20 Biggest Train Wreck Hires in Sports
In sports today there is a tremendous pressure to win now. Planning and acquiring talent for the future is great, but if a coach is failing in the present, there's a very good chance he or she won't be around long enough to see that future success. Patience is at a premium and winning is usually all that matters in the end.
The same goes with sports figures in the media. Television ratings and appealing to a mass audience is critical, and people don't have the luxury of finding their voice slowly and building an audience over the course of a decade or more.
Coaches, general managers and members of the sports media come and go like subway trains these days. Some come and go quietly, while others are marred by controversy and organizational strife.
Let's take a look at 20 of the biggest train wreck hires in sports.
20. Ron Zook Hired by University of Florida
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When the charismatic and successful Steve Spurrier left the Gators for the Redskins in 2002, the University of Florida had some sizable shoes to fill in Gainesville. Apparently nobody in the athletic department was up to the task of filling those shoes though, which is why they hired Ron Zook.
The Gators were bound for a letdown after the success they enjoyed under Spurrier, but Zook's tenure was marred by countless blown fourth-quarter leads and just an overwhelming sense of "bleh."
Zook's final record was 20-13; not bad by some standards, but not quite what they look for in Florida.
19. Ron Zook Hired by University of Illinois
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Despite an overwhelmingly underwhelming stint as the head coach at the University of Florida, Ron Zook landed the head coaching position at the University of Illinois after being fired by the Gators.
Obviously they have lower expectations in the heartland, how else can you explain Zook lasting seven seasons with the Illini? Despite taking the team to their first Rose Bowl in decades, Zook finished with an overall record of 34-51.
Despite talented teams with potential, Zook's team had five losing seasons in his seven-year run. The straw that finally broke the camel's back came in 2011; after an impressive 6-0 start to the season, the Illini finished the season 0-6.
18. Bryan Trottier Hired by New York Rangers
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Hall of Fame player Bryan Trottier landed his first head coaching position in the NHL when he was named to the Rangers top job in 2002. Trottier didn't even last a full season in New York; he was fired after only 54 games.
Trottier's record with the Rangers was an abysmal 21-26-1. Abysmal mostly because their $70 million payroll was the highest in the league at the time.
A decade later and Trottier has yet to make a return to coaching.
17. Lane Kiffin Hired by Oakland Raiders
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In the decade before his passing, the late Al Davis didn't have many working relationships end on positive terms. But there were none that ended uglier than the relationship between him and head coach Lane Kiffin.
Davis hired Kiffin in early 2007, which made Kiffin, at age 31, the youngest head coach in NFL history. The pair were immediately at odds over the selection of JaMarcus Russell. Davis insisted on drafting him out of LSU, but Kiffin didn't like his prospects in the NFL.
Davis tried to force Kiffin to resign after just one season as head coach, presumably because he wanted off the hook for the money guaranteed on his contract. Kiffin refused and Davis eventually fired him in September 2008; the parting was less than amicable.
16. Tiki Barber Hired by the Today Show
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Former Giants running back Tiki Barber walked away from the NFL, seemingly at the peak of his career, to pursue a career in broadcasting. He was quickly hired as a contributor to NBC's The Today Show, but it didn't last long.
Barber may look like a natural for television, but his wooden and phony demeanor never connected with fans. In fact, the only thing he succeeded at was hooking up with an intern at the show and leaving his wife of over a decade who was eight months pregnant with the couple's twins at the time.
Barber initially kept his job at Today after news of the affair surfaced, but within two months he was officially out.
15. Tim Floyd Hired by Chicago Bulls
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There was no question that the Bulls were doomed to a downswing after the departure of Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan, not to mention the loss of Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen.
But after the unparalleled success the organization had enjoyed in the '90s, there was no preparing for the reign of inadequacy under Jackson's successor, Tim Floyd.
The Bulls finished 13-37 in the lockout shortened 1998-99 season, Floyd's first year. And things didn't get better with the longer season the next two years.
Floyd finished 17-65 and 15-67 before being canned 25 games into his forth season.
14. Nick Saban Hired by Miami Dolphins
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The Dolphins have been flailing in relative obscurity since Dan Marino retired in the late 1990s, which is probably why they decided to take a chance on the authoritarian coach of LSU in 2005. Saban's style brought great success to the Tigers, and the Dolphins hoped he could replicate that success with a water mammal.
Things went well in Miami during his first season; the Dolphins finished 9-7 and just missed the playoffs. Saban's second season was less successful; the Fins fell to 6-10 on the year and Saban had to fight off speculation that he would be defecting from South Beach to had back to the NCAA.
Saban insisted he wasn't planning a move, but after the season he immediately accepted the head coaching position at the University of Alabama and he notified his players via text message.
In 2011 a story about Saban stepping over a convulsing player in the locker room cast his tenure in an even more unflattering light.
13. John Russell Hired by Pittsburgh Pirates
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Considering the Pirates have finished under .500 every season for the last two decades, it takes a special kind of bad to stand out as a bad hire in Pittsburgh.
Former manger John Russell managed to do just that; his three seasons with the club marked the worst stretch of any manager in Pirates history.
In three seasons with Russell at the helm, his team racked up 299 losses which, even by the extremely low standards used for the Pirates, was just too many.
In his last season Russell's Pirates were 17-64 on the road, matching the 1963 Mets' record for the most road losses since baseball's expansion.
12. Tony Kornheiser Hired for Monday Night Football
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After being beat out by Dennis Miller for the color-man job on the Monday Night Football broadcast in 2000, ESPN's Tony Kornheiser finally landed the job in early 2006. He lasted three painful seasons in the booth before the network announced he was leaving due to his "fear of flying."
But much like the exit of Ron Jaworski that would come a few years later, it seems that ESPN was just being nice to their on-air talent. Kornheiser was universally derided during his three-year stint and the only surprise was that his "fear of flying" didn't cost him his job earlier.
Obviously "fear of flying" is code for "stinks at his job and is the human equivalent of nails on a chalkboard."
11. Charlie Weis Hired by University of Notre Dame
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Former Patriots' offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was the first Bill Belichick fledgling to leave the New England nest.
The Notre Dame graduate left his Super Bowl success behind to try his hand as head coach of his alma mater; the first alum to coach the program since Hugh Devore served as interim coach in 1963.
Weis hovered around .500 most of his five seasons as coach of the Irish before being fired in 2009 with a final record of 35-27. His record isn't any better or worse than any other recent Notre Dame coach, but the revelation that the university will be paying him millions annually through 2015 is certainly deserving of train wreck status.
The payments to Weis under his separation agreement with the university began in 2009, the very same year similar payments ended to Tyrone Willingham, Weis' predecessor.
10. Jim Zorn Hired by Washington Redskins
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Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder stunned the Washington media, already hardened to his epic stupidity, when he hired relative unknown Jim Zorn as the new head coach in 2008. Zorn replaced the retiring Joe Gibbs who went a mediocre 30-34 as head coach.
After an unimpressive start in his second season, Zorn was eventually stripped of play-calling duties, which left him wandering the sidelines with nothing to do—seriously, he didn't even have any headphones or a clipboard.
The Zorn experiment isn't considered the same level of failure as the Steve Spurrier experiment—probably because he was cheaper—but they both had 12-20 records after two seasons as head coach of the 'Skins.
9. Josh McDaniels Hired by Denver Broncos
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If there's anything we've learned from Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick's assistant coaches branching out on their own, it's how important Bill Belichick, and him alone, is to the success they've had in New England over the last decade.
Eric Mangini and Charlie Weiss have both had multiple unsuccessful tenures since leaving the Patriots, but young gun Josh McDaniels' 22 months as the head coach of the Broncos is the most abject of those failures. He was fired midway through the 2010 season in the midst of the team's worst losing streak in decades.
When the Broncos hired McDaniels in 2009, they were probably hoping to capture some of that Patriots' lightning in a bottle. Instead of duplicating the Pats success on the field, McDaniels duplicated the ugly chapter known as "Spygate" with his very own video tape scandal.
Can't imagine that's what they had in mind in Denver.
8. John Calipari Hired by New Jersey Nets
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If you were wondering why Kentucky coach John Calipari was so dismissive of speculation he may leave Kentucky in the wake of his national championship in 2012 and return to the NBA, it probably has something to do with his tragically unsuccessful tenure with the Nets.
He was hired in 1996 after leading UMass to the Final Four for the first time in history and given a five-year $15 million contract which made him one of the highest paid coaches in the league. Calipari's 72-122 record wasn't anything to write home about, but it wasn't what ultimately cost him his job.
It was his focus on changing the "culture" in Jersey and the way he went about it that really hurt him. Calipari's unreasonable demands on the staff and preferential treatment with his players eventually led to a full-on mutiny less than three years into his contract.
7. Rich Rodriguez Hired by University of Michigan
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In 2007, Rich Rodriguez and his WVU Mountaineers were National Championship bound with only an unranked Pitt team standing in their way.
Well, WVU lost the game and within a month they had also lost their coach who decided to leave Morgantown to succeed Lloyd Carr at the University of Michigan.
Rodriguez only lasted three seasons as coach of the Wolverines and his stint in Ann Arbor was marred by scandal, player unrest and three of the worst seasons on record for Big Blue.
6. Bobby Valentine Hired by Boston Red Sox
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After the epic and historic late season collapse of the Red Sox in 2011 cost general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona their jobs, the organization decided to go in a different direction by hiring Bobby Valentine.
A very different direction.
Valentine hadn't managed in the big leagues since being fired by the Mets in 2002. There was immediate speculation that the Red Sox players weren't going to take well to Valentine's managerial style, and recent reports of a brewing mutiny in Boston suggest this whole thing won't have a favorable outcome.
5. Dennis Miller Hired for Monday Night Football
In theory, hiring a comedian to liven up the Monday Night Football broadcast doesn't sound like a terrible idea, but ABC really failed to execute.
Before being hired in 2000, Dennis Miller was best known for his sarcastic, politically-charged humor he displayed on HBO's Denis Miller Live.
Miller's sardonic sense of humor and expansive vocabulary sunk like a stone with the diverse audience. His stint as MNF's color-man is considered one of the biggest failures in television history. How he lasted two seasons is anybody's guess.
4. Matt Millen Hired by Detroit Lions
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ESPN analyst Matt Millen was fired as the Lions' president in November 2008 after presiding over seven years of franchise futility.
His time at the helm in Detroit was one of the most epically unsuccessful stretches in sports history. Millen's overall record at the time of termination was an abysmal 31-84 and included an impressively bad 0-16 season.
After being canned Millen was quoted as saying, "In the world's view, this may look like a failure." Uh…duh.
3. Steve Spurrier Hired by Washington Redskins
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Until finally ceding control under Mike Shanahan, the Redskins' owner/fanboy Daniel Snyder had run his franchise like his own personal fantasy football team since acquiring it 1999.
In an ownership tenure mired by ridiculously terrible decisions, his decision to fire Marty Schottenheimer and hire Steve Spurrier in 2001 stands out among them.
Snyder lured him from his cushy job as the head coach of the Florida Gators with a five-year contract worth a hefty $25 million. Spurrier's laid back style really didn't fly in the NFL.
Former Redskin Ross Tucker said Spurrier devalued training camp because he didn't get anything out of it as a player and said the Skins basically played high school football under him.
Spurrier went 12-20 in Washington and said upon his resignation, "This is a very demanding job. It's a long grind and I feel that after 20 years as a head coach, there are other things that I need to do." Translation: I'd rather be playing golf.
2. Isiah Thomas Hired by New York Knicks
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The New York Knicks continued their long trip down the drain when they hired Isiah Thomas as President of Basketball Operations in 2003.
Thomas traded away the future of the team for overpaid players like Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford and the sizable Eddy Curry, which gave the Knicks the highest payroll in the NBA and the second-worst record.
In 2006, ownership fired coach Larry Brown and replaced him with Thomas, which proved to be an equally terrible decision. Thomas' record was abysmal, he was embroiled in controversy after inciting a brawl with the Nuggets in his second season, and his sexual assault scandal cost the Knicks $11.5 million from an out-of-court settlement.
He was mercifully let go in 2008. Surely nobody would be stupid enough to make the same mistake with Thomas, right?
1. Isiah Thomas Hired by Florida International
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Despite a horrifying inept tenure with the Knicks, the desperate Florida International University hired Isiah Thomas to replace the fired Sergio Rouco after five losing seasons.
Thomas went 7-25 in his first season, 11-19 in his second season and 8-12 in his third season. Naturally, he was fired.
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