Top 15 Dumbest In-Game Coaching Decisions

Pressure has an amazing ability to bring out both the best and worst in human beings and nowhere is this more evident than in the world of sport. Sports history is full of stories of athletes rising to the occasion to achieve victory. However, this only tells half of the story, because for every champion that we have had, there has been a losing team on the other side of those battles. These teams fought just as hard, but, due to the chaotic nature of a game, were found to be on the losing end of the outcome.

On occasion, there are instances where a game has been lost not only by the players on the field, but by a coaching decision. These decisions have had adverse effects on some of the most exciting sporting events in history. Twist endings are something that people come to expect in movies and television, but when they happen in sports, we are left looking to point the finger at somebody to blame. This list is dedicated to when those fingers could be pointed squarely at these coaches, whose decisions cost their respective teams dearly.

Every athlete and coach throughout history has made mistakes while plying their trade, but when those mistakes occur at the most inopportune moments, these individuals become identified by a single act. Some of these coaches were able to learn from their mistakes and use them to motivate them to further success, but for others these mistakes have cost them their livelihood. Despite their infamy, many of these names have been immortalized as part of the story of the most dramatic events in sports history. Without these mistakes, we would not have several of the most iconic moments treasured by sports fans around the world.

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15 Patrick Roy Pulls Goalie with 12 Minutes Left

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Just a few days ago, with his team trailing 4-1 with 12 minutes remaining in the third period of the Colorado Avalanche’s clash with the Nashville Predators, Patrick Roy decided to do something desperate. When his team earned a powerplay opportunity, Roy decided to pull Reto Berra in favor of an extra attacker in an attempt to cut the lead to two. It was a bold move that almost immediately backfired. With 42 seconds remaining on the powerplay, Eric Nystrom gained possession of the puck in his defensive zone and shot it the length of the ice into the vacant Avalanche goal. The game finished 5-2 in favor of the Predators, and it will be interesting to see if Roy ever attempts his early goalie pull move again.

14 Jason Garrett Ices Own Kicker

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With seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 13, the Dallas Cowboys lined up to kick a field goal that would have given them a valuable December win over the Arizona Cardinals. The ball was snapped and Dan Bailey drilled the 49-yard field goal, but a whistle had blown because Cowboys coach Jason Garrett had called a timeout from the sidelines. This effectively iced his own kicker because when Bailey was forced to attempt the kick again, he missed short and wide to the left. The game went into overtime, and the Cardinals capitalized on Garrett’s blunder, taking a victory away from the Cowboys.

13 Dennis Green Plays for Overtime

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Despite having one of the most explosive offenses of all time featuring superstars such as Randall Cunningham, Chris Carter, Robert Smith, and Randy Moss, coach Dennis Green decided to be conservative in the closing moments of the 1999 NFC Championship. Legendary kicker Gary Anderson likely needed only 40 more yards to enter field goal range, but Green decided not to attempt the drive even though he had two timeouts remaining. His offense took a knee and decided to let fate rest in the overtime coin toss, which was lost to the Atlanta Falcons, along with their chance to appear in the Super Bowl.

12 Lions Defer in Sudden Death Overtime

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In 2002, with the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears deadlocked at 17 and the game heading to overtime, Marty Mornhinweg made one of the most boneheaded moves in coaching history. After winning the coin toss, Mornhinweg decided to defer and give kicker Jason Hanson the wind at his back, allowing the Bears to have the first overtime possession. The Bears promptly took the ball, drove down the field and Paul Edinger hit a 40-yard field goal to give his team the win. This moment epitomizes the Detroit Lions as a franchise.

11 Belichick’s Biggest Blunder

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Peyton Manning is one of the greatest fourth quarter performers in the history of the NFL. Knowing this, Bill Belichick decided it would be wiser to keep the ball out of his hands, and went for the first down from his own 28-yard line. On the ensuing fourth and two play, Tom Brady threw a swing pass to Kevin Faulk, who was stopped short of the first down marker, giving Peyton Manning possession in prime scoring territory. Manning completed the 17-point comeback with a one-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne to give the Indianapolis Colts the victory. Belichick learned his lesson at the expense of a regular season loss.

10 The Miracle at the Meadowlands

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The play known as the Miracle at the Meadowlands has had a lasting impact on NFL history, because it gave birth to the widespread use of the victory formation. On November 19th, 1978, the Giants took possession of the football with a 17-12 lead with less than two minutes remaining against the Philadelphia Eagles. Everyone expected quarterback Joe Pisarcik would simply take a knee to run out the clock, but he handed the ball to Larry Czonka who ran for 11 yards. On the next down, they ran the same play, except Pisarcik’s handoff slipped out of his hands and bounced to the Eagles’ Herm Edwards. Edwards ran the ball into the end zone for the winning touchdown in one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history.

9 Pat Riley Leaves John Starks in Game 7

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Game Seven of the 1994 NBA Finals saw the New York Knicks fall to the Houston Rockets, allowing the Rockets to complete their comeback from a 3-2 series deficit. The Knicks lost 90-84 in a game that saw John Starks go just two for 18 shooting from the field. Starks missed all 11 of his three point attempts that night, while the rest of his team shot just under 50% for the game. Pat Riley’s decision to stick with the struggling guard in this situation has been heavily scrutinized in hindsight, but Riley was likely never going to go to backup Hubert Davis in crunch time.

8 Greg Ryan Benches Hope Solo

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Even those not intimately familiar with the world of women’s soccer recognize the name Hope Solo. Solo has been one of women’s soccer’s best goalkeepers over the last decade, and her World Cup performances have been exemplary. As the USA prepared for their semi-final clash against Brazil in 2007, goalkeeper Briana Scurry was given the starting nod by head coach Greg Ryan instead of Solo. The USA lost the match 4-0 and Solo’s postgame comments questioned Ryan’s decision. She claimed that she would have been able to make the saves, preventing several goals. The comments drew national attention and eventually led to a decision not to re-sign Ryan as manager.

7 Larry Bird Draws Up Play for Travis Best

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In Game Four of the 2000 NBA Finals, the Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Lakers were tied with time winding down in regulation. The Pacers had the ball and an opportunity to take the lead in the closing seconds of the game, but rather than running a play for legends Reggie Miller or Mark Jackson, head coach Larry Bird drew something up for Travis Best. Best was averaging just under ten points per game during the playoffs, and the play saw the 5’11’’ Best take the last shot against Shaquille O’Neal. Needless to say, the shot did not go down, and the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the series, eventually winning the title.

6 John McNamara Leaves Bill Buckner at First Base

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The worst blunder in World Series history may not have happened if Red Sox manager had not chosen to leave Bill Buckner in to play first base. During Game Six, Buckner allowed a Bucky Dent dribbler to go between his legs, which cost the Red Sox the game. They lost the series two days later when the Mets won in Game 7, and Buckner’s name has lived in infamy since. In the years since the event, John McNamara has stood by the decision not to replace Buckner with Dave Stapleton, but few Red Sox fans will be able to forget one of the most unfortunate nights in their franchise’s history.

5 Grady Little Sticks with Pedro Martinez

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The Boston Red Sox bullpen was among the best in baseball heading into the Game Seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series. The bullpen had surrendered only two runs in the previous 27.2 innings, but when manager Grady Little walked to the mound, he decided not to take the ball from tiring starting pitcher Pedro Martinez. Martinez is a legend, but was visibly tired as he worked in the bottom of the 8th inning to the heart of the Yankees order. Little stuck with Martinez despite Alan Embree warming up in the bullpen, and he surrendered three runs that allowed the Yankees to tie the game. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Aaron Boone crushed a homerun that gave the Yankees the win that extended the Curse of the Bambino for one more season.

4 Tom Osborne Goes for Two

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The Nebraska Cornhuskers had won 22 consecutive games heading into the 1984 Orange Bowl against the University of Miami. As the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter, Irving Fryar dropped a crucial touchdown pass that could have tied the game. On fourth and eight from the 24-yard line, the Cornhuskers ran a triple option, which was executed to perfection, and ended with Jeff Smith diving into the end zone to pull Nebraska within one point. College football had not adopted overtime, and at 12-0 on the season, a tie with Miami would have likely given Nebraska the National Championship. Despite this fact, Tom Osborne elected to go for the two point conversion, a pass that was broken up by the Hurricanes defense. Thankfully, Osborne would eventually win two National Championships later in his career.

3 Viktor Tikhonov Benches Vladislav Tertiak

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One of the most beloved moments in sports history may never have occurred if Viktor Tikhonov had not pulled Vladislav Tertiak during the first intermission of the game that would become known as the “Miracle on Ice”.. Tertiak surrendered two goals in the first period, and the teams went into the locker room tied when Tikhonov made the controversial decision. Tertiak was regarded by many as one of the best goaltenders in the world and was replaced with the competent Vladimir Myshkin. Myshkin surrendered two goals over the next two periods, including the game winner to Mike Eruzione, which gave the United States the 4-3 victory.

2 Tremblay Leaves Roy in Game

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What began as a normal regular season matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings turned into a bizarre hockey spectacle on December 2nd, 1995. Patrick Roy took his place in goal, but was quickly buffeted by the overwhelming Red Wings offense. Roy was visibly frustrated as he surrendered five goals on just 17 shots, but head coach Mario Tremblay elected to keep Roy in the net rather than replacing him. After receiving a Bronx cheer for making an easy save with his team down 7-1, Roy raised his hands in mock celebration. Roy surrendered nine goals on 26 shots and vowed to never play for Montreal again when he was replaced with Steve Jablonski. Days later, he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history. They weren't able to recover for the next decade, until a certain Carey Price came to town.

1 Pete Carroll Passes at the Goalline

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Super Bowl XLIX was one of the most exciting in the history of football’s biggest game. The final moments of the game saw dramatic runs from Marshawn Lynch, one of the most miraculous catches in NFL history, and finished with one of the most bizarre coaching decisions of all time. With the ball on the one-yard line, Pete Carroll elected to throw a slant rather than give the ball to Beast Mode for the game winning touchdown. Russell Wilson’s quick slant to Ricardo Lockette was jumped by Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler, who wrestled the ball away from Lockette in what may have been the best interception in Super Bowl history.

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