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The Worst Head Coach in Every NFL Team's History

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IJanuary 3, 2017

The Worst Head Coach in Every NFL Team's History

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    Sean Payton was dealt the most intense and severe penalty an NFL head coach ever received: a full-year suspension for his complicity in the bounty scandal that has rocked the NFL. 

    So even though he's resurrected a dormant franchise, won a title and has made the Saints an annual Super Bowl contender, a ton of the luster has been scrapped off by Roger Goodell. 

    But that's not enough to make him the "worst" coach in his team's history. There's far worse contenders for the Saints and every NFL franchise. 

    So who are they? 

New England Patriots: Rod Rust

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    Years: 1990

    Overall Record: 1-15

    Best Season: 1-15 (1990)

    Worst Season: 1-15 (1990)

    There's two ways to look at the plight of a head coach who was only on the job for one season. Either they were terrible or they just landed in the wrong situation at the wrong time.

    Take Marty Schottenheimer's tenure in Washington or Jim Mora's in Seattle, for example.

    Unfortunately, Rod Rust lands in the former. His Pats lost all but one game in his lone season at the helm, barely defeating the equally woeful Colts 16-14. He was bounced in favor of Dick MacPherson, who didn't fare any better. 

New York Jets: Rich Kotite

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    Years: 1995-96

    Overall Record: 4-28

    Best Season: 3-13 (1996)

    Worst Season: 1-15 (1995)

    Rich Kotite's teams were bad, as their records clearly indicated, but what makes his tenure with the Jets so miserable is what happened after he was canned in favor of Bill Parcells. They almost made the playoffs a year later and nearly the Super Bowl the season after that.

    And perhaps the worst part of his stay in New Yorkwas the Jets went out and paid Neil O'Donnell a ton of money and landed Keyshawn Johnson with the first overall pick. They somehow became even worse, winning just one game the next season. 

Miami Dolphins: Nick Saban

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    Years: 2005-06

    Overall Record: 15-17

    Best Season: 9-7 (2005)

    Worst Season: 6-10 (2006)

    There are a handful of entries on this list that aren't solely based on records. The way the tenure ended or the management style of the head coach earns a spot here. And this three-time BCS champion is a prime example.

    Saban wasn't nearly as overmatched as many of the college head coaches who transitioned directly to the NFL, but he didn't make the playoffs or post an overall winning record.

    Yet it was his total denial that he had any interest in taking the Alabama job—then leaving a few days later for Tuscaloosa—that makes him one of the most hated men in Dolphins history. 

Buffalo Bills: Hank Bullough

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    Years: 1985-86

    Overall Record: 4-17

    Best Season: 2-7 (1986)

    Worst Season: 2-10 (1985)

    Hank Bullough was not hired by the Bills with the type of expectations or excitement that many of the head coaches on this list received. He was really just the interim head coach once Kay Stephenson was fired. Bullough was then given the gig the following season.

    But because the Bills dynasty started almost immediately after they fired him—and hired Marv Levy, who was far less of a martinet—he qualifies for this list. 

    Never defeating a team with a winning record is not a good line on your head coaching resume. 

Baltimore Ravens: Ted Marchibroda

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    Years: 1996-98

    Overall Record: 16-31

    Best Season: 6-9-1 (1997)

    Worst Season: 4-12 (1996)

    This is one of the few "unfair" entries on this list.

    The Ravens have had only three head coaches in their franchise. Brian Billick won a Super Bowl, while the other has taken the franchise to the playoffs all four years he's been at the helm. 

    More to the point, Ted Marchibroda's three seasons in Baltimore were by no means a disaster. They didn't win that many games, but the franchise was in total disarray when he took over in 1996, having just bolted from Cleveland.

    Besides, Marchibroda's teams did win some big games along the way, most notably defeating the rival (and playoff) Steelers in 1996. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Walt Kiesling

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    Years: 1939-44, 1954-56

    Overall Record: 30-55-5

    Best Season: 7-4 (1942)

    Worst Season: 0-10 (1944)*

    Like the Ravens, it's almost impossible to choose a bad head coach in the recent history of the franchise. The last three hires—Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin—have all won Super Bowls.

    But Pittsburgh's history was loaded with failures for its first 40-some years. And while there are a handful of terrible tenures to choose from in the franchise's history, I've chosen Walt "Keys" Kiesling for one simple reason.

    This is not due to his winless 1944 season in which he was coaching a conglomerate of the Cardinals, Steelers and Eagles because of World War II. 

    According to the late Steelers founder Art Rooney, Kiesling once actually instructed his player to commit an offsides penalty. The story, as Rooney told it to NFL Films, goes like this:

    Kiesling started every Steelers game off with the same play, a run-dive handoff up the middle. After this went on for several years, Rooney ordered Kiesling to start the game off differently, with a pass (which resulted in a long completion).

    But because he didn't want Rooney to give him instructions for the rest of the year, he ordered an offensive lineman to commit a false start penalty so the play would be nullified. 

Cincinnati Bengals: David Shula

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    Years: 1992-96

    Overall Record: 19-52

    Best Season: 7-9 (1995)

    Worst Season: 3-13 (1993)

    Critics would point to nepotism as the reason David Shula landed this job at the age of 33. That's open for debate.

    What's not open for debate is how bad these Bengals teams were. They were routinely in contention for the top overall pick.

    And although the argument that "even Vince Lombardi couldn't win with the Bengals and their poorly run, cheap franchise" has merit, it doesn't get Shula off the hook. In the modern era, his .268 winning percentage is the worst of any head coach with at least 50 games. 

Cleveland Browns: Eric Mangini

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    Years: 2009-10

    Overall Record: 10-22

    Best Season: 5-11 (2010)

    Worst Season: 5-11 (2009)

    The "Man-Genius" label that Eric Mangini earned in New York started to diminish late in his tenure with the Jets, but it completely blew up after two seasons in Cleveland.

    These Browns teams were just bad and never really showed any improvement over his tenure.

    And worse than anything was the way he handled the team's high-priced quarterbacks, Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Colt McCoy and Jake Delhomme. There was never any commitment to any of them. 

Houston Texans: Dom Capers

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    Years: 2002-05

    Overall Record: 18-46 

    Best Season: 7-9 (2004)

    Worst Season: 2-14 (2005)

    Although Dom Capers took over an expansion team (and one that had bad luck from the start, aka Tony Boselli and David Carr), there's no argument here. With the only other available choice being Gary Kubiak, Capers takes this spot. 

    Aside from his first win, the first game in franchise history—an upset of the instate rival Dallas Cowboys—Capers' teams were never really relevant. 

    And since his teams seemed to get worse every successive season, he proved that he best served an NFL team as a defensive coordinator, not a head coach. 

Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers: Bill Peterson

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    Years: 1972-73

    Overall Record: 1-18

    Best Season: 1-13 (1972)

    Worst Season: 0-5 (1973)

    Although he was a legend at Florida State, Bill Peterson was a disaster in the NFL. The one win in 19 games was only a part of it.

    To hear his players tell it (or see old NFL Films clips of him on the sidelines), Peterson just did not have a solid grasp of what was going on during gameday.

    He very well may be the patron saint of college coaches who should have stayed in college. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Jack Del Rio

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    Years: 2003-2011

    Overall Record: 68-71 

    Best Season: 12-4 (2005)

    Worst Season: 3-8 (2011)

    Another default selection: The only other head coach in franchise history, Tom Coughlin, had a remarkable run in Jacksonville. 

    But a closer look at the numbers reveals that the debate between Coughlin and Jack Del Rio isn't as tight as you'd might think. Del Rio had some success in Jacksonville, winning a playoff game in Pittsburgh in 2007 and twice posting double-digit win seasons.

    But under Del Rio, the Jags never won a division title and never hosted a home playoff game. Still, in any other franchise that wouldn't be enough to earn a spot on this list. 

Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts: Frank Kush

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    Years: 1982-84

    Overall Record: 11-28

    Best Season: 7-9 (1983)

    Worst Season: 0-8-1 (1982)

    This Colts franchise was a total mess when Frank Kush joined the NFL in 1982.

    The team squandered a high draft choice by selecting Art Schlichter, then totally botched the John Elway selection the following year by trading him to Denver. The Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis soon after.

    Still, Kush didn't help, failing to win a single game in his first (albeit strike-shortened) season in 1982.

Denver Broncos: Lou Saban

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    Years: 1967-71

    Overall Record: 20-42-3

    Best Season: 5-8-1 (1969)

    Worst Season: 3-11 (1967)

    The "other" Saban on this list, Lou Saban had plenty of success in the AFL, but it didn't come in Denver.

    After he led Buffalo to back-to-back AFL championships, and before he put together the offense that O.J. Simpson broke records in, Saban was the Broncos head coach and failed to post a single winning season...or even close to it.

    There were some fine teams in the AFL during that time, but Saban's teams routinely were no match for them. That was a surprise considering he had Hall of Famer Floyd Little in his backfield. 

Oakland/Los Angeles Radiers: Lane Kiffin

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    Years: 2007-08

    Overall Record: 5-15 

    Best Season: 4-12 (2007)

    Worst Season: 1-3 (2008)

    Oh, the Raiders and their head coaches. So many options here. The Late Al Davis sure nailed it back in the day, with choices like John Madden, Tom Flores and even Jon Gruden. But he sure made some mistakes in his last decade or so.

    And while Art Shell's second tenure as well as Tom Cable and Hue Jackson's run could qualify, Kiffin's time was the worst by far.

    The record speaks for itself, as does the fact that he was canned in the first month of his second season. Davis even tried to fire him the previous January. 

San Diego Chargers: Kevin Gilbride

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    Years: 1997-98

    Overall Record: 6-16

    Best Season: 4-12 (1997)

    Worst Season: 2-4 (1998)

    He may be the offensive mind behind a burgeoning dynasty and Eli Manning's path to the Hall of Fame, but Kevin Gilbride's career as a head coach was awful.

    His teams were never competitive (especially the offenses) despite the fact that he took over a franchise that had been to the Super Bowl just a few years earlier.

    And the magic he used to turn Eli Manning into a two-time Super Bowl MVP certainly didn't work on another high draft choice, Ryan Leaf, who threw two touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his lone season under Gilbride. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Frank Gansz

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    Years: 1987-88

    Overall Record: 8-22-1

    Best Season: 4-11 (1987)

    Worst Season: 4-11-1 (1988)

    Frank Gansz had the misfortune of coaching the Chiefs just a few years too early. After he left, Marty Schottenheimer turned youngsters like Neil Smith, Christian Okoye, Dino Hackett and John Alt into fine NFL players. 

    Kansas City does have a fairly rich history of relatively successful head coaches, so Gansz's short stay doesn't measure up. 

New York Giants: Ray Handley

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    Years: 1991-92

    Overall Record: 14-18

    Best Season: 8-8 (1991)

    Worst Season: 6-10 (1992)

    Although John McVay deserves consideration for this spot based solely on the debacle that was the Miracle of the Meadowlands, Ray Handley is the hands-down winner.

    He took over for Bill Parcells just months after a Super Bowl title, and the Giants were nothing but mediocre following a decade of dominance. 

    And although he had the misfortune of several stars (Lawrence Taylor, Leonard Marshall, Phil Simms, Ottis Anderson) passing their prime on his watch, Handles dug his own grave.

    He basically tried to be the anti-Parcells and do the opposite of what Parcells would do so that no one could say he simply rode the Tuna's coattails.

    To be fair, he found himself in a troublesome spot by trying to choose between two Super Bowl winners in Simms and Jeff Hostetler.

Philadelphia Eagles: Marion Campbell

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    Years: 1983-85

    Overall Record: 17-29-1

    Best Season: 6-9 (1985)

    Worst Season: 5-11 (1983)

    Although he does deserve credit for giving Randall Cunningham his first start, Marion Campbell's time in Philadelphia was marred by poor play and squandered talent. 

    Philadelphia's offenses were terrible during his stay, and he seemed to completely undo all the fine offensive achievements by his predecessor, Dick Vermeil.

    Ron Jaworski was never the same quarterback, and his regression came on Campbell's watch.

Dallas Cowboys: Dave Campo

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    Years: 2000-02

    Overall Record: 15-33 

    Best Season: 5-11 (2000)

    Worst Season: 5-11 (2002)

    Like Ray Handley, Dave Campo was put in a bad spot by Father Time. The Cowboys dynasty of the mid-1990s was becoming old and slow by the time he took over.

    But since he had Jerry Jones—who was willing to spend, spend, spend—Campo's teams didn't lack talent the same way that other NFL bottom-feeders did. (Bill Parcells' playoff season the year after Campo was fired was proof of that.)

    In Dallas—a franchise that's had Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson at the helm—a record of 5-11 is never acceptable. So multiply that by three, and it makes for epic failure. 

Washington Redskins: Richie Petitbon

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    Years: 1993

    Overall Record: 4-12

    Best Season: 4-12 (1993)

    Worst Season: 4-12 (1993)

    By stepping away from the game after the 1992 season, Joe Gibbs seemed to do a favor for his longtime defensive coordinator, Richie Petitbon, but he left the cupboard pretty bare.

    Most of the talent from the Redskins dynasty (i.e. the Hogs) was gone by 1993, and it showed. The Redskins posted their worst single-season record in 30 years.

    And while Steve Spurrier is a good candidate for this entry, the total lack of any direction or consistency within the franchise at that time (ahem, Daniel Snyder) gives the Ole Ball Coach a pass. 

Green Bay Packers: Phil Bengtson

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    Years: 1968-70

    Overall Record: 20-21-1

    Best Season: 8-6 (1968)

    Worst Season: 6-8 (1969)

    An old adage in sports is that you never want to be "the guy who follows the guy." Well, no one had it harder than Phil Bengston, who took over for the retired Vince Lombardi after the Packers won their fifth NFL title of the decade. 

    In some ways, nothing Bengston could do—even win another Super Bowl—would be good enough. Critics would say that he simply won with Lombardi's players. 

    But because Green Bay's teams were average at best, and pretty bad in his final season, Bengston earns this spot.

    The fact that the Packers really haven't had a total failure at head coach in decades (Ray Rhodes' single season in Green Bay isn't a fair assessment) also aids Bengston's candidacy. Even Lindy Infante won 10 games in Green Bay.

Chicago Bears: Jim Dooley

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    Years: 1968-71

    Overall Record: 20-36

    Best Season: 7-7 (1968)

    Worst Season: 1-13 (1969)

    Although he was a great success as a player for the Bears, Jim Dooley was anything but as a head coach. 

    Dooley, the franchise's first coach after Papa Bear George Halas stepped away from the field, enjoyed a solid rookie season but proved to be a one-hit wonder.  

    Despite having Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, the Bears tied for the worst record in the NFL during Dooley's second year, and they didn't improve much after that. 

Detroit Lions: Rod Marinelli

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    Years: 2006-08

    Overall Record: 10-38

    Best Season: 7-9 (2007)

    Worst Season: 0-16 (2008)

    Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci and Darryl Rogers all have claims to this spot (especially Mornhinweg for the overtime coin-toss disaster), but the discussion ends when you fail to win a single game in the modern era.

    Rod Marinelli's club lost all 16 games in 2008—enough said. 

Minnesota Vikings: Les Steckel

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    Years: 1984

    Overall Record: 3-13

    Best Season: 3-13 (1984)

    Worst Season: 3-13 (1984)

    Another one-year disaster.

    Les Steckel was a strict disciplinarian who had a fine resume, ideal temperament and the look of a prodigy, but it never panned out for him or the Vikings. 

    After taking over for the legendary Bud Grant, Minnesota posted its worst record in nearly a quarter-century, prompting management to replace him with...Bud Grant.

    Interestingly enough (if you don't count current head coach Leslie Frazier), every coach since Steckel has won a playoff game, so there is some process of elimination to this selection as well. 

New Orleans Saints: Mike Ditka

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    Years: 1997-99

    Overall Record: 15-33

    Best Season: 6-10 (1997)

    Worst Season: 3-13 (1999)

    Trading away an entire draft class is part of Mike Ditka's terrible legacy in New Orleans, as is the record.

    Because he was brought in with so much fanfare and for so much money, Ditka's stay in the Bayou was a total disaster thanks to his record.

    There are probably a handful of valid excuses as to why Ditka couldn't win in New Orleans: The game had passed him by, he didn't have the talent, his act didn't work on the newer, free-agency generation.

    But whatever the reason, the hire was one of the worst of its era. 

Atlanta Falcons: Bobby Petrino

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    Years: 2007

    Overall Record: 3-10

    Best Season: 3-10 (2007)

    Worst Season: 3-10 (2007)

    As bad as Nick Saban's departure was, Bobby Petrino's was worse.

    Sure, when he signed up to be the head coach for Atlanta, he (like all of us) had no clue that Michael Vick would be locked up in a federal prison. 

    And to be honest, if he had quit after the 2007 regular season had ended, he probably wouldn't have been crucified. But to quit midseason to take the job at Arkansas later that week—and tell his players by leaving a printed note in their locker—was a disgrace. 

    Couple the exit with his overall record, and it's arguably the worst coaching hire in NFL history. 

Carolina Panthers: George Seifert

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    Years: 1999-2001

    Overall Record: 16-32

    Best Season: 8-8 (1999)

    Worst Season: 1-15 (2001)

    Oh, poor George Seifert. Talk about tarnishing a legacy.

    There was always some concern by some that he was simply a push-button head coach in San Francisco, taking over for Bill Walsh to win a Super Bowl in 1989 and then winning another title with a free-agency-boosted roster in 1994. 

    But that argument had much less credibility before he took over in Carolina. It seemed somewhat reasonable just a few years later. 

    After a decent first season in 1999, the team progressively got worse, culminating with a horrific 15-game losing streak to close out the 2001 regular season. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ray Perkins

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    Years: 1987-90

    Overall Record: 19-41 

    Best Season: 5-8 (1990)

    Worst Season: 4-11 (1987)

    There have been some terrible runs by Tampa Bay head coaches, everyone from Leeman Bennett to Sam Wyche to Richard Williamson to Raheem Morris.

    But Ray Perkins takes the cake.

    Not only did he willingly deal away Steve Young and pin his hopes on Vinny Testaverde, but in his first season, Perkins' Bucs experienced two of the worst regular-season chokes in NFL history...in the span of three weeks.

    In Week 6 they blew a 20-point lead at home to the Bears, losing 27-26. Fourteen days later they squandered a 25-point fourth-quarter lead to the Cardinals. 

San Francisco 49ers: Mike Singletary

30 of 33

    Years: 2008-10

    Overall Record: 18-22

    Best Season: 5-4 (2008)

    Worst Season: 5-10 (2010)

    Prior to Jim Harbaugh's arrival, the 49ers had Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. Each was painful to watch by the somewhat-spoiled 49ers fans, but Singletary had to be the worst.

    He had no control of the team, and he showed very little tact (that pants-off locker room speech). 

    But because he had so much talent on that roster (a roster that Harbaugh instantly rode to the NFC title game) and never won more than eight games in a season, Singletary is an easy choice. 

Arizona Cardinals: Dennis Green

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    Years: 2004-06

    Overall Record: 16-32

    Best Season: 6-10 (2004)

    Worst Season: 5-11 (2005)

    Another case where a simple change at the head coaching position led to tremendously different results.

    Under Dennis Green, who turned the Vikings into a Super Bowl contender just a few years earlier, the Cardinals continued to be a laughing stock. That Monday night meltdown against Chicago was the absolute low point. 

    As soon as they brought Ken Whisenhunt in, the Cardinals went 8-8, then came within a few minutes of a Super Bowl title. 

    Translation: In hindsight, that Cardinals team had more talent than anyone realized, yet Green couldn't capitalize on it. 

Seattle Seahawks: Tom Flores

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    Years: 1992-94

    Overall Record: 14-34

    Best Season: 6-10 (1994)

    Worst Season: 2-14 (1992)

    It certainly wasn't remembered as the same type of disaster as Mike Ditka's hiring in New Orleans, but Tom Flores—another Super Bowl-winning head coach—never came close to duplicating that championship success.

    Despite turning Jim Plunkett into a Super Bowl winner, Flores couldn't do the same with other first-round quarterbacks Kelly Stouffer, Dan McGwire and Rick Mirer.

    Not what the Seahawks and their fans expected from a former Pro Bowler considered to be a quarterback guru. 

Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams: Bob Waterfield

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    Years: 1960-62

    Overall Record: 9-24-1

    Best Season: 4-7-1 (1960)

    Worst Season: 1-7 (1962)

    This list ends with another great player who turned out to fall flat as a head coach.

    In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Bob Waterfield was a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams. A decade after retirement, he returned to the Rams, charged with replacing Sid Gillman, who left for the crosstown AFL franchise. 

    But in three seasons with the Rams, Waterfield's team finished either last or second last in the NFL Western division. 

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