 2007)

Schmidt had just retired as a player with Heidenheim in the fourth tier when Finke’s record 16-year tenure at Freiburg came to an end in 2007. Finke had been a coach for lower-league sides TSV Stelingen, TSV Havelse and SC Norderstedt when Freiburg president Achim Stocker became aware of him in 1991 and brought him to the then Bundesliga 2 club. He guided them to the Bundesliga for the first time ever in 1993 and then to their best-ever finish of third in 1994/95.

Volker Finke was once the longest-serving coach German football had ever seen. - imago sportfotodienst

Finke and Freiburg stayed together through thick and thin, including three relegations and two more promotions back – no coach in Germany has ever experienced three relegations and three promotions during a single spell at a club – and also two UEFA Cup qualifications. After narrowly missing out on a fourth promotion in 2006 and a poor start to the 2006/07 campaign, Finke and Freiburg announced they would be going their separate ways at the end of the season. However, a resurgence in the second half of the campaign led to calls for the decision to be reconsidered. There was even the demand for an extraordinary general meeting to discuss the issue, but the required voting numbers weren’t reached and Finke’s 607th and final game was a 2-0 win at home to Koblenz on 20 May 2007, with his contract finally running out on 30 June as he completed 16 years at the helm. He later coached Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan and the Cameroon national team.

3) Joachim Löw (Germany) – 14 years, 11 months, 18 days (12 July 2006 – 29 June 2021)

Löw the player was a striker back in the day, netting what was for many years a club-record 83 goals in 263 appearance for Freiburg, while also playing in the Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt, Karlsruhe and VfB Stuttgart. It was at the latter where he got his first big coaching break, first working as assistant under Rolf Fringer before stepping in to replace him in August 1996 and spending two seasons at the helm, including a DFB Cup triumph in 1996/97. Löw would then have brief spells in charge of Fenerbahce, Karlsruhe, Adanaspor, Tirol and Austria Vienna before Jürgen Klinsmann brought him into his backroom staff with the national team in 2004.

Löw stood on top of the world with Germany in 2014. - imago/Laci Perenyi

Löw was assistant at Germany’s home FIFA World Cup campaign in 2006 before being promoted to the top job himself in July of that year. It would turn into a historic tenure of very nearly 15 years that saw Germany compete at three World Cups, four European Championships and the 2017 Confederations Cup. He led them to victory at the latter and, most famously, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil over 198 matches in charge – a record for a Germany coach. His final game in charge was the Euro 2020 round of 16 defeat to England, meaning his record at the helm was an impressive 125 wins, 39 draws and only 34 defeats. The stadium in his hometown of Schönau im Schwarzwald was renamed the Jogi-Löw-Stadion in October 2014.

4) Otto Rehhagel (Werder Bremen) – 14 years, three months (1 April 1981 – 30 June 1995)

Rehhagel’s first stint at Bremen only lasted four months after he was brought in during the 1975/76 season to keep them up, which he did and was carried on the shoulders of fans asking him to join permanently. However, he’d already agreed to take over at Borussia Dortmund and wouldn’t be back in the Bremen dugout until 1981, when he replaced Kuno Klötzer, who stepped down for medical reasons.

Rehhagel remains one of the greatest managers in German football history. - imago sportfotodienst

Over 14 years, Rehhagel went from leading Werder to promotion to perennial title challengers. They came agonisingly close in both 1984/85 and 1985/86 before finally getting his hands on the Meisterschale in 1987/88 and again in 1992/93, plus the DFB Cup in 1991 and 1994. His attack-minded teams earned plaudits from across Germany and Europe for “King Otto” before announcing in early 1995 that he wanted another challenge in his life after 655 games in charge during his second stint. He would go on to take charge of Bayern for less than a year before sensationally leading Kaiserslautern to promotion in 1997 and the title in 1998 – the only promoted team ever to win the Bundesliga. Rehhagel would make more history in 2004 when he led Greece to European Championship glory. His 832 Bundesliga games as a coach is a record, while he and Jupp Heynckes are the only people to be involved in over 1000 Bundesliga matches as players or coaches.

5) Thomas Schaaf (Werder Bremen) – 14 years, five days (10 May 1999 –
14 May 2013)

Few people are as closely associated with one club as Schaaf is with Die Werderaner. Including his time with the club’s youth team, the Mannheim native spent an astonishing 41 consecutive years at the Weserstadion, playing some role in all but one of all the club’s major silverware triumphs. His journey began as an 11-year-old in 1972 when he joined the academy, becoming a professional six years later. That was the beginning of an 18-year playing career that saw him win two Bundesliga titles, two DFB Cups and the 1991/92 UEFA European Cup Winners’ Cup, Bremen’s first and only continental trophy.

Schaaf and Bremen is a match made in heaven. - imago/ActionPictures

For the final seven years of his playing career, Schaaf was also a Werder youth coach and, as soon as he hung up his boots in 1995, he took over as manager of the reserve team. He move into the senior role during the final month of the 1998/99 campaign and, not only did he save the side from relegation, but he also led them to a DFB Cup final victory as Bayern Munich were defeated on penalties. His arrival was ultimately the catalyst as Bremen established themselves amongst Germany’s elite once more. 

The peak of Schaaf’s stint at the helm was undoubtedly the 2003/04 campaign, when Werder, inspired by the clinical Ailton, secured a league and cup double. Five top-three finishes in the next six seasons followed, as did another DFB Cup in 2009 and, while Bremen’s star had dimmed by the time the boss departed in 2013, his reputation as the club’s greatest legend remains intact. Although he spent time at Hannover and Eintracht Frankfurt in the dugout, he ultimately returned ‘home’ in 2018 as Technical Director – in addition to further, short spells as assistant and caretaker coach – before a second exit in 2021 upon Bremen’s relegation. You wouldn’t bet against this love story reprising in the future, though.

6) Helmut Schön (Germany) – 13 years, seven months, 18 days (4 November 1964 – 21 June 1978)

Schön amassed 16 caps for Germany as a player, but he missed out on the 1954 FIFA World Cup triumph by four years due to retirement. By the time West Germany were standing at the summit of international football, the former St. Pauli and Hertha man had already begun his managerial career, ultimately missing out on qualification for the tournament in Switzerland as boss of the autonomous Saarland despite a spirited effort – they were beaten twice by West Germany along the way.

Schön (r.) and Franz Beckenbauer (l.) celebrate winning the World Cup. - Imago

Despite those defeats, Schön had still done enough to attract the attention of national team boss Sepp Herberger, and he ended up being his assistant between 1956 and 1964. That was the perfect preparation to replace the father of German football. Back in the day, qualification for the World Cup was not a formality as it often is now, but Schön guided West Germany to the 1966 tournament and all the way to the final, where they ended up losing to hosts England. After a third-place finish in 1970, glory arrived first in 1972 as the side secured the European Championship before beating all before them globally two years later on home soil. Another silver medal came Schön's way at the 1976 Euros prior to his exit in 1978 – he is still the only Germany manager to triumph both at continental and international level.

7) Sepp Herberger (Germany) – 13 years, six months, 16 days (22 November 1950 – 7 June 1964)

Before Schön, of course, there was Herberger. Before he embarked on his 13-year-plus stint in 1950, the three-time Germany international had already coached the side for a year in 1932 and between 1936 and 1942 – those roles sandwiched four years as assistant to Otto Nerz.

Germany's 1954 winners carry Herberger aloft. - imago images/WEREK

The escalation of World War II meant that Germany did not play a single game between 1942 and 1950, and Herberger was tasked with rebuilding the reputation of, by now, West Germany, at least at a sporting level. The first chance to do so was in Switzerland in 1954, and it is fair to say the gaffer grasped the opportunity with both hands. The overwhelming favourites for the title were the Hungarian 'Mighty Magyars', led by Ferenc Puskas, who had not lost a game for four years and defeated the Germans 8-3 on their way to the final.

Football though, is full of surprises and, in torrential rain, the ‘Miracle of Bern’ was born. Herberger’s charges had also reached the showpiece despite that aforementioned heavy loss and, although Puskas and Co. raced into a 2-0 lead after eight minutes, West Germany refused to be beaten. What ensued has since gone down in folklore, as the underdogs staged an unforgettable comeback to win 3-2 and snatch the Jules Rimet trophy from the jaws of defeat. While they never came to close to repeating that success under Herberger, that team remains immortal.

8) Hans Meyer (Carl Zeiss Jena) – 12 years, four months, 24 days (1 July 1971 – 23 October 1983)

Meyer’s connection with East German outfit Carl Zeiss Jena started in 1963 as a player. That was the final stop of his playing career and, two years after retiring in 1969, he was tasked with overseeing the senior squad, who were playing in the GDR’s Bundesliga equivalent, the Oberliga.

Hans Meyer enjoyed 11 successful years in Jena. - imago/Camera 4

The now 81-year-old was never quite able to bring home a league title, despite Jena finishing as runners-up on five separate occasions under his tutelage, but that does not mean his time at the club was without success. FCC still picked up three FDGB-Pokals – otherwise known as the East German Cup – in 1972, 1974 and 1980. 

In the season immediately following the latter of those victories, Jena became only the second East German side to reach a European final as they lost to Dinamo Tbilisi in the European Cup Winners’ Cup (Lok Leipzig succumbed to Ajax six years later in the final while Magdeburg got the better of Milan in 1974, both in the same competition). Upon Meyer’s departure in 1983, Jena never quite lived up to those standards as state-backed BFC Dynamo dominated the now-defunct country’s football scene until German reunification. Meyer, meanwhile, continued to coach for a further 26 years, including another one-year stint in Jena, although a league title continued to evade him.

9) Winfried Schäfer (Karlsruhe) – 11 years, nine months, 26 days (1 July 1986 – 25 March 1998)

Schäfer's C.V, which began in the wake of a 17-year playing career, reads like that of a globe-trotter thanks to roles throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. It may, therefore, come as a surprise to learn that he offered Karlsruhe close to 12 years of stability between 1986 and 1998 during what was the best spell of the club’s recent history.

Winfried Schäfer's spell at Karlsruhe was the longest of his career by some distance. - imago/Pressefoto Baumann

In his first campaign, Karlsruhe earned promotion to the Bundesliga, where they would stay for more than a decade, their longest successive streak amongst the elite. Slowly but surely under Schäfer, KSC established themselves as a top-half side and, though silverware was never forthcoming, there were plenty of highlights. Sixth place in the 1992/93 Bundesliga saw the side qualify for the UEFA Cup, and Schäfer inspired a memorable 7-0 victory over Valencia and wins versus PSV, Boavista and Bordeaux before eventually losing to Austria Salzburg in the semi-finals. 

They also reached the 1996 DFB Cup final, which also ended in defeat, this time to Stuttgart, although their run in the Intertoto Cup, which they won, that same year somewhat softened the blow. With Karlsruhe in the bottom half of the table approaching the end of the 1997/98 term, Schäfer was dismissed, but that did not prevent relegation or a slide down the hierarchy of German football – the Baden-Württemberg outfit have played just three Bundesliga campaigns since.

10) Christian Streich (Freiburg) – 12 years, two months, 18 days (29 December 2011 – present)

Where would Freiburg be without Streich? It's a question that didn't need to be answered for over a decade, but is now something the Breisgau Brasilianer will have to ponder after the 58-year-old announced in March 2024 that he will be stepping down in the summer after almost three decades as a coach there.

Watch: Christian Streich: Freiburg Fairytale

Streich started the 2011/12 campaign as assistant to Marcus Sorg, who replaced the outgoing Robin Dutt, but things quickly turned sour. By the winter break, Freiburg were bottom of the table, with just 13 points after 17 games. Sorg was subsequently dismissed and Streich was promoted, a decision that proved to be a stroke of genius. The Schwarzwald outfit went on to finish a comfortable 12th that term. Europa League qualification followed the next season, and, although relegation did come their way in 2015, the team spent just one campaign in the Bundesliga 2 before bouncing straight back.

Since that promotion, Freiburg have gone from strength to strength, securing top-six finishes in each of the previous two seasons and reaching a maiden DFB Cup final in 2022, although that ended in defeat to RB Leipzig. Throughout the highs and lows, Streich has both worn his heart on his sleeve and been a calming, composed presence, displaying whatever part of his personality each situation has required, which not only makes him a brilliant manager but also a fan favourite.