When a team hires a new head coach, it's a time to wipe clean the slate and get a fresh start, with the idea that new leadership at the top can help transform a franchise into winners. The Cleveland Browns hope Hue Jackson will be the first Browns coach with a winning record since Marty Schottenheimer in the ‘80s. The San Francisco 49ers hope Chip Kelly can erase memories of the short-lived Jim Tomsula era. Dirk Koetter in Tampa Bay, Adam Gase in Miami, Doug Pederson in Philadelphia, Ben McAdoo in New York, and Mike Mularkey in Tennessee—fans across the NFL are hoping that this guy will be the one that makes things alright.
The problem, of course, is that fans have that same hope for every new coaching hire. Mike Pettine was supposed to turn the Browns around. Jim Tomsula was supposed to provide continuity in San Francisco. Lovie Smith was going to bring a defensive mindset to Tampa. The list goes on—sometimes, coaching hires just don’t work out.
With that in mind, let’s scrape the bottom of the barrel. Let’s look at the worst head coaches over the past 15 years. The ones that have turned out losing team after losing team, unable to bring their teams to a playoff berth, much less the championships fans dream of. We’re looking mostly for coaches who had a long-term negative effect on their teams, as opposed to one-year failures. These are the coaches who had their fans swearing for years, waiting for any sign that the players they were counting on would actually begin contributing.
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15 Mike Nolan, San Francisco 49ers (2005-2008)
Mike Nolan was the son of previous 49ers’ head coach Dick Nolan, who had some significant success with the team back in the 1970s. Mike was never able to fill his father’s shoes. His failings possibly started when he picked Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback due to personality issues, made ironic when he later questioned the severity of injuries Smith suffered, implying he was too soft to return to the field. Nolan is probably best remembered for his fight against the NFL to be allowed to wear a suit and tie on the field. He perhaps should have paid less attention to his wardrobe and more to his team, as he was fired midway through the 2008 season with a career 18-37 record.
14 Scott Linehan, St. Louis Rams (2006-2008)
When Scott Linehan took over the reins in St. Louis, they were coming off of The Greatest Show on Turf years, having made the playoffs in five of the previous seven years, with players like Torry Holt and Orlando Pace still on the roster. He managed to navigate the team to an 8-8 record in one of the weakest divisions in recent memory, the 2006 NFC West, but the bottom fell out after that. The Rams went 3-13 in 2007, with Linehan openly feuding with quarterback Marc Bulger and running back Steven Jackson on the sidelines. In 2008, Linehan began the season with an 0-4 record and that was enough for the Rams. Linehan left town with an 11-25 record.
13 Dick LeBeau, Cincinnati Bengals (2000-2002)
Dick LeBeau is a great example of someone who was over-promoted. LeBeau is one of the best defensive coordinators of all time; he created the entire concept of a zone blitz and innovated many other defensive innovations that are standards across the NFL today. The Cincinnati Bengals logically bumped him to be their head coach, but he lacked the same Midas touch on offense. He never won more than six games in a season and was fired after the 2002 season with a 12-33 record. He immediately found work as a defensive assistant again and went back to having great success.
12 Cam Cameron, Miami Dolphins (2007)
We’re mostly looking at coaches who had a negative effect over multiple years for this list, but Cam Cameron’s 2007 season was poor enough to get him on this list despite only 16 games on his resume. The Dolphins weren’t in great shape when Cameron arrived; they had missed the playoffs for five straight years, though there were a few winning marks mixed in there. Cameron would have none of that—he opened his career with 13 consecutive losses. He picked up his one and only win against the Baltimore Ravens, and finished with a 1-15 record, the worst in Dolphins history. Needless to say, he was not asked to return in 2008.
11 Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009-2011)
Raheem Morris moved directly from defensive backs coach to head coach when Jon Gruden was fired. He had no shortage of bad luck in his first season, going 3-13 a year after the Buccaneers had had a solid winning record. Perhaps he just needed some time to warm into the job; he started the year 0-7 but had a more respectable second half of the season after taking over defensive coordinator duties himself. His 2010 season made it look like everything had turned around, with the Buccaneers finishing 10-6 and just missing the playoffs, but it was short-lived success. The Bucs crashed back to Earth the next season and Morris ended his career like he began it—on a long losing streak, this time 10 games. He finished his coaching career with a 17-31 record.
10 Dennis Erickson, San Francisco 49ers (2003-2004)
Dennis Erickson had an earlier, somewhat unsuccessful run in Seattle, as well as years of experience in college, before he was pegged to take over the 49ers. Replacing the successful Steve Mariucci in San Francisco, Erickson took a team that had gone 10-6 the year before and promptly led them to a 7-9 record. That offseason, he lost both his starting quarterback in Jeff Garcia and his top receiver in Terrell Owens, and he took that 7-9 team and turned it into a 2-14 team. He was fired with three years remaining on his deal after leading the team to a 9-23 record, the worst winning percentage of any 49ers head coach with at least one full season under their belt.
9 Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars (2013-Present)
As an active coach, there’s still time for Gus Bradley to work his way off this list. If he can take third-year quarterback Blake Bortles and turn in Jacksonville’s first winning season since 2007, he could eventually become a success story. His first three seasons, however, have not paid dividends on the rebuilding project he was hired to lead. He’s yet to win more than five games in a season and his career 12-36 record has him 24 games under .500, worse than any other active head coach.
8 Mike Mularkey, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans (2004-2005, 2012, 2015-Present)
That long title should let you know that Mike Mularkey keeps getting NFL jobs despite a lack of actual success at any of his stops. His tenure in Buffalo is best remembered for failing to win a Week 17 game against Pittsburgh’s backups that would have seen the Bills make the playoffs for the first time since 1999 (the team has still yet to return to the playoffs). He resigned out of conflict with new management and popped up in Jacksonville seven years later, struggling to a 2-14 record before being fired when the team opted to go for an entirely clean start. He moved on to Tennessee, emerged as the interim coach after Ken Whisenhunt was fired and was then hired as the full-time head coach. Mularkey has put together a career 18-39 record. If he can lead Marcus Mariota and the Titans to their first double-digit win since 2008, maybe he can climb off this list moving forward.
7 Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders (2012-2014)
Dennis Allen was the first defensive head coach the Raiders hired since John Madden in the ‘70s—a direct result of Al Davis’ death and the change in philosophy it brought with it. The change didn’t pay immediate dividends. A lack of draft picks and salary cap issues brought in from the previous administration handcuffed what Allen could do and he didn’t get the most out of what he was left with. After back-to-back 4-12 seasons, he was fired after an 0-4 start in 2014, ending his head coaching career with an 8-28 record.
6 Marty Mornhinweg, Detroit Lions (2001-2002)
Marty Mornhinweg is most remembered for one game in 2002 against the Chicago Bears. In overtime, back when a single field goal was enough to win the game, and despite having the strong-legged Jason Hanson on his team, Mornhinweg won the toss and opted to take the wind, allowing the Bears to march down the field and kick a game-winning field goal without the Lions ever touching the ball. It was that sort of coaching acumen and decision-making process that helped Mornhinweg lead the Lions to a robust 5-27 record as a head coach.
5 Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams (2009-2011)
After successfully leading some New York Giant defenses, Steve Spagnuolo was a highly-recruited coach entering the 2009 season, picking the Rams over the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, and Detroit Lions. Those other franchises dodged a bullet. Spagnuolo started his NFL career with a 1-15 record, the worst in franchise history, and things barely improved from there. Spagnuolo left three years later with a 10-38 mark; only the poor quality of the team he took over keeps him from being at the top of this list.
4 Herm Edwards, New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs (2001-2008)
Herm Edwards isn’t on this list for his time in New York. Yes, a career 39-41 record (despite three playoff berths) isn’t exactly something to brag about and he’s not going to make the Jets forget about Weeb Ewbank or Bill Parcells any time soon, but it’s at least mostly respectable. No, Edwards is on this list for the disaster he turned in while with Kansas City. He made the playoffs in his first season, true, but the team actually regressed in wins from where previous head coach Dick Vermeil had them. Then, the bottom fell out. Edwards lost double-digit games in each of his next two seasons, an era which saw a massive turnover both on the field and in the coaching staff, as quarterbacks, running backs, and coordinators rotated in and out. Edwards once said that “you play to win the game." Edwards' 54-74 career record, and 15-33 mark with the Chiefs, shows that he wasn’t particularly good at doing that.
3 Romeo Crennel, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs (2005-2008, 2011-2012)
Wherefore art thou, Romeo? ‘Tis nobler to be remembered as a key coordinator for Bill Belichick in New England than to take up the clipboard and headset of an NFL head coach, and by coaching, flounder. Romeo Crennel was actually the head coach for Cleveland’s best season since re-entering the league in 1999—a 10-6 year in 2007—but in every other full season he’s coached, he’s fallen to double-digit losses. With a career 28-55 record, Crennel has proven his ceiling is as a defensive coordinator, not as the guy calling the shots.
2 Dom Capers, Houston Texans (2002-2005)
Dom Capers is unfairly hurt by the 15-year cutoff. Before he was the coach of the Texans, he was the coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers. A 30-34 record with an expansion team isn’t bad at all and he led them to the NFC Championship in just their second season of existence, earning Coach of the Year honors. The Houston Texans hired him to be their first head coach, hoping he could duplicate the same success, but with no luck. Houston finished with double-digit losses in three of Capers’ four seasons, with the only other year being a 7-9 season sandwiched in between. It’s not fair to expect anyone to turn an expansion franchise into a playoff contender right off the bat, but they should get out of double digit loss territory after four years. Capers’ conservative play-calling style was far-too predictable and helped lead to the lack of development of quarterback David Carr. Capers ended his time in Houston with a 18-46 record, 28 games below .500. That’s tied for the worst mark since 2001 with the final person on this list…
1 Rod Marinelli, Detroit Lions (2006-2008)
Take away 2008 for just a moment and Rod Marinelli dodges this list. Yes, he was only 3-13 in his first year, but the Lions had finished with double-digit losses for the five years prior to that. Marinelli had the Lions at 7-9 the next year, and while that’s not great, it at least represented significant improvement. Then, in 2008, Marinelli became the first coach in NFL history to lead his team to an 0-16 record—no team had even lost all of their games since the 0-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. For that unique achievement, as well as a career 10-38 record, Marinelli has to be considered the worst coach of the past 15 years.
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