The Most Fired People in Sports

Zack PumerantzAnalyst IIIOctober 27, 2012

The Most Fired People in Sports

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    The roller-coaster lifestyle of a coach or executive is never smooth or permanent. One moment the fans love you, the next they're angrily scripting humorous ways to fire you on poster board that is iconically highlighted on the front page of the next day's Gazette.

    While most sportsmen have endured whispers of being canned or actually been relieved once during their careers, only a few can say they've endured numerous boots. Or something we prefer to call "legendary mediocrity."

    From uninspiring journeymen to shameless risk-takers, now's the time to highlight the individuals permanently associated with sports termination. Presenting the best of the worst.

20. Barry Melrose, NHL

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    Like that simple uncle who basks in the hooliganism of old and can't rid himself of the '70s rock-star hairdo, Barry Melrose is still burning ears with his "legendary" tales. Yet unlike that same uncle, Melrose actually got a shot.

    In three years with the L.A. Kings, Melrose compiled a 79-101 record, before he was fired following a fourth-place finish in 1994-95. He would return over a decade later to coach the 2008-09 Tampa Bay Lightning. After 16 games (5-7-4 record), Melrose was fondly dismissed. For good.

19. Ozzie Guillen, MLB

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    A brash and ruthlessly opinionated former shortstop who in his day preached hustle and grit, Ozzie Guillen became a fairly successful, albeit quite controversial, manager. Following a championship victory with the White Sox in 2005, his once-thriving relationship with general manager Kenny Williams began to fizzle like an impatient soda fountain. This led to his first departure.

    In September 2011, Guillen was released from his position and given the right to go to another team in exchange for White Sox compensation. He took his talents to Miami amid heavy media fanfare and led the newly equipped Marlins to a 69-93 record, their worst since 1999.

    He was fired shortly after, with his early-season comments praising Cuban leader Fidel Castro a major contribution.

18. Mike Ditka, NFL

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    Glowing with passion during his time as coach, Mike Ditka quickly cemented himself as a Chicago legend. Six NFC Central titles, three NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl XX win gave Bears fans plenty to cheer about.

    It even gave Bill Swerski and the Superfans confidence that Ditka could defeat a hurricane or win the Indy 500 while driving the Bears' team bus.

    But all great things must come to an end. And they did in 1992, when the Bears finished the year 5-11 and saw their fiery ringleader lose his job. He'd be back...

    In 1997, Ditka returned to coaching, this time with the deprived New Orleans Saints. During three excruciating years, defined by a trade that sent all of the team's draft picks to Washington for the opportunity to draft Texas tailback Ricky Williams, Ditka recorded 15 wins and 33 losses.

    Following the '99 season, during which his Saints lost to the 0-7 expansion Browns, Ditka was axed...for the last time.

17. Paul Holmgren, NHL

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    Following a productive playing career with the Flyers and North Stars, former winger Paul Holmgren decided to pick up the clipboard.

    During his first season in Philly, Holmgren shockingly led the Flyers to the Wales Conference finals. But he would miss the postseason during the next two seasons and get his pink slip midway through his fourth year.

    He then spent four ordinarily atrocious years with the Hartford Whalers as coach and interim general manager, finishing with no better than 26 wins (including 52 losses in 1992-93, his first season) in any of the years. He was replaced during the middle of the 1995-96 season.

16. Eddie Jordan, NBA

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    With a career record of 257-343, Eddie Jordan has always hovered around the average end of the measuring stick. He was fired by the Sacramento Kings after just over a year, finishing the 1997-98 season at 27-55.

    He was relieved from his Washington Wizards responsibilities after just over five years with the club (including four straight 40-plus-win seasons). And finally, with the Sixers in 2009-10, Jordan finished 27-55 and was fired for the last time.

    Since then, he's been helping Mike Brown install the Princeton offense with the Los Angeles Lakers.

15. Buddy Bell, MLB

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    Following an 18-year career in which he compiled 2,514 hits and six Gold Glove awards at the hot corner, Buddy Bell took to managing. Players becoming coaches is still a flourishing American tradition, reminiscent of fathers chasing kids with power tools.

    But the gifted third baseman wasn't the same leader that he was ballplayer, finishing his coaching career with 519 wins and 724 losses, two firings and no playoff berths during nine seasons with the Tigers, Rockies and Royals (three each).

14. Jim Mora Jr., NFL

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    While he confidently resorted to petulant screams on the sideline, rarely did this approach translate to professional wins for current UCLA coach Jim Mora, Jr.

    Hired by Atlanta in 2004, Mora finished his first season with an 11-5 record and a loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. He finished 2005 with a record of 8-8 and 2006 at 7-9, before getting fired at the end of the season.

    In 2009, he was given a shot with the Seahawks. After one 5-11 season, he was done in the rainy city.

13. Marion Campbell, NFL

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    During nine seasons as head coach (six with the Falcons, three with the Eagles), former defensive lineman Marion Campbell recorded 34 wins and 80 losses. He holds the third-lowest winning percentage among coaches who have coached more than three seasons in the NFL.

    Two firings only scrape the edge of detailing his failure.

12. Eric Mangini, NFL

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    Plucked from the Bill Parcells' coaching tree, Eric Mangini first made waves as an assistant and eventual defensive coordinator on Bill Belichick's three-time champion Patriots squads of the early 2000s. In 2006, the promising coordinator was hired to become head coach of the rival Jets.

    Despite a 10-6 first season, Mangini's tenure was mildly unsuccessful, and he was fired following a 9-7 year in 2008 (after the team had started 8-3). Just over a week later, Mangini was hired by Cleveland. Following two 5-11, quarterback dilemma-filled seasons, he was once again given the axe.

    He can now be seen cringing to the sound of Skip Bayless' voice on ESPN First Take.

11. Steve Phillips, MLB

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    Steve Phillips' introduction and resulting tenure as Mets general manager was like waking up on Christmas, running downstairs and getting kicked by a reindeer in the family jewels.

    While he assembled the core of Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura and Al Leiter and drafted David Wright, Phillips' New York resume was mostly flooded with bloated contracts for over-the-hill ballplayers. Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Pedro Astacio, Bobby Bonilla, Rickey Henderson, Kenny Rogers, Jeromy Burnitz—the list goes on.

    After being fired from the Mets in '03, Phillips became an ESPN analyst. But was he fired in 2009 when details of his affair with a 22-year-old production assistant were released.

10. Norv Turner, NFL

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    Known for his high-flying offensive attack—dubbed Norv-West Air—and his ability to lose in the clutch, Chargers head coach Norv Turner remains a gridiron anomaly.

    Posting a 114-120-1 career record with the Redskins, Raiders and Chargers (fired from the first two), Turner has always shown flashes of promise, only to crumble under the pressure. 

    He remains the only NFL head coach in the post-merger era to be fired midway through a season with a winning record, when he was relieved of his Washington duties in 2000. His 'Skins were sitting at 7-6 after starting the year 6-2 at the time. He now continues to win unimportant games in San Diego.

9. Bobby Williams, NFL

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    A former tailback-turned-defensive back for the Purdue Boilermakers, Bobby Williams soon found himself leading the Michigan State Spartans after several assistant-coaching years at Ball State and Eastern Michigan.

    In nearly three complete seasons, Williams led the Spartans to a 16-17 record. After being fired in '02, Williams became a wide receiver coach for the Detroit Lions, before joining Nick Saban at LSU.

    When Saban left for the Dolphins, Williams hitched a ride. But after two years as running backs coach in Miami, he was once again fired.

    He's now a tight end and special teams coordinator at Alabama under Saban.

8. Mike Dunleavy, NBA

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    After a promising first season in which his Lakers lost in the 1991 NBA Finals—Magic's last and Jordan's first—Mike Dunleavy, Sr.'s, roller-coaster ride was ignited.

    A horrible tenure with the Bucks was followed by four prosperous years in Portland. Following his 50-32 2000-01 season, he was surprisingly fired—for the first time.

    Fast forward two years later, when a worn and torn Dunleavy got hired as coach of the Clippers. During six seasons in Los Angeles, his club only secured one playoff berth.

    Midway through the seventh year, Dunleavy was relieved (resigned) from coaching duties to become general manager. A month later, he was fired as executive.

7. Pete Carroll, NFL

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    Now prepping the bruising Seahawks for stardom, Pete Carroll was once an upstart prospect getting his first taste of head coaching with the '94 Jets. He was immediately fired after a media-scrutinizing 6-10 season that featured Dan Marino's deafening fake spike.

    But his exuberance would earn him a job with the '97 Patriots after Bill Parcells left. As coach in New England, he won the AFC East division title the first season, but lost in the wild-card playoff round in 1998 and then missed the playoffs following a late-season collapse in 1999. He was fired after the season.

    Done with mop-up duty, Carroll went to USC, where he led the Trojans to perennial domination. Now fans in Seattle are beginning to embrace his craft.

6. Bill Callahan, NFL

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    Despite taking his aging Raiders to the 2002 AFC Championship Game and a berth in Super Bowl XXXVII, Bill Callahan would only last two seasons as head coach in Oakland. Following a 4-12 season in 2003, he was fired by impatient owner Al Davis.

    Soon the Nebraska Cornhuskers came calling. But after four seasons of disappointment, Callahan's fate would once again be realized. After a 65-51 loss to rival Colorado in 2007, Callahan (27-22 with Nebraska) was fired.

5. Isiah Thomas, NBA

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    A gritty and hard-nosed competitor who transformed a lacking Detroit Pistons club into back-to-back NBA champions during the late '80s, Isiah Thomas, with his calm smile and confident demeanor, became a beloved performer. As an executive and coach, well, let's just say The Sopranos had a better finish.

    To put his tenure as President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks into perspective, the 2005-06 Knickerbockers had the highest payroll in the league and the second-worst record, with Eddy Curry the costly and heavily ineffective New York cornerstone. After the 2007-08 Knicks lost 59 games, Thomas was reassigned (eloquently canned).

    In 2009, Thomas resumed his coaching journey, signing with Florida International. After three seasons, during which his Golden Panthers finished 26-65, Thomas was fired. He remains a New York pariah.

4. Tsanko Tsvetanov, Soccer

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    A retired Bulgarian left-back who starred for the '94 World Cup team that reached the semifinals, Tsanko Tsvetanov is now the star in a merry-go-round script.

    FC Etar 1924, having fired Tsvetanov for the third time this season because of what they call a "series of statements against Turkish owner Feyzi Ilhanli and actions that undermine the prestige of the club," continues to endure backlash from fans.

    Thanks to the fans, the legendary crowd favorite just keeps coming back.

3. Bobby Valentine, MLB

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    Bobby Valentine, a man who plays by his own rules—nobody else's, not even his own—has always been seen as a quirky bench presence. We'll never forget his post-ejection disguise in 1999. But the seasoned manager has always managed to find work, if only briefly.

    In 1992, he was fired as Rangers manager by team partner George W. Bush, ending his first tenure. Despite a surprising second-place finish with the underdog Chiba Lotte Marines (in Japan) in 1995, Valentine was once again fired, this time due to a conflict with general manager Tatsuro Hirooka.

    He enjoyed his best years with the Mets, finishing 536-467 in seven years before yet again being sliced from the payroll. He returned to the Marines, where he was soon fired for the second time.

    And finally, the Red Sox. One year was all they'd need, considering the bloody socks finished their worst season in 46 years, 69-93. Injuries, dugout disputes and a lack of chemistry or respect prevented Valentine from ever inspiring his team.

2. P.J. Carlesimo, NBA

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    Known first and foremost for getting choked out by former Golden State Warrior Latrell Sprewell, P.J. Carlesimo actually endured one of the more obscure coaching rides in history.

    Seton Hall, where he was dubbed coach of the century, was his launch pad. Then came the NBA. After three successful years in Portland, during which his Trail Blazers lost in the first round of the playoffs each year, Carlesimo was fired.

    Then he traveled to Golden State, where he was fired after three forgettable seasons. In 2007, he took over the Sonics before they moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. After one horrific season in Seattle and a 1-12 start in 2008-09, Carlesimo was once again canned.

    A 204-296 record was a brief recap.

1. Billy Martin, MLB

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    As tall and lethal as a 5'8" cactus and as animated as a Disney movie, Billy Martin constantly demanded respect from all who crossed his path. Unfortunately, he rarely got it.

    In 1969, his only season as manager of the Twins, he won a division championship and was promptly fired after a fight with a player.

    He began managing the Tigers in '71, but was fired in '73 after allegedly telling his pitchers to throw the spitball. He then took the last-place Rangers to second place in 1974, but he was fired the following year. 

    He would move on to the Yankees, where he was in and out like the California hamburger joint. George Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson and Martin together formed truly riveting theater.

     

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