I’m not too sure about your basic premise. There certainly are athletes for whom the game comes so naturally that they can’t explain what they do, but many of the all-time greats are great because they combine talent with relentlessly practiced skills and tireless study of the game. The three athletes you listed probably would be excellent coaches in my opinion–particularly Rice, who always compensated for a lack of breakaway speed by running absolutely picture-perfect routes and concentrating with such intensity that he seemed never to drop a ball after his rookie season.
Rice could probably teach the position of wide receiver better than anyone who ever played because his excellence was more a triumph of good hands, hard work, and knowledge of the game than of speed and “talent.” Jordan had phenomenal physical gifts, but he also had an understanding of the ins and outs of the game of basketball that few others will ever have. Lemieux seems to understand the game of hockey on a different level than anyone but Gretzky as well. I have no doubt whatsoever that either would make an excellent coach because they both understand the game so well.
The biggest problem that the all-time great has as a coach isn’t that he did so much on natural talent; it’s that he’s bound to get frustrated by the fact that the people playing for him don’t have that same degree of talent. That’s what Jordan’s problem was with the Wizards: even in the front office at thirty-eight years old, he was the most talented basketball player attached to the team. For an all-time great to be a good coach, what’s needed isn’t a deeper understanding of the sport–people who are determined to get their names in the record books and to get themselves talked about 50 years later study the sport every bit as intently as those who are just barely hanging on to their positions on the roster. What’s needed is the patience to apply what you’ve learned about the game to those less talented than you.
You’d get a lot more agreement from me had you brought up players like Ken Griffey Jr., Allen Iverson, or Randy Moss. Players like this seem to skate on natural talent more that truly understand every nuance of the game. They’re the people who are more talented than some of the all-time greats, but who will fall short of greatness because they don’t pursue an encyclopedic understanding of the game or the highest standards of physical conditioning.