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The 10 Worst Coaching Comebacks in Sports History

Zachary BallAnalyst IDecember 13, 2016

The 10 Worst Coaching Comebacks in Sports History

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    Coaching comebacks are nothing new. 

    Especially in a sport like baseball, where managers are recycled like newspapers. Just in the past week, two aging managers (Jack McKeon and Davey Johnson) have come out of retirement to take up the charge of leading the Marlins and Nationals back to respectability.

    They're not the first, and they certainly won't be the last.

    And while some coaches, like Buck Showalter with his current O's squad, or Davey Johnson with his mid-1990s teams, have actually gone on to experience some success after some time away from the game, more often than not it's an unpleasant experience.

    Hence the point of this list.

    Here's the most notable "worst" returns in major sports history.

Joe Gibbs, Washington Redskins

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    During Gibbs' first run with the Redskins, he was one of the most successful coaches in history, winning 68.3 percent of his games, good for third all-time behind Vince Lombardi and Joe Madden.

    His Redskins won Super Bowls in 1982, 1987 and and 1991. 

    After a 20-13 defeat against the San Francisco 49ers in the 1992 Divisional Round, Gibbs retired and pursued other ventures including Joe Gibbs Racing, a NASCAR team that has won five championships, including three at NASCAR's highest level.

    In late 2003, Steve Spurrier resigned as head coach of the 'Skins, and Snyder tried one last time to lure Gibbs from retirement and back onto the sidelines. On January 7th, 2004, Gibbs officially signed on to coach the team for five years.

    His first season was the worst he ever had. The Skins went 6-10, showing an ineffective offense that negated their top-three defense. For his part, Gibbs showed he had indeed been away from the game for more than a decade. His offense was hit with multiple delay of game penalties and struggled with clock management all season long.

    Things were a bit better in 2005, as the Skins sneaked into the playoffs, where they won a Wild-Card game before being smacked by the Seahawks.

    The next season saw Gibbs trump his career-worst mark, and the Skins fell to 5-11. 

    He actually ended his second run with the Skins on a high-note, overcoming the Sean Taylor shooting tragedy and spurring his team on to their second playoff appearance in three seasons. Once again, however, the Skins were pitted against the superior Seahawks, whom they lost to in Seattle.

    Exactly four years and one day to the date of his comeback, Gibbs retired again...this time for good.

    His second stint with the 'Skins didn't go as well. The Skins went 30-34 and 1-2 in the playoffs.

Joe McCarthy, Boston Red Sox

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    McCarthy already had a Hall of Fame resume when he retired in 1946.

    He led the Yankees to seven World Series championships en route to posting the highest winning percentage (.615) in Major League history. After his last title in 1943, the Yankees went three years (1944-1946) without winning another Championship, and in his final year with the club he endured frequent arguments with club operator Larry MacPhail. He finally resigned in 1946.

    He emerged from retirement two years later, taking up the head job with the Red Sox at age 61.

    His stint only lasted two years, and while the Sox challenged for the pennant in both seasons, they failed to make the playoffs in either year. In 1948, he went against the grain and chose a veteran starter to pitch a one-game playoff that would ultimately decide the team's fate, instead of going with Mel Parnell. The team lost.

    The next season, the Sox lost the final two games of the season to McCarthy's former team, eradicating the Sox's one-game lead and handing the Yankees the pennant. 

Barry Melrose, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    It's not too often you see a guy get axed after coaching only 14 games, especially in hockey.

    But then again, it's not too often you see a guy go from the analyst chair to the top job of any sports team either.

    Such was the case for the talented (at least at mullet-growing) Barry Melrose.

    After 14 years in the NHL, Melrose retired and went straight into coaching, first in the WHL, where he won a Memorial Cup title, then in the AHL, where he won a Calder Cup trophy.

    In 1992, he made the leap to the pro ranks and took over coaching duties for the Los Angeles Kings. The Gretzky-led Kings reached the Stanley Cup finals in Melrose's first season but lost 4-1 to the Montreal Canadiens. Melrose coached two more seasons in L.A., and then retired to the life we all know him from: ESPN's mullet-wearing, Canadian-accented hockey analyst.

    He held that role for 13-years before returning to the bench for a stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Apparently something didn't translate, as Melrose was forced out after only 14 games. Many felt his coaching philosophy wasn't in line with the rest of the organization.

    After an incident that involved Melrose leaving team practice in the hands of his assistant coach, the Lightning ownership made the move, and Melrose returned to ESPN.

    Where he just hasn't been the same if you ask me.

Larry Brown, Charlotte Bobcats

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    It's really hard to find faults with the NBA's sixth-winningest coach of all-time, but everyone knew we were in for a rough ride when Brown returned to coach the upstart Bobcats at age 68 after two years away from pro basketball.

    During his previous coaching stops in Denver, New Jersey, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Indiana, Philadelphia, Detroit and New York, not to mention the four seasons he spent coaching in the ABA, Brown had picked up four Coach of the Year awards, an NBA title and 1,239 victories.

    During his first season in Charlotte, the team struggled and finished 12 games under .500. The Bobcats made some incredible progress in year two, winning 44 games and securing a playoff spot, Brown's 18th playoff appearance. Unfortunately, Brown's squad was pitted against eventual Eastern Conference finalist Orlando in the first-round, and they were swept in four games.

    Brown returned for his third season in 2010-11, but called it quits only 28 games into the season, 19 of which had resulted in losses for the Bobcats.

    Brown will still go down in history as one of the top coaches in NBA history, but his three years with Charlotte will, and should be, largely forgotten. 

Frank Robinson, Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals

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    Robinson was a record-breaker and a trend-setter, as both a player and a coach.

    After retiring with 586 home runs, 1,812 RBI, two MVP awards, a Rookie of the Year honor and a Triple-Crown, Robinson turned his eye to coaching.

    He started with the Indians in 1975 as a player/manager and moved on to San Francisco, where he spent five seasons. He achieved the most in Baltimore, where he served as manager from 1988 to 1991. In 1989, he was named American League Manager of the Year. He was unfortunately forced out in 1991 after a terrible start to the season.

    He returned after more than 10 years away in 2002, accepting the managerial spot of the Montreal Expos. Robinson posted winning seasons in his first two seasons (83-79 in both), before having the bottom fall out in 2004. The Expos won only 67 games that season.

    The next year (as the Nationals), his team responded to post an even .500 record (81-81), but Robinson suffered through some pretty rough times in the press. He was reported as spending more time out on the golf course than in the clubhouse by the Montreal Gazette. In June, he was voted as the worst manager in baseball by 450 MLB players. In 2006, he won the vote again.

    After a 71-91 campaign in 2006, Robinson was finally let go.

George Seifert, Carolina Panthers

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    Say what you will about Seifert riding on the coattails of Bill Walsh, but the dramatic drop-off in production during his second stint in the NFL is yet another interesting case study of what happens when a coach returns to the sidelines.

    During his eight-year career with the 49ers, Seifert led the team to 98 victories, an average of 12 wins per year. The 49ers won two Super Bowls and made five NFC Championship games in that period. San Francisco's worst season under Seifert was a 10-6 mark in 1993. That team still reached the NFC title game.

    In the playoffs, Seifert posted a 10-5 record.

    After three years away from football, Seifert returned as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. In their fifth year of existence the Panthers posted an 8-8 record.

    The next season they dropped to 7-9, and in 2001 the bottom dropped out completely, with the team finishing 1-15.

    Seifert departed after that season, with a 16-32 record dropping his career line to 114-62.

    Even worse, the stint added fuel to the fire that he was only ever a good coach in San Francisco—with another coach's players. 

Pat Quinn, Edmonton Oilers

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    When "The Big Irishman" left the NHL in 2006, he was the winningest coach among those who were active. He had only posted one losing campaign in a season that he coached more than 45 games and he had one Olympic gold medal (2002), a World Cup Championship (2004), two Coach of the Year trophies (1980 and 1992) and two junior league gold medals.

    After 19 years in the box and a coaching career that spanned from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and Vancouver to Toronto, Quinn finally called it quits amid rumors of a rift between him and his GM in Toronto.

    After three years away from the NHL, Quinn was coaxed back into the box by the Edmonton Oilers. He inherited a less-than-talented squad, and the team sputtered to a 27-47-8 record, finishing dead last in not only the Northwest Division, but the NHL as a whole.

    Only one player, Dustin Penner, scored more than 17 goals, and Penner was also the only one to record at least 30 assists. 

    That was enough for Quinn, and at age 67, he walked away from the game for good. Well...almost for good.

    A hockey-lifer, Quinn is now a senior advisor on Hockey Operations for Edmonton. 

Dennis Erickson, Idaho Vandals/Arizona State Sun Devils

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    You have to give Erickson some credit.

    After all, he has a career .658 winning percentage, has two national championship rings and wins in three of the four major bowl games (Fiesta, Orange, Sugar).

    Since returning to college ball from the NFL in 2006, however, Erickson has failed to recapture that same magic that made him such a dynamo at the University of Miami (1989-94) and Oregon State (1999-2002).

    He bolted for the NFL for the second time in 2003 and lasted only two seasons in San Francisco after failing to successfully integrate a hybrid version of the West Coast offense into the 49ers play-calling. 

    He returned to the college ranks with Idaho, and despite posting a 4-8 record in his first season with the Vandals since 1985, he left the Gem State for Arizona State.

    In his first season at ASU, Erickson inherited a talented team, and it showed. The Sun Devils went 10-3, won a share of the Pac-10 title, and earned a berth to the Outback Bowl.

    Since that 2007 season, however, it's been tough sledding for the 64-year-old Erickson. The team posted back-to-back losing records in 2008 and 2009 before getting back to .500 last year. In 49 games, he has posted a record of 25-24, including a 17-19 mark in conference games.

    Needless to say, Erickson hasn't been a total disappointment since returning to coach in the college ranks, but he's nowhere near the same caliber of coach that went 63-9 in six seasons at Miami in the 1980s.

Earl Weaver, Baltimore Orioles

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    You can't blame the Orioles for trying to go back to the same well with Earl Weaver.

    When they pried him out of retirement in 1985, he was only 54 years old, but the team's performances in 1985 and '86 made him age to the point where he just couldn't take it anymore.

    After posting 85 wins per season for 16 years, Weaver's '85 and '86 squads could only muster up an average of 63 victories. His 79 victories in his second (and final) season with the O's was the lowest win total he ever posted in a full-season in his 18-year coaching career.

    Luckily, Weaver's second stint with the O's is largely forgotten thanks to his four American League pennants and 1970 World Series Championship. 

    That...and all those ejections.

Bill Fitch, New Jersey Nets/Los Angeles Clippers

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    When Fitch retired in 1998, he was the winningest coach in NBA history.

    In his early days as a coach, Fitch built the Cleveland Cavaliers into a consistent performer in the 1970s. He moved on to Boston in 1979 and averaged 61 wins over five seasons with the Celtics. He led the Celts to an NBA title in his second season and compiled a 242-86 record.

    He ended up in Houston in 1983 and proceeded to turn the Rockets from a 29-53 team into a squad that averaged 47 victories from 1984-1988. In the 1985-86 season he led the Rockets to a Western Conference title before bowing out to his former team, the Celtics, in the NBA finals.

    In 1989, Fitch took up head coaching duties with the Nets. He inherited a terrible squad, but somehow managed to improve their win total from 17 in 1989 to 26 in 1990, and then to 40 in 1991. His last year in New Jersey saw him lead the Nets to the playoffs for the first time since the mid 1980s. They ended up losing in the first-round to Fitch's other former team...the Cavs.

    After putting the Nets on the right-track, Fitch handed coaching duties over to Chuck Daly, who led New Jersey to back-to-back playoff appearances the next two seasons. 

    Fitch took two seasons off before deciding to return to the bench at age 60 with the Los Angeles Clippers.

    He immediately went to work building another winner, improving from 17 wins to 29, and then another bump to 36 in 1996. Unfortunately, the Clippers regressed in 1997-98 and won only 17 games, losing 65. It was the fourth season of Fitch's career in which his team lost at least 65 games.

    Fitch retired at the end of the season, proving what we all know to be true...nobody can win with the Clippers. 

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