Great NFL head coaches are in short supply. For every Bill Belichick, there are about two dozen absolutely terrible coaches running teams across professional football. It’s no wonder teams frequently fire their head coaches after only a season or two, and why the top job in the NFL is often referred to as a “coaching carousel.” Apparently the skills, attitude, and temperament needed to lead men into battle on the gridiron each week are hard to come by. Even coaches who had great success in the collegiate ranks often have a hard time once they reach football’s biggest stage. Here are the 20 worst NFL head coaches of all time.
20. Jeff Fisher
Quite simply, there is no love lost in Los Angeles for the departed Jeff Fisher. Fired after a 4-9 start with the team in 2016, Fisher failed not because of the team he had, but due to the fact he couldn’t manage quarterbacks. This is a guy who had, in succession, Nick Foles, Case Keenum and Jared Goff. In 2015, the Rams traded Sam Bradford to Philadelphia for Nick Foles, with some draft picks thrown in. Foles, the future Super Bowl MVP, started 11 games that season and the team finished 7-9. Keenum, who so ably quarterbacked the Minnesota Vikings this past season, started five games in 2015. When the Rams drafted Jared Goff no. 1 overall in 2016, Foles was so upset he asked to be cut and considered retirement. Then, in 2016, Keenum was actually pretty good in 10 games for a 4-12 club, but actually got benched by Fisher after the team won against the New York Jets on Nov. 13. Goff, who went 0-7 as a starter in place of Keenum, with Fisher’s long overdue firing right in the middle of that skid. Goff was better under the new coaching staff in 2017, going 11-5 and making it to the wild card game. All tolled, Fisher coached 22 years in the NFL and made it to just 11 playoff games, winning five.
19. Steve Spagnuolo
What is it about the Rams past and hiring bad NFL coaches? It says a lot about Steve Spagnuolo’s past foibles with the Rams that he was passed over for the New York Giants head coaching position this year (he was interim coach for four games and went 1-3). In 2008, Spagnuolo was one of the highest paid defensive coordinators in football with the Giants, when his name came up as a candidate to coach the woeful Rams, who had a vacancy after a 2-14 campaign. He could be forgiven for inheriting a mess of a team that was one of the worst fielded clubs since the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They went 1-15 that year, earning them the right to draft Sam Bradford. The Rams experienced a big turnaround, going 7-9 under the rookie pivot. However, Spagnuolo and his staff failed to capitalize on that about face, going 2-14 in 2011, with the offence putting up a league worst 193 points. Spagnuolo was fired and found work again as a DC with the Giants. Little wonder though, that they aren’t entrusting him with a rebuild.
18. Josh McDaniels
We will admit that following in the footsteps of Mike Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls in 14 seasons with the Denver Broncos, might have been just a tad daunting. Josh McDaniels, when not otherwise, employed with the New England Patriots as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator (he was there for all five Super Bowl triumphs), had that distinction in 2009. After just 28 games coaching the Broncos between 2009 and 2010, he helped make the case that success as an assistant doesn’t necessarily translate to head coaching success. In Shanahan’s last season at the helm, 2008, the team went 8-8. McDaniels took over and with better running backs and Brandon Marshall still catching passes there, fashioned the same 8-8 record. That first season was checkered with controversy from the get-go over the handling of an alleged trade offer for Jay Cutler from New England. In the end, Cutler, who cited a lack of trust in McDaniels over this proposed deal, was eventually dealt to Chicago for Kyle Orton. And later in his first season, McDaniels caught the ire of Marshall after benching the Pro Bowl wideout, resulting in a off-season trade to Miami. After a 3-9 start in 2010, McDaniels was shown the door.
17. Hue Jackson
How is it that a head coach with a 1-31 record over the last two seasons — even if it is with the woeful Cleveland Browns — is still employed in the NFL? The answer to that question unfortunately requires a PhD level knowledge of the machinations of terrible NFL teams. Hue Jackson, whose previous foray as bench boss with Oakland in 2011 resulted in a 8-8 record, deserves our pity — and our scorn. Sure, he took over a listless club that went 3-13 in 2015 and in 2016 would have seven different players, including RB Duke Johnson, take at least one snap under center. But, given a fairly good young QB in DeShone Kizer and some decent receivers in Kenny Britt and a freshly returned Josh Gordon, how does his team not win one lone game in 2017?? It’s not like they didn’t have a chance, either. On Dec. 10, for instance, they held a commanding 21-7 lead on Green Bay entering the fourth quarter, only to see that lead evaporate in the final frame and the Packers win in OT. And that was just one in five games where they failed to hold a second half lead. That folks, is just piss poor in-game adjusting by the head coach and why Jackson ends up here.
16. Rod Marinelli
Hue Jackson isn’t the only NFL head coach to go 0-16. That infamous distinction also goes to current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Marinelli, whose 2008 Detroit Lions dropped every game — only he was promptly fired for it. Marinelli honed his coaching chops starting in 1976 at Utah State as a defensive line coach and for the next 30 years was employed in a variety of college and pro coaching positions. In 2006, after a stint as an assistant coach with Tampa Bay, Marinelli finally got the reins of a team, being hired by Detroit. That first year, he got a pass on a 3-13 season, mostly because his QB was Jon Kitna and he had no superstars other than receiver Roy Williams and no impact defensive players. That campaign allowed the Lions to pick second and they took Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, who helped get the club to a 7-9 record in 2007. In 2008, the Lions were a perfect 4-0 in the pre-season, but that was as good as it got. They would, under Marinelli’s guidance, become the first NFL team to go 0-16. Marinelli and most of his staff were rightly let go. His 10-38 overall mark is tied with Steve Spagnuolo for second worst all-time (for a coach with at least three years of experience).
15. Marty Mornhinweg
Not long before Rod Marinelli showed up on the scene to take the Lions to a place they never wanted to go, there was current Baltimore Ravens OC Marty Mornhinweg guiding Detroit to new lows. Only Mornhinweg had the advantage of taking over a team that went 9-7 in 2000. What happened to the team in 2001 under Mornhinweg’s tutelage can only be pegged on him. In the first 12 games of the 2001 season, all losses, the Lions were actually in nine of those contests, losing by eight points or less. That folks, is directly attributable to a longtime former assistant way out of his depth as a head coach. The Lions finished 2-14 and miraculously, Mornhinweg kept his job. The 2002 season began much the same way as ’01 ended, with three straight losses. But, the beleaguered coach actually got his team to win three of the next five to enter the second half 3-5. It was all downhill from there, though, as the Lions dropped eight straight. Yet, the team lost by three points or less in four of them, which means the coach’s in-game planning was flawed. He was fired right away after going 5-27.
14. Bill Peterson
Former Houston Oilers coach Bill Peterson was not the first coach to flame out at the NFL level after a successful NCAA career, nor will he be the last. The late former head coach of Florida State was lauded for his innovative techniques and bringing the Seminoles to national prominence during his tenure there from 1960 to 1970. He sported a 65-49-12 overall college record (he was 3-7-1 with Rice in 1971) before being hired by the Oilers in 1972. They weren’t a great football club in 1971, sporting a 4-9-1 mark, so there wasn’t much pressure on Peterson to totally turn the team around. With a young Dan Pastorini quarterbacking the team, it didn’t start well as the Oilers were blown out in consecutive games. But in the third game, Pastorini and the boys took down Joe Namath and the Jets, 26-20. Instead of building on that, however, Houston would get blown out in five of 11 down the stretch to finish a terrible 1-13. The next season, Peterson’s Oilers started 0-5, with three defeats coming by a difference of 20 or more points. Instead of being fired, Peterson just resigned.
13. Joe Kuharich
The late coach Joe Kuharich was so despised in Philadelphia — now there’s a surprise, not — that during his last fateful season, that a plane passed over old Franklin Field towed a banner saying “Joe Must Go”, every single home game of the 1968 campaign. It was accompanied by an even more morbid banner that hung in the upper deck exhorting him to “Please Do Us a Favor and Die.” At one time head coach of his alma mater, Notre Dame, Kuharich first coached in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals in 1952. A 4-8 season was his first and last in the Windy City. In 1954, he caught on with Washington, where he had one winning season with the Redskins (1955; 8-4) and finished in 1958 with an overall mark of 26-32-2 and zero playoff games. His Eagles tenure began on much the same footing, and he had only one winning season there, 1966, when they were 9-5. The 2-12 1968 campaign was made even worse by the fact the Eagles didn’t finish with the worst record (they one two of the last three), denying them the first pick to Buffalo — who just happened to be O.J. Simpson.
12. Cam Cameron
Just how bad does a coach with one season of experience have to be to make this list? Cam Cameron bad, is the answer. Put it this way, his 2007 Miami Dolphins team lost its first 13 games in a row and finished with the worst record in team history at 1-15. Making matters worse, the 2008 Fish went 11-5 under Tony Sparano and made the playoffs, losing to Baltimore in the wild card game. As for Cameron, he had plenty of time in other positions, like head coach at Indiana University and offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers before being hired by Miami. The only thing one could say in his defence was that he had to follow a disappointing tenure put in by legendary college coach Nick Saban. But, that’s about it, as Cameron was clearly not up to the job from the get-go. Then new GM Jeff Ireland, in tandem with Bill Parcells, cleaned house of Cameron and his staff immediately following the 2007 season.
11. Rich Kotite
As bad as the Jets have been in the past seven seasons or so, they were never Rich Kotite bad. Things went so badly for Kotite that after resigning just two days before the end of 1996 season, he never coached anywhere after. The former NFL tight end got his first NFL head coaching gig with Philadelphia in 1991, after 13 years holding various assistant positions with New Orleans, Cleveland, the Jets and Philadelphia. In four seasons with the Eagles, he was fairly successful, fashioning a 36-28 record and a 1-1 mark in two playoff games. The death knell in Philly came during the 1994 campaign when he started out 7-2, but lost all seven remaining games. The Jets, who knew him from his days as receivers coach and offensive coordinator, hired him in 1995 after they let Pete Carroll go following a 6-10 year. Kotite couldn’t get the Jets to perform with any consistency and they finished with the worst record in the league at 3-13. Things went much, much worse in 1996, even with bright young receivers in the fold like Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet. They would lose eight in a row to start, beat Arizona and then dropped seven straight to end up with the worst record in team history at 1-15.
10. Chip Kelly
Expectations were huge for Chip Kelly when he entered the NFL in 2013. The former head coach of the University of Oregon NCAA program, Kelly was hailed as an offensive genius when he assumed head coaching duties with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, all the hope and promise quickly evaporated when the Eagles struggled under Coach Kelly. Finding it difficult to adapt to the big leagues and treating the Eagles’ professional players like college freshmen, Kelly proved to be a divisive force on the team. Worse, he traded away many of the team’s top talent, including All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy and linebacker Kiko Alonso. Some players on the Eagles even accused Kelly of being a racist. Eventually, he was fired after just three seasons at the helm. He landed another head coaching job with San Francisco 49ers for the 2016 season, but was fired after one season where the Niners went 2-14. Kelly now says he plans to return to the college ranks.
9. Bill McPeak
Players-turned-coaches aren’t always a sure fire recipe for success. Take Bill McPeak, for example. As a defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, McPeak found plenty of success as a NFL player. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl on three occasions during his playing career in the 1950s. However his success in tackling people did not translate to the job of coaching. As the head coach of the Washington Redskins, McPeak did not experience much success at all. In fact, he led the team through one of its darkest chapters in the early-to-mid 1960s. During five seasons leading the Redskins — 1961-65 —the team never finished above .500. Instead, the team went 21-46-3 during his brief tenure as the head coach. While McPeak would never get another head coaching job in the NFL, he did find some modest success as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins in 1973.
8. Mike Mularkey
Mike Mularkey was given the top job coaching the Tennessee Titans mid-way through the 2015 season, replacing Ken Whisenhunt as the play caller. The Tennessee Titans front office made the position permanent ahead of the 2016 NFL season. How Mularkey’s tenure with the Titans goes is still to be determined. But his previous track record may not bode well for the Titans’ future. That’s because Mularkey has already been a head coach on two previous occasions, both of which proved to be disasters. Coach Mularkey spent two years leading the Buffalo Bills in 2004-05, and the 2012 season as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In those previous head coach outings, Mike Mularkey compiled a woeful overall record of just 18 wins and 39 losses. Not exactly a record that should inspire confidence among the Titans faithful. But when you’re desperate, you do what you have to do.
7. Darryl Rogers
The Detroit Lions have suffered a lot of ups and downs in their history. And the team has gone through some truly dreadful coaching tenures over the years. But few, if any,have proved to be as unsuccessful as Darryl Rogers, who lead the Lions in the mid-1980s during one of the team’s most abysmal periods. In 1985, Rogers received the opportunity to coach the Lions, a position that he called his “dream job.” However, that dream quickly turned into a nightmare as the Lions faltered badly under Rogers’ inept leadership style. In less than four full seasons on the sidelines, Darryl Rogers won just 18 games while losing 40 in the same period of time. It’s no wonder that the organization replaced him 11 games into the 1988 season. Fans of the team held a rally in the parking lot of the Lion’s stadium to celebrate the coaching change.
6. Dave Shula
To be fair, it can’t be easy to be the son of football head coaching God Don Shula. It is Don Shula, after all, who lays claim to the only perfect season culminating in a Super Bowl victory – a feat he accomplished with the Miami Dolphins in 1972. His son Dave’s experience as a head coach was not nearly as successful. In fact, Dave Shula is widely regarded as the worst head coach of the modern football era. The younger Shula spent five years as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. During that time, the team cultivated a horrific record of 19 wins and 52 losses. Not surprising, the younger Shula has not received another head coaching offer since being cut loose by the Bengals. In fact, he left football altogether after the Bengals fired him. He now runs Shula’s Steak Houses, a chain of restaurants in the U.S. that play off his father’s success as a NFL head coach.
5. Harland Svare
Another former player-turned-coach was Harland Svare. A linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants, Svare was feared on the field for administering punishing hits and crushing tackles. As a head coach for the Rams from 1962-65, and the San Diego Chargers from 1971-73, Svare proved to be indecisive and weak. As a result, he concluded his coaching career with an abysmal record of 21 wins versus 48 losses. His own worst critic, Svare voluntarily resigned his head coaching job in 1973, acknowledging to the media that he was not well suited to leading a team. He never coached again after leaving the Chargers and went into self-imposed exile – likely because the humiliation of failing as a head coach was too much for him to handle.
4. Marion Campbell
Marion Campbell was a curiosity as a NFL head coach, and his legacy continues to be debated by sports writers to this day. The only coach on this list to successfully oversee a professional NFL team for more than 100 games, Campbell was fairly unspectacular as a head coach. He finished his career with a losing record of 34 wins, 80 losses, and a single tie. While his defensive acumen was unparalleled — he achieved quite a bit of success as a defensive coordinator — anything beyond defense seemed to be too much for him. The offensive units he commanded as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and later the Philadelphia Eagles, were unspectacular to say the least.
3. Jimmy Phelan
We have to take a trip back in time to discuss head coach Jimmy Phelan. That’s because he coached several football teams that no longer exist. In 1951, the last year that the New York Yanks’ (not to be confused with baseball’s Yankees) were in existence, the team went 1-9 under the direction of Jimmy Phelan, a head coach who spent two earlier seasons with the Los Angeles Dons (another defunct team), leading them to a break even 7-7 record in his first season and a losing 4-8 record the following year. Yet despite his terrible track record, Phelan’s last head coaching job was with the Dallas Texans (another team that is now gone) in 1952. How did Phelan do coaching Dallas. They had one win and 11 losses under his direction. That gave Jimmy Phelan a lifetime record of 13 wins and 35 losses. Hmmm, maybe there’s a reason all the teams he coached no longer exist?
2. Dave McGinnis
In the annals of football, there are certain teams that everyone remembers, for better or worse. The 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 New England Patriots, for example, are remembered for perfect undefeated regular seasons. Also the Buffalo Bills team of the early 1990s that made it to four consecutive Super Bowls and lost every single one of them. Those teams are etched in the collective memory of NFL fans for both their victories and defeats. The Arizona Cardinals of the early 2000s are not one of those teams, since they were completely unmemorable under then head coach Dave McGinnis. The team from the dessert went an unspectacular 17-40 from 2000 until 2003 when McGinnis was finally fired for failing to improve the Cardinals’ fortunes. He hasn’t had a head coaching job since and was forced into retirement.
1. Bert Bell
You’ve got to travel back to the Great Depression to appreciate the flaming car wreck that was the coaching career of the late, disastrous Bert Bell. And, to be honest, the game of football that was played in the 1930s and early 1940s is not nearly the same as the game that’s played today. Still, winning and losing has not changed, and that has always been the yards stick by which professional football coaches are measured. And Bell fell far short of the yard stick. As head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1936 until 1941, Bell was much more familiar with losing than winning. In fact, he only won 10 games out of the 58 that he coached in the big league. Fans booed him, players hated him, and the local press corps waged a campaign to have him fired. The miracle was that Bert Bell managed to last five seasons as a head coach.