Born in the Scottish lowlands mining town of Burnbank, South Lanarkshire on 5 October 1922, Stein signed his first professional contract as a center-half for Albion Rovers in 1942 while working part time as a coal miner. He made 200 league appearances for Albion from 1942 to 1950, then spent the 1950-51 season with Welsh side Llanelli Town before moving to Celtic in 1951. He made 148 league appearances for Celtic before ankle injuries forced him to retire in 1956.
Upon retirement as a player, Stein moved into management, starting with the Celtic reserve side. In 1960, he took over as manager of Dunfermline Athletic and led them to their first Scottish Cup victory in 1961 with a 2-0 victory over Celtic in the Final replay. He left Dunfermline in 1964 and spent the 1964-65 season in charge of Hibernian before returning to Celtic in 1965. He also managed the Scottish national side part-time in 1965.
Stein enjoyed his greatest success at Celtic, winning ten league titles, eight Scottish Cups, and six Scottish League Cups between 1965 and 1978. His crowning acheivement, however, was beating Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup Final, thus becoming the first man to win the prestigious trophy with a British club.
Despite his successes, he was pressured out from Celtic in 1978 in favor of new manager Billy McNeill. Stein accepted the managerial position at Leeds United later that year, but left after only 45 days in order to manage the Scottish national side full time.
After his death, Stein was posthumously inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame and the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. Since the 1990s, the west end of Celtic Park has been named the Jock Stein Stand and a bust of Stein is located in the stadium's foyer.