Two NFL teams have committed to changing coaches in 2021. A few more, most notably the Jets, will likely follow suit. As franchises prepare wish lists for their next hires, numerous cautionary tales exist. Here are 25 of the worst head-coaching tenures since the 1970 merger.
The late 1980s featured worse Cowboys teams, but the early 2000s reduced America's Team to sustained mediocrity. Jerry Jones promoted Campo, his former Super Bowl-winning longtime defensive coordinator, in 2000. A playoff team under Chan Gailey in 1998 and '99, Dallas posted three straight 5-11 seasons under Campo. In Campo's defense, Dallas ran into QB instability after Troy Aikman's 2001 retirement and traded two first-round picks for Joey Galloway. But Campo's "Hard Knocks" work inspired less confidence than just about any coach in the series' history. And Bill Parcells took the '03 Cowboys, with similar QB issues, to the playoffs.
Because the pre-Jim Mora Saints require a representative here, North having Archie Manning at the controls and churning out three bottom-tier offenses is the pick. An offensive-oriented coach, North went 11-23 in two-plus seasons with the Saints. Manning, the second-best quarterback in Saints history, finished the 1975 season with a 7-20 TD-INT ratio. The Saints did not rank higher than 24th offensively under North, who was fired after a 1-6 start to the '75 campaign. Though, to be fair, any of the first four Saints HCs deserve consideration.
Nearly 10 years after the Rams made Svare one of the youngest head-coaching hires in NFL history, the Chargers named him their GM in 1971. He traded arguably the best player in Chargers history (wideout Lance Alworth) for a modest return but soon took over head-coaching duties from Sid Gillman, the top coach in Bolts annals. Svare went 7-17-2 but made some strange moves, including trading a 32-year-old QB John Hadl to the Rams in 1973. Hadl earned All-Pro acclaim that fall. Although Svare quit as Chargers head coach midway through the '73 season, he stayed on as GM through 1976. A weird time for the franchise.
The interim coach after front office czar Scott Pioli canned Todd Haley in 2011, Crennel oversaw the Chiefs ruining the Packers' bid for a 16-0 season. That booked the ex-Browns head coach the full-time gig in 2012, and the Chiefs plunged into another valley. The '12 Chiefs rostered six Pro Bowlers and went 2-14; their four-Pro Bowler defense ranked 25th in points allowed. Crennel was saddled with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn as his QBs, however. The unthinkable Jovan Belcher tragedy occurred in Crennel's final days. Andy Reid led a similar-looking Chiefs team, though with Alex Smith, to an 11-5 record in 2013.
This placement comes down to a fateful day in April 1999. The architect of the storied 1985 Bears, Ditka returned to the sidelines in 1997. After two 6-10 seasons, the brash leader set out to acquire Texas Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams -- by any means necessary. After the Bengals turned down an incomprehensible offer (the Saints' 1999 draft plus first-rounders in 2000 and '01 and an '02 second), Washington took New Orleans' '99 draft picks plus first- and third-rounders in 2000 to move down. Ditka coached Williams for one season; the Saints fired Ditka after his 3-13 showing in 1999 and recovered to make the playoffs in 2000.
Campbell worked well as a defensive coordinator, just not as a head coach. The "Swamp Fox" received three chances; his worst go-round came in a second Falcons stint -- from 1987-89. Falcons owner Rankin Smith, who had Campbell in place as head coach from 1974-76, attempted to go elsewhere with his 1987 hire but pivoted back to his former lieutenant. Despite leading back-to-back No. 1 Eagles defenses (before failing as Philly's head coach), Campbell went 11-32 in his third head-coaching try to drop his lifetime win percentage to .300. Campbell's firing also, unfortunately, meant the end of the Falcons' red jerseys.
Tom Brady has offered up a third blip of Buccaneers relevance, because for the most part, the franchise has inched into the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Bill Parcells' Giants predecessor, Perkins resurfaced in Tampa in 1987. One of his first acts as Bucs head coach: trading Steve Young. It went downhill from there. Perkins went 19-41 with the Bucs, losing at least 11 games in each of his three full seasons before being fired late in the 1990 slate. Young replacement Vinny Testaverde did not blossom in Tampa, and while Perkins' drafts went better than the franchise's previous tries, 60 games is a rather large work sample.
Among coaches given at least 50 games, Bradley .226 win percentage ranks as the third-worst all-time mark. The first of the Pete Carroll-era Seahawks defensive coordinators to earn a head-coaching gig, Bradley did not receive a great draw in Jacksonville. Blake Bortles largely sunk that ship, with 2014's No. 3 overall pick not panning out. Bradley's defensive expertise, however, could not help the Jaguars much. They finished outside the top 20 in three of his four years, though they were turning a corner -- one they rounded with 2017's "Sacksonville" unit that nearly powered the team to Super Bowl LII.
If the current Giants do not represent the franchise's low point, it came in the mid-1970s. The architect of the Dolphin dynasty's "No-Name Defense," Arnsparger could not come close to resurrecting the Giants. He went 7-28 as New York's head coach, and Hall of Fame defender-turned-GM Andy Robustelli fired him after an 0-7 start to the 1976 season. Craig Morton managed to quarterback the Cowboys and Broncos to Super Bowls in the '70s; the trade acquisition floundered in the Big Apple. The Giants also gave up a No. 2 overall pick (Hall of Famer Randy White) for Morton.
The Dolphins made Cameron a one-and-done in 2007, and it came during an unsteady period. Nick Saban abandoned the Dolphins for Alabama after two years -- a period that featured Miami botching Drew Brees' free agency, leading to a Daunte Culpepper signing -- and Cameron helmed a terrible quarterback situation. After Trent Green suffered a frightening concussion for a second straight season, Cleo Lemon and John Beck made 11 combined starts. A successful offensive coordinator who enjoyed lengthy stays in San Diego and Baltimore, Cameron needed an overtime walk-off in December to avoid 0-16.
The Chiefs have rescued Spagnuolo's reputation, which took a major hit between his 2008 Giants exit and 2019 Kansas City arrival. The Rams hired Spagnuolo in 2009, after his defenses clinched a Super Bowl title and NFC's No. 1 seed in back-to-back years The result: three full seasons, including 1-15 and 2-14 marks. Spagnuolo went 10-38 with the Rams, who saw Josh McDaniels' post-Denver landing in 2011 end with a 32nd-ranked offense. While Sam Bradford won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, little else went right for the Spagnuolo-guided Rams in the heart of a 12-season playoff drought.
Record-wise, McDaniels does not quite belong here. However, the Broncos quickly rued the day they gave Mike Shanahan's 32-year-old successor personnel control. McDaniels made the panned Jay Cutler trade within months of taking over, proved in over his head as a leader and in 2010 traded three draft choices to select Tim Tebow in Round 1. After the 2009 Broncos started 6-0, McDaniels finished 5-17. A videotaping scandal -- three years after he'd worked under Bill Belichick during Spygate -- did in the sharp play-caller. McDaniels spurning a Colts agreement eight years later only further bolstered his divisive status.
Prior to Mornhinweg's 2001 Detroit arrival, the Lions went 9-7 and had made the playoffs six times in the previous 10 years. Mornhinweg started 0-12 in a season that featured a seven-INT game from QB Stoney Case, the first-year head coach deferring an OT coin toss (back when the NFL featured a true sudden-death format) in a loss in Chicago, and a brief Johnnie Morton-Jay Leno feud. The Lions drafted Joey Harrington a year later, but after a 3-13 season brought Mornhinweg's record to 5-27, he was not deemed worthy to groom the ex-Oregon star. The Matt Millen era did not exactly improve from here, however.
The final full-time coach in Baltimore Colts history, Kush's career included unfortunate chapters. His first season, 1982, is one of four winless campaigns (0-8-1) in post-merger NFL history. Then, the Elways wanted no part of him, with the quarterback prodigy and father Jack Elway using Kush as the centerpiece to avoid the Colts. That trade -- which caused dissent and upheaval in Baltimore's front office -- had the Colts without a reliable QB for 15 years. And after starting the 1984 season 4-11, Kush resigned from his post to accept a job with the USFL's Arizona Outlaws. They were out of business by 1986.
Jackson cannot avoid a place in head coaching ignominy; he went 3-36-1 with the Browns. That said, he agreed to coach a team trying a radical rebuild -- one that stripped the roster of talent in 2016. Jackson frequently clashed with front office boss Sashi Brown and was stuck starting DeShone Kizer for nearly a full season in 2017 -- which ended in the NFL's second 0-16 slate. When the perpetually overmatched Browns ownership hired experienced football execs, Jackson was on his way out. John Dorsey fired him midway through an eventful 2018, after the best "Hard Knocks" in years and clashes with OC Todd Haley and Baker Mayfield.
Shell's time as a player in Oakland led to Hall of Fame enshrinement; he then became the NFL's first Black head coach and led the Los Angeles Raiders to a 56-41 mark from 1989-94. This ranking is for Shell's second go-round on the Raiders sideline. After a six-year coaching hiatus, Shell was not Al Davis' first choice in 2006; he quickly proved the modern game was not for him. Shell brought back his former offensive coordinator, Tom Walsh, who was running a bed and breakfast in Idaho. Oakland ranked third defensively but still went 2-14, receiving a paltry 553 yards from a sulking Randy Moss. Davis then fired Shell for a second time.
Twice named the NFC Coach of the Year during his time with the Falcons, Bennett did not catch the Buccaneers at a good point. This was not the low point for the Bucs; that obviously came when the franchise opened 2-26. But under Bennett, the franchise hit bottom again by going 4-28 from 1985-86. The Bucs botched a few draft choices under Bennett. None more so than 1986 No. 1 overall pick Bo Jackson, who grew to detest owner Hugh Culverhouse and opted for the Royals' farm system instead. Steve Young's two Tampa years came under Bennett, but the franchise was a decade away from a true revival.
Thirty-one years before Bobby Petrino, a more famous college coach decided the NFL was not for him. Then the N.C. State coach, Holtz signed a five-year contract to coach the Jets. The 39-year-old coach attempted college-style gimmicks like composing a fight song and attempting to line up players by height before games. He lasted just 13 games, going 3-10 and bolting New York for an Arkansas offer in December 1976. After several injuries, Joe Namath was on his last legs; he averaged 99 passing yards per game in his final Jets season. Holtz later admitted he was unfamiliar with the pro game upon taking the Jets job.
Peterson's efforts at Florida State and Rice placed him in great demand by 1972, and the Oilers outmaneuvered the Broncos with a monster offer. The Oilers gave Peterson an "almost lifetime" contract -- a 10-year deal worth $75,000 per -- with owner Bud Adams proclaiming the offensive innovator would be with Houston until retirement. Instead, Peterson flopped in the pros and went 1-18 from 1971-72. The Oilers had Dan Pastorini and Hall of Fame defenders Ken Houston and Elvin Bethea but were nowhere close to contending. They went 1-13 in back-to-back seasons.
This tenure has come up more than a few times this season, given the Adam Gase operation cratering. The Jets hired Kotite in 1995 after he spent four seasons in Philadelphia, and they gave him personnel control. That did not work out. A native New Yorker, Kotite went 4-28 as Jets HC. He passed on Warren Sapp for tight end Kyle Brady despite indicating a fondness for the future Hall of Fame D-tackle. The Jets' decision to throw big money at ex-Steelers QB Neil O'Donnell backfired as well. Kotite's Jets stay looks worse considering the franchise fired Pete Carroll after one season and went 9-7 with Bill Parcells in 1997.
Mike Brown has a history of hiring young coaches. Zac Taylor has not started off strong, but the bar is low thanks to the Bengals owner's 1992 hire. After spending one season as Cincinnati's wide receivers coach, the then-32-year-old Shula became the team's head coach. Despite his bloodlines, Shula began the Bengals' descent by going 19-52 from 1992-96. David lost both times to Don Shula's Dolphins, could not turn first-round QB David Klingler into a viable starter -- though backup plan Jeff Blake enjoyed a lengthy career -- and was given a stunningly long time to prove he was not cut out for the job. Shula did not coach again in the NFL.
Marinelli's exit marked the end of Matt Millen's disastrous run as Lions GM -- a stretch that dragged the Lions into the NFL's basement after the team was a 1990s playoff bastion. Marinelli took over in 2006 and went 3-13. After a forgotten 7-9 showing in 2007, one of the more memorable seasons in NFL history commenced. By the end of the '08 slate -- the NFL's first 0-16 result -- the Lions had none of the three top-10 wideouts they drafted under Millen on their team, and Marinelli's defense allowed an NFL-worst 517 points. Marinelli bounced back by assembling successful defenses in Chicago and Dallas during the 2010s.
On Dec. 10, 2007, Michael Vick was sentenced to prison time on dogfighting charges. On Dec. 11, 2007, the Falcons' first-year coach abruptly left the team. Making this stranger than Holtz's Jets departure: Petrino told Falcons owner Arthur Blank he was staying a day before he resigned -- a la Holtz -- to accept an Arkansas offer. Blank gave Petrino a five-year, $24 million deal to leave Louisville for Atlanta and coach Vick. The southpaw superstar's legal troubles foiled that plan, and Petrino used three QBs -- most notably Joey Harrington -- that season. The Falcons drafted future MVP Matt Ryan months later.
Meyer's headline spree outflanks Petrino's early exit. Given full autonomy in Jacksonville and the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck, Meyer spoiled strong job security quickly with a diverse run of controversies. All roads led to the national championship-winning coach's bad NFL fit. (This was not hard to predict.) The Jags went 2-11 under Meyer, being outscored by 160 points, and have seen Trevor Lawrence regress. The October plane-trip/bar fiasco, berating of assistant coaches, and constant lack of awareness regarding NFL players give Meyer unique qualifications in bad-coach hierarchies and add another black mark on Shad Khan's perennially shaky ownership judgment.
For one-and-dones, this is as bad as it gets. The 1990 Patriots won their second game to move to 1-1, then promptly lost their final 14 -- 11 of those by double digits. New England's minus-265 point differential ranks as the third-worst in NFL history. Rust enjoyed a successful run as Patriots defensive coordinator, helping their 1985 team to Super Bowl XX. Their aging 1990 team ranked last on offense and 27th defensively. The team and three of its players also received NFL punishment for the Lisa Olson sexual harassment scandal. Returning to the assistant ranks, Rust remained an NFL coach until 2004.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.
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