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Tales of Depression and Sorrow: Your NFL Team’s Worst Coach Ever

Welcome to the opening weekend of yet another NFL season.  As a Philadelphia Eagle fan going back to the days when a guy named Nixon was president, this the first time I get to enter an NFL campaign with my team as the defending champions.  Those who know me also know I’ve had a long-standing fondness for Dick Vermeil being he was the first Eagles coach to get them to a Super Bowl.

That begged the question as to current Eagles head coach Doug Pederson’s standing with me as he’s the first to bring a Lombardi trophy to Philadelphia.  Naturally, that question quickly morphed into is Pederson the Eagles greatest coach ever.  Once the discussion went that way, I quickly realized the whole “greatest coach” conversation is actually pretty boring.  Think about it.  If you’re talking about a team like the Patriots or the Steelers, there’s a choice so blatantly obvious the discussion is utterly pointless. On the other hand, what do you do if you are the Indianapolis Colts? Face, if Tony Dungy is the answer, I don’t want to know the fucking question.

To be fair, being an NFL coach might be one of the toughest jobs on earth.  Imagine if every single thing you did at your job was televised and watched by so many people that every time you fuck up, even the cart-pushing kid at the supermarket has an opinion on it.

But the fact of the matter remains that some guys can do it, and some guys can’t.  When it comes to the guys who couldn’t…well, they create much pain for all of us football fans, and frankly, that’s what Tales of Depression and Sorrow is all about…pain.

What it all comes down to is there a better way is there to look ahead to a new NFL season than by taking a look back at the coaches who drove us the craziest? Because no matter what the expectations are for your team, you can look at this list and say “at least that fuck-wit isn’t my coach anymore.”

Arizona Cardinals: Dennis Green

The Cardinals are one of the NFL’s oldest franchises.  Most people under the age of 40 don’t remember when they were the St. Louis Cardinals, and most people under 60 don’t remember when they were the second team in the Second City of Chicago.  Much like the well-known acting troop Second City, the Cardinals have been a consistent comedy of errors through out their existence.  But the hiring of Dennis Green is the most hilarious mistake this franchise even made in terms of a coaching hire.

The Cardinals were coming off two straight disastrous coaching regimes with Vince Tobin and Dave McGinnis, and for reasons nobody will ever understand, they thought Dennis “Take A Knee” Green was the answer. Well, Green proved to be exactly what we all thought he was, and his 16-32 mark in Arizona bore that out.

Atlanta Falcons: Bobby Petrino

Ever since their addition to the league in 1966, the Atlanta Falcons have been a hallmark of futility.  That’s why there have only ever been three coaches to finish their time in Atlanta with more “Ws” than “Ls.”  But only one had to skulk out of town under the cover of night.

2007 was full of promise for the Falcons.  They had a dynamic play-maker of a quarterback in Michael Vick, and the team had hired just the hottest property at the time in terms of a college coach by luring Bobby Petrino away from  the University of Louisville with a five-year, $24 million contract.

The problem was Petrino had never been a head coach at the professional level, and it took no time at all for him to embody the term “in over his head.” After going 3-10, Petrino literally left a note in the locker room announcing his departure to the team, and in the middle of the night hopped on I-20 heading west to Fayetteville, Arkansas to take the job as the Hogs’ head coach.  This led then-defensive co-coordinator and current Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer to call Petrino a “coward” and a “gutless bastard.”

By the way, things didn’t get any better in Atlanta as this was also the year Michael Vick took the fall on that whole “dog-fighting” thing.

Baltimore Ravens: Ted Marchibroda

In all honesty, Ted Marchibroda wasn’t all that bad of a coach, but the Ravens have only had three coaches since moving to Baltimore.  Marchibroda was the first, and had the team in their first years escaping the football morass known as Cleveland, so fair or not, he gets to take the pie.

Buffalo Bills: Hank Bullough

The Bills are another one of those teams which have an easy pick as their greatest coach.  It’s even more of a testament to Marv Levy’s taking the Bills to four straight AFC Championships that he was immediately preceded by Hank Bullough, whose 4-17 record speaks for itself.

Carolina Panthers: George Seifert

Oddly enough, this won’t be the last mention of a Super Bowl winning coach on this list.  Seifert ranks pretty high in the pantheon of NFL coaches with 114 regular season wins, 10 postseason wins and two Super Bowl titles with the San Francisco 49ers.  But he couldn’t bring the magic to Carolina; the Panthers went 16-32 in three seasons under Seifert, with the nadir coming in 2001 when his team went 1-15.

Cincinnati Bengals: David Shula

David Shula is proof that genetics don’t necessarily help in coaching.  David’s dad Don won more games than any NFL coach in history.  David was the NFL coach who was the fastest to hit the 50-loss milestone, needing only 71 games to achieve that ignominy.  After five seasons and a record of 19-52, the fans in Cincy had seen enough.

Chicago Bears: Abe Gibron

Abe Gibron might be best known for his soulful renditions of “Three Dog Night” classics when NFL films had him mic-ed up.  At least you might remember him for something; his record of 11-30-1 in two-and-a-half seasons in Chicago was certainly forgettable.

Cleveland Browns: Eric Mangini

It’s really not fair to saddle Chris Palmer with this label, who got handed the 1999 expansion Browns and went 5-27 with them in three season.  He had the typical expansion roster loaded with young unknowns and veteran cast-offs.

It’s even less fair to hang it on Hue Jackson.  Although he heads into this season at a god-awful 1-31, he’s had team worse than an expansion squad, and the Browns have the biggest boob for an owner this side of Jerry Jones.

While there’s so many to choose from in the history of the Cleveland Browns, I’m going with Eric Mangini, who had arguably the rosters with the most talent in the last 20 years, and did absolutely nothing with them.  Not to mention, he could easily be a young version of Wade Phillips; a guy who may have been a good coordinator, but was clearly out over his skis as head coach.

Dallas Cowboys: Dave Campo

As a life-long Philadelphia Eagles’ fan, I say God Bless Jerry Jones.  He’s done wonders keeping the Cowboys mediocre for a quarter-century now.  One the best ways he’s done that is by hiring and endless supply of blow-hack coaches every since he ran Jimmy Johnson out of town.

But the blow-hackiest of all of them was Dave Campo.  Of all the over-rated or past-their-prime guys Jones hired, Campo is the only guy who couldn’t manage at least one winning season. In fact, Campo’s Cowboys never notched more than five wins in a seasons.  After three years and a 15-33 overall record, Campo got canned.

Denver Broncos: Josh McDaniels

Of late, there’s a trend amongst NFL general managers to hire the next “wunderkind;” everybody wants the next dynamic, young coach of the future.  The problem is that for every success like Sean McVay, there’s multiple failures like Josh McDaniels.

At first, McDaniels looked a future Hall-of-Famer; the Broncos won their first six games to begin the McDaniels era.  But the as is the problem young “geniuses,”  the egotistical asshole factor  kicked in and McDaniels started fixing things that weren’t broken. All tolled, after those initial first six victories the Broncos limped along at 5-17.  Then McDaniels was sent back to doing what he does best; picking up Bill Belichick’s dry-cleaning.

Detroit Lions: Marty Mornhinweg

Get your jokes ready.  When Lions’ fans talk about this guy, they tend to fall into two main camps as far derisive nicknames go.  Some are on “Team “Moron-weg,” while others lean toward “Team Morning Wood.” as unfortunate as that may be, that’s what happens when you go 5-27 in two seasons.

Mornhinweg’s tenure as a head coach can be summed up in an overtime against the Bears in 2002.  Forget the fact that in the “sudden death” overtime format, there’s a huge advantage in having the ball first.  Forget the fact that Mornhinweg had a kicker capable of nailing 60-yards field goals, and forget the fact that the Lions won the coin toss. Mornhinweg defers, giving the Bears the ball, and Chicago wasted little time kicking the winning field goal.

That’s how you get nicknames, kids…

Green Bay Packers: Bart Starr

In the 1960s, Green Bay was “Titletown,” with the Packers winning five championships in seven years.  But in the 1970s and 80s, the Packers were in the football doldrums, and they were looking to legends of the past to coach them back to the glory days.  In back-to-back regimes, the Packers were led by Bart Starr (#15) and Forrest Gregg (#75).  Both were middlin’-to-shitty at best. Starr gets the nod here on a tie-breaker; Gregg took the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl in his career.  In 9 seasons in Green Bay, Starr only managed a single play-off win; that coming in the strike-shorted 1982 season.  Starr ended with a 52-76 record and the only reason he didn’t get fired years before he did was because he was Bart Starr.

Houston Texans: Gary Kubiak

This is another case where we have a young team that’s only ever had three coaches in it’s history.  The jury is still out on current coach Bill O’Brien, and like I said, tagging a guy leading isn’t fair, so Dom Capers is off the hook.  The process of elimination leaves us with Gary Kubiak.  Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that because Kubiak is another guy who had a real talent for underachieving when he had good teams.

Indianapolis Colts: Frank Kush

This choice might have involved the most discussion because the Colts have had so many truly awful coaches.  Mike McCormack, Lindy Infante, Howard Schellenberger…this list goes on.  Even their most successful coach since moving to Indianapolis was the worst play-off coach ever.  But Kush wins this one in a photo finish over Rod Dowhower because for two reasons.

First, Kush was the prototypical authoritarian dictator of a coach; a style which he totally couldn’t make work in the NFL.  More importanly, Kush belongs to a select group of losers who coached an entire eason without winning a single game.  Nobody ever talks about that because it happened during the strike-shortened season of 1982, and because the Colts managed a tie with Green Bay in Week 15.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Gus Bradley

I’ve said already more than once, but this is another team with a 20-ish year history so there are only four guys to choose from, not counting the current coach.  Yeah, I understand Bradley’s 14-48 record over four seasons qualifies him a a lousy head coach, but he’s also the guy who largely built the team Doug Marrone had leading the New England Patriots in the 4th quarter of last season’s AFC Championship Game.

Kansas City Chiefs: Paul Wiggin

There’s nothing worse than being the guy who take over for the legend.  Not only does the departure of the legend usually mean the end of an era of big success, but the bar of comparison has been set unfairly high.

This is exactly what happens to Paul Wiggin.  Legendary coach Hank Stram is gone, Hall-of-Fame quarterback Len Dawson is 40 years old, and many of the players who powered the Cheifs to a win in Super Bowl IV are just so many memories.  Perhaps he really didn’t have much of a chance for success, but he still had a team with better talent that to be 11-24 in two and a half seasons.

Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Riley

In a recent episode of The Deep Six, I addressed the risks of hiring a college coach.  Mike Riley could be the poster child for just such risks.  Riley was simply another one of those guys who was a pretty damn good college coach, but didn’t have the skill set for the NFL.  It took the Chargers three season and Riley notching a 14-34 mark before the they had seen enough.

Los Angeles Rams: Steve Spagnuolo

The Rams could have hired a five-pound bag of spaghetti and got the same results they did from Spagnuolo.  Granted, he didn’t have Dick Vermeil’s Super Bowl winning Rams, but that team had a a hell of a lot more talent than to be 10-38 under Spagnuolo.

Miami Dolphins: Nick Saban

What did I just say about hiring college coaches? Nick Saban was one of the best college coaches in the country when he took this job; once he returned to the college ranks, he ascended to being the greatest college coach not named Bryant or Paterno.

But he sucked on whole wheat toast when it came to leading an NFL team.

Right now, there are legions of Dolphins fans screaming “What about Cam Cameron?” at their screens, but in my opinion, Cameron’s sole 1-15 campaign should forever be tacked to Nick Saban’s record inasmuch as Cameron was being expected to win a race with a car Saban already wrapped around a telephone pole.

Minnesota Vikings: Mike Tice

Yet again, here’s a fan base wondering how I could possible not tag Les Steckel for this distinction.  Steckel was at the helm for the single-worst season in Viking history when the Purple went 3-13 in the season following Bud Grant’s first retirement.

That means I get to beat the dead horse again about what a shit-sandwich replacing the legend is. Not to mention, in Steckel’s case, the legend never really went away.  Bud Grant replaced his replacement the following season largely because Grant could be seen at the Vikings facilities nearly every goddamn day. Imagine what it would be like if your boss retired, you got his job, but instead of hitting the links in shirt with a little alligator on the tit, he shows up every day for some free coffee and to tell everybody what a shitty job you’re doing. That’s exactly what Grant did.

The bottom line is Steckel got gifted a chair at the “big” table at the World Series of Poker, then got dealt a pair of deuces. That’s a hell of a lot more than you can say about Mike Tice.

I’ll give you that Tice did have to clean up a bit of a mess in the wake of Hurricane Denny Green.  But when you look at his tenure and the team he inherited, Tice’s sheer boobery comes painfully to light.  Despite their post-season frustrations, the Vikings have been one of the more successful NFL franchises over the years. Despite being handed a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, two future Hall-of-Fame receivers. a 1,200-yard running back, and a pretty decent defense, Tice is the only guy to coach the Vikings for more than two seasons to never have at least one with double-digit victories.

“I done gradueeeeated the sixth grade. I can coach this here big-city type footballin’ team!”

Mike Tice was the definition of “underachiever” because he was less a football coach and more a balding version of Jethro Clampett.

New England Patriots: Rod Rust

Throughout this list, I tried to avoid the “one-hit wonders” who got a crew-job like the aforementioned Les Steckel.  But Rust found a way to make atrocious even worse.  You know you are a shitty coach when the fans actually say things like “I wish we had Ron Meyer back” and believed replacing Rust with Dick MacPherson was “the step in the right direction this franchise needs.”

New Orleans Saints: Mike Ditka

Since the arrival of Sean Payton and Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints became a respectable NFL franchise.  But before that, there was a time when “The Big Easy” was where great coaches went to die…hard. Hank Stram, Dick Nolan, “Bum” Phillips…just to name a few.

But nobody died harder than “Iron” Mike Ditka..  Let’s be honest; we all know what’s coming here…the Ricky Williams trade.  It wasn’t bad enough Ditka couldn’t manage better than a 15-33 mark., “Iron Mike” had to distinguish himself from the rest of the Saints’ swamp of shitty with arguably the worst trade this side of Herschel Walker and Ollie Madson.

Ditka will forever be married to the 1999 deal where he essentially traded the Saints entire draft for the rights to Ricky “Bong Hit” Williams.  The trade was goofy enough on its own, but its awfulness became the stuff of legend when three players the Washington Redskins drafted with the picks they received…LaVar Arrington, Jon Jansen, and Champ Bailey…became Pro Bowl caliber players. Meanwhile, Williams was serving multiple marijuana suspensions and ultimately ended up plying his wares in the CFL.

New York Giants: Bill Arnsparger

The 1970’s were a terrible time for the New York Giants.  In 1969, the upstart New York Jets swiped the New York football stage out from underneath the New York Football Giants by winning the Super Bowl over the Baltimore Colts. To counter that, the Giants hired Bill Arnsparger who was a decade-long assistant to Don Shula, the man who took the Colts to Super Bowl III, built the team which won Super Bowl V, and turned the 70’s Miami Dolphins into one of the greatest teams in the history of professional football.

On paper, that seemed like a pretty good idea.  On paper, communism seems like a good idea. Arnsparger became the example of a guy who was a big-time coordinator who was seen to be the “can’t miss” hire for a team needing a turn-around. In fact, Arnsparger made things worse by leading the G-Men to a 7-28 before being fired in 1976 after an 0-7 start.

You know it’s bad when a guy gets fired in favor of John “Miracle at the Meadowlands” McVay.

New York Jets:  Lou Holtz

It’s almost creepy how similar the stories of Bobby Petrino and Lou Holtz are.  They both took relatively obscure college football programs and put them on the map.  Their success at Louisville and North Carolina State respectively got them jobs with NFL dumpster fires. Then after identical 3-10 starts, both Petrino and Holtz blew town under cover of darkness headed to Fayetteville, Arkansas to take the Hogs’ head coaching job.

To our knowledge, upon arriving in Arkansas, at least Holtz didn’t wreck his motorcycle with his on-the-university-payroll extra-marital girlfriend in tow.

Oakland Raiders: Norv Turner

Norv Turner isn’t the first guy on this list who made our previous scroll of worst coaches and managers who got more than one job, and he’s not the only guy on this list who was in the running to get this distinction for multiple franchises.  But you have to give the man credit; he keeps getting hired despite the fact he has a track record of failure as long as West Virginia coal train.  With his other sideline stints with the Chargers and the Redskins, there were at least occasional flashes of promise that made you understand why this guy keeps getting jobs, but that certainly wasn’t the case in Norv’s two-season-long 9-23 Bataan Death March in Oakland.

Philadelphia Eagles: Rich Kotite

What can be said about Rich “Decline the Penalty and Punt” Kotite that isn’t summed up in his nickname? Thanks to the fact that I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I had front-row seats for watching who was easily the worst coach in any sport in the last 30 years. It simply is not possible to make a list of horrible coaches that doesn’t include this butt-loaf.

Kotite was supposedly some sort of offensive guru, but the Eagles were a team built around a punishing defense.  There were early successes due to the defense, but Kotite’s inability to coach to the talent he had coupled with his sheer assholery led to the great free-agency exodus of the 90s, led by future Hall-of-Famer Reggie White.  Eagles’ Nation long national nightmare finally ended in 1994 when after four seasons in which Kotite went 40-56, he was sent packing.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Walt Kiesling

For the last 50 years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been amongst the elite of NFL franchises.  But for the fifty years before that, the Steelers were little more than low-grade tin. Kiesling is the embodiment of these moribund days.  He coached this team for seven seasons in various stints, and he never makes this team do anything other than low-rent mediocrity.

San Francisco 49ers: Mike Nolan

The 21st century in large part has not been kind to the San Francisco 49ers.  Once they ran Steve Mariucci out of town, the 49ers rolled through a litany of crap coaches which could rival any other roster of rotten you might want to assemble. But the one that stands out is Mike “Forget Aaron Rodgers – Alex Smith is our guy” Nolan. That nickname is a large part of why Nolan posted a record of 18-37 in three and a half seasons in San Francisco.

Seattle Seahawks: Tom Flores

Her’s yet another guy who won two Super Bowl championships with the Raiders who ended up not being able to bring success with him to a second coaching stint. Like his predecessors on this list Mike Ditka and George Seifert, Tom Flores simply couldn’t re-create what he did with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders. After three season and a 14-34 record, the Flores era ended quietly

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Leeman Bennett

The Buccaneers original head coach is why I shy away from labeling guys coaching expansion teams.  John McKay was a hell of a good football man, but nobody could have led that Tampa Bay team away from its infamous 0-26 start.  Don’t forget that John McKay had the Buccaneers within a sniff of the Super Bowl in their fourth year of existence.

However, you can’t say the same for the man who took the Buccaneer mantle from McKay.  Leeman Bennett made his bones as an NFL coach leading the “Grits Blitz” Atlanta Falcoms of the late 1970s.  However, in between his departure until he took the Tampa Bay job, Bennett had been working as a salesman at a recreational vehicle dealership. You wouldn’t be surprised that a guy who could get you a hell of a deal on a Winnebago would coach an NFL team to a 4-28 in two seasons.

Tennessee Titans: Bill Peterson

You have to back to the Titans days as the Houston Oilers for this one.   Bill Peterson was such a large figure in the college ranks he was known as the “Coach of Coaches”, having tutored such luminaries as Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Bobby Bowden, Don James, and many others.  Coach “Pete” as he was known is the guy who put Florida State football on the map.  He brought the Seminoles to the forefront of college football, using pro-style offenses, a much feared passing game, and a smothering defense.

This is why the Oilers made Peterson the first coach to get a contract worth a million dollars.  That turned out to be a pretty inefficient use of money on a cost-per-win basis.  Bill Peterson’s NFL sojourn lasted exactly 19 games, of which he won one.

Washington Redskins: Steve Spurrier

It’s funny that this list ends with two Florida legends.  When Steve Spurrier left the University of Florida headed for Washington D.C., he probably could have been elected the Pope of Football in the Sunshine State.  From his Heisman Trophy quarterbacking the Gators in 1966, that he was brought home to be the draw for the expansion Buccaneers, to his run in Gainesville, at the time Spurrier was the face of football in Florida.

Spurrier: A football coach, not some Jerk.

Armed with that milieu, Spurrier headed north to inject some life into a left-for-dead Redskins franchise with his “Fun and Gun” offense.  But Spurrier went from Pope to Jerk because he couldn’t figure out that he couldn’t win games in the NFL by overwhelming his opponents with tremendous talent like he did in the college game at Florida, because the Redskins simply didn’t have it.  He also couldn’t figure out that the winning ways of Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews hit their expiration date once they weren’t getting their mail in Gainesville.

Couple that with the fact the golf courses are so much better in SEC Country, and its no wonder the The Ol’ Ball Coach went 12-20 in two seasons before heading back to the land of the eternal tee time.

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About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

3 comments on “Tales of Depression and Sorrow: Your NFL Team’s Worst Coach Ever

  1. SportsChump
    September 11, 2018

    This post is already obsolete as Matt Patricia is clearly the worst coach in Detroit Lions history… or at least he was tonight.

    Nice work going five-for-five this week, haiku man. Let’s see what ya’ got in Week Two.

    Like

    • J-Dub
      September 11, 2018

      Let’s not get out over our skis here…he still has a long way to go to pass Marty Morningwood. and Patricia isn’t the one who threw four picks.

      Like

  2. jbsptfn
    September 17, 2018

    Chiefs: Paul Wiggin was a good choice. Frank Gansz would also be in the running (although the 1987 strike may have hindered him).

    Packers: I would have Bart Starr and Dan Devine in a tie. They are the most responsible for what they call GB’s Gory Years (1968-91), in my opinion. Dan Devine made the stupid John Hadl trade, and Bart Starr decided to ignore his scouts. He would pass on players in the draft like Joe Montana (despite scout Red Cochrane’s spirited protest) and Ronnie Lott for bums like Charles Jordan and Rich Campbell.

    Oilers-Titans: Bill Peterson was, quite possibly, the worst NFL coach ever. Dan Pastorini basically said that he was the biggest joke he ever worked with. He may have been so intimidated by the NFL that he would say a bunch of stupid sayings, like “Get in groups of three and get in a circle” He was way out of his element.

    Like

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