Top 20 Worst Coaches in NFL History

The season is over for most teams, and many coaches were axed, or "mutually parted ways" with their teams. Marc Trestman, Mike Smith, Rex Ryan, and Dennis Allen (midseason), were all relieved of their coaching duties.  John Fox was said to mutually part ways with Denver, while Doug Marrone opted out of his contract with Buffalo. A great coach can transform a team of nobodies into superstars.  Great leaders are men who inspire the ordinary man to do extraordinary things.  Great coaches know how to win football games, and the Hall in Canton celebrates the careers of these great men who have transformed, inspired, and won.  Men like Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Marv Levy, Bill Walsh, Bill Belichick and more.  For every great coach there are countless disappointments.  There should be a “hall of shame” for those who tried, kept trying, and should have given up a long time ago.  While perseverance is an admirable quality, there are some people who just are not cut out for the top job.

In the sports world we live in today, franchises want instant success.  Gone are the days of coaches who want to “rebuild” football teams from the ground up.  Many general managers seem to have a “two to three year rule.”   If you haven’t made the playoffs by then – you are done.  Some of the men listed have proven to be excellent football coaches at the collegiate level, but are dismal failures in the NFL. Some are stellar offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, quarterbacks coaches, etc... but were unable to successfully make the transition into the head coaching position.

Head coaching in the NFL is no walk in the park, but for today let’s take a stroll down memory lane and remember the coaches that every fan wants to forget.  Here is the “Wall of Shame” for bad head coaching.  Except for the “group choices” (Lions and Bills), to make the list each coach had to coach for more than one season, and maintain a career winning percentage below .500.

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20 Norv Turner, Record: 114-122-1

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This is the same man who turned one of the last ranked offenses (Dallas 1990) into a show time dynasty starring Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin that won three Super Bowls in four years (’92, ’93, ’95).  Though successful as an offensive coordinator, head coaching did not suit his fancy.  As the head coach for the Redskins, Raiders, and Chargers he did nothing ingenious. He's proven time and time again that he's better suited as a coordinator.

19 Rich Kotite, Record: 41-57

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Rich Kotite’s winning percentage may not initially appear to be half bad (actually it’s about 59% bad). What sets him apart from the others is his ability to do so terribly with such great talent, such as Randall Cunningham and Reggie White.  He not only lost a lot of games, but he did it with superstar players.  It takes a special gift of terrible coaching to accomplish zilch with that kind of talent. He started off promisingly with Philadelphia but drifted off and then was just an outright disaster with the Jets.

18 Dennis Erickson, Record: 40-56

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Dennis Erickson is a wonderful college football coach.  He has won the National Championship and is 179-96-1 at the college level, however in the NFL his record was pitiable.  Why college coaches often don’t make it in the NFL is a mystery. In six NFL seasons, he failed to secure a single winning season. He flirted with one several times in Seattle for five years, then in his lone season with the 49ers, he brought them down to obscurity, finishing 2-14.

17 Butch Davis, Record: 24-35

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Sandwiched between two successful stints as a college coach, Butch Davis coached the Cleveland Browns from 2001 to 2004 and even led them to the playoffs in his second year, with his only winning season (2002).  However, his third and fourth seasons were disastrous.  He was forced to resign after beginning the 2004 season 3-8. Granted Cleveland has proven to be a toxic destination, but Davis isn't absolved.

16 Buffalo Bills Coaches - 2001 to 2014, Record: 89-135

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The Buffalo Bills had one of the most unstoppable teams in the early ‘90s led by coach Marv Levy.  Since Wade Phillips's departure following the 2000 season, the Bills have not had a playoff appearance. This season marked 15 years. Every one of the coaches from this era have earned a spot on this list, some are worse than others, but here they are with their personal recordsfor the Wall of Shame. These are merely their records with the Bills:

Gregg Williams: 17-31

Mike Mularkey: 14-18

Dick Jauron: 24-33

Perry Fewell: 3-4

Chan Gailey: 16-32

Doug Marrone: 15-16

and Rex Ryan (in anticipation of failure)

15 Bruce Coslet, Record: 47-77

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Bruce Coslet coached the Jets (1990-93) and the Bengals (1996-00) through the 90’s.  Surprisingly, in ‘96 he took over for David Shula in Cincinnati and led them to a 7-2 record as interim head coach.  The success did not last, as is the case with many interim coaches promoted. His career winning percentage to date is less than 38%. In his defense, he inherited perennial losers. However, his record just makes it impossible to leave him off the list. Nine years without a winning season can't be ignored.

14 June Jones, Record: 22-36

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June Jones coached the Atlanta Falcons with Jeff George at quarterback.  He revived and then euthanized the “Run and Shoot” offense.  After making the playoffs in 1995, they went 3-13. He and Jeff George became notorious for their clashes and shouting matches.  That coupled with the terrible record led to both men’s discharge. Perhaps Jones could've avoided this list had he never been saddled with George.

13 Steve Spurrier, Record: 12-20

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Steve Spurrier is a veteran football player and coach.  He has had a successful college coaching career, but that success did not transfer to the “bigs”.  He took a stab at the NFL in 2002-03 with the Redskins and failed to do anything noteworthy, at least not in a positive sense.  He joins the list of the many coaches that fail to make the transition from college ball to the pros. He's gone back to college and has enjoyed a good run with South Carolina.

12 Jim Zorn, Record: 12-20

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Like Steve Spurrier Jim Zorn was a quarterback in the NFL.  He was the quarterbacks coach for different teams in his career.  He got his first NFL head coaching gig when he replaced the legendary Joe Gibbs after his retirement (again) in Washington.  He coached the Redskins for two seasons - 2008 and 2009.  After a promising 6-2 start to his career, he went 6-18 to finish out his Washington tenure with no playoff appearances. Washington has gone through quite a few coaches of their own in recent memory.

11 Romeo Crennel, Record: 28-55

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You would think that sitting under a great Jedi master like Bill Belichick would cause a guy to absorb some of the “great coaching force.” Not so for the former Patriots defensive coordinator turned incompetent head coach.  In four years as the Browns’ coach and later as the coach for the Chiefs, Romeo Crennel’s 28-55 legacy is more of a parody from “Space Balls” then anything Jedi-like. He's constantly proven to be a great coordinator, but never could cut it as the head coach.

10 Harland Svare, Record: 21-48

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Harland Svare was a linebacker in the NFL from 1953-1960.  Like many players that aren’t ready to walk away from the game, he went into coaching.  At only 32 years of age he began coaching the Los Angeles Rams (1962).  After four years and a measly 14-31 did he learn his lesson?  Not one to throw in the towel too soon, he tried again from 1971-73 with San Diego.  As if it couldn’t get any worse, he went 7-17 with the Chargers.  Svare stepped down from coaching and never stepped back up.

9 Joe Bugel, Record: 24-56

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Joe Bugel was a legendary offensive line coach with the Washington Redskins. He is credited for putting together the great line affectionately referred to as the “Hogs” that dominated the 80’s.  That success did not transfer over into his five years as head coach. After four seasons in Phoenix, in which he didn't record a winning season, he last held a head coaching position with the Oakland Raiders in 1997. He continued in other capacities until he retired in 2010 after 32 years in the NFL.

8 Marion Campbell, Record: 34–80-1

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It is remarkable that he lasted in the NFL for more than 100 games.  He was a highly regarded defensive specialist, but head coaching was not his forte.  He has the third lowest winning percentage among coaches who have coached in more than three seasons. (The only two coaches with a worse percentage are Bert Bell and David Shula – also on this list).  He was the head coach for the Atlanta Falcons from 1974-76, again in 1987-89 and the Philadelphia Eagles in between, from 1983-85. Just how did he keep getting jobs?

7 Dave McGinnis, Record: 17-40

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Dave McGinnis has had various coaching positions, most notably the one he didn’t take.  The Chicago Bears embarrassingly arranged a press conference to announce him as their new coach in 1999, to the surprise of Dave McGinnis who had not agreed to take the job.  Perhaps he should have.  Instead, he became the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2000-03 and led them to a 17-40 record.  It is noted that the team was seriously lacking in its depth of talent, but nonetheless coaches are blamed when results are not achieved.

6 Jimmy Phelan, Record: 13-35-2

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A blast from the past - Phelan had an excellent college coaching career from 1920-47.  He coached in the old AAFC before it merged with the NFL.  He was the headman for the Los Angeles Dons in 1948 and 1949, the New York Yanks (not the Yankees) for the 1951 season, and the Dallas Texans in 1952. His combined pro football coaching record was a measly 13-35. Just how does one man land three coaching jobs in four years?

5 David Shula, Record: 19-52

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His father Don Shula was a great Hall of Fame coach with the Dolphins. If great coaching was hereditary surely David Shula would have had it, but it isn’t and he didn’t.  Instead he will go down in history as the man who lost 50 games faster than anyone else.  He accomplished this remarkable feat in only four years.  Coaching football might not be his meat and potatoes but he is now the boss at Shula’s Steakhouse where the football stakes are low, but the juicy steaks are high priced.

4 Detroit Lions Coaches - 2001-2013, Record: 60-148

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The Detroit Lions have had an uncanny ability to hire incompetent coaches. To demonstrate this, Marty Mornhinweg, the coach from 2001-2002 (.156 winning percentage) will go down in history as the man who won the OT coin toss and elected to kick.  We are talking about “Sudden Death,” and the Bears marched down the field and delivered the death blow via field goal.

The Lions' management did the right thing and fired Mornhinweg, but who replaced him?  First it was Steve Mariucci, a .349 winner, then it was Dick Jauron for five games of which he lost four.  Then along came Rod Marinelli, who actually had an 0-16 season.  Can you believe that?  Jim Schwartz was a slight improvement at .358 and taking over an 0-16 team takes a while to turn around, but Schwartz regressed after a strong jump.  Jim Caldwell is the best thing in The Motor City since GM.

Marty Mornhinweg: 5-27

Steve Mariucci: 15-28

Dick Jauron: 1-4

Rod Marinelli: 10-38

Jim Schwartz: 29-51

3 Bert Bell, Record: 10-48

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Bert Bell coached the Philadelphia Eagles from 1936-1941.  He went a miserable 10-48, and as a reward for his successful coaching career, he became the NFL commissioner in January 1946 a position he held until his death in 1959. What a story - If they make terrible coaches, why not promote them to ruin - I mean run the whole league? Since when do you receive a promotion from doing a terrible job? Maybe it was just to spare the Eagles from him.

2 Chris Palmer, Record: 5-27

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Art Modell packed up the Cleveland Browns and moved them to Baltimore where they became the Ravens. Cleveland was left stranded, but not forever.  The new Browns began playing in 1999 and Chris Palmer was the head coach.  It is not entirely fair to him to label him as a terrible coach considering his team was starting from scratch.  His “rag tag” team consisted of cast-aways, free-agents, and inexperienced players.  This made it very difficult to be competitive.

1 Phil Handler, Record: 4-34

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Phil Handler spent his entire coaching career in Chicago.  He has a very impressive coaching resume: he experienced success as an assistant coach of the Chicago Cardinals, winning the 1947 NFL championship, and also with the Bears when they won the championship in 1963. However, as the head man he ranks in at number one with the lowest winning percentage of .105.  He is remembered for starting his head coaching at a futile 0-23.

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