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Deadspin: The 16 Worst Coaches in NFL History

The NFL is king. Feel free to pay your respects.

Lanky Livingston

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I love to see Buddy Ryan on this list, but Spurrier hurts my heart. Zorn was so bad, he doesn't even merit mention, I suppose.

The 16 Worst Coaches In Modern NFL History
We are living in the Golden Age of Terrible NFL Coaching. The NFL rulebook and offensive and defensive playbooks have become so complex in the 21st century that only a hobo savant like Bill Belichick can even come close to making every right decision over the course of an entire football game. And new coaches are under so much immediate pressure to win that they are given virtually no time to figure out HOW to be an NFL head coach. They are quickly dispatched and then—because fans hate it when teams hire a retread—are often replaced by someone with even less experience, someone who is even less likely to figure out how to manage timeouts before and after the two-minute warning.

The old saw is that NFL coaches are hired to be fired, but it's more than that now. An NFL head coaching job is positively designed for you to fail. If you succeed in your position, it's probably just a happy accident of roster strength and the other coaches being worse. At any given time during an NFL game, half the people on the field and on the sidelines probably don't know what they're doing. My old line coach always told me that if you make a mistake, just go find someone to hit. That's an unofficial rule throughout the NFL as well. So long as you made someone hurt, at least you weren't completely useless.

ESPN just got done ranking the best coaches in NFL history, but what's the use of that list? We're here to present you with the list that matters: the worst NFL coaches from the post-merger era. Because hating coaches is an important part of the inner fantasy life of a fan. We hate coaches for the same reason we hate sportswriters: because we think we can do their job better than they can. You don't have to run a 4.3 forty to coach an NFL team. You don't have to be able to bench press 225 pounds 80 times at the combine. Coaches are regular physical specimens just like the rest of us. It's easier to imagine ourselves doing that job instead the job of, say, a running back. There's no illusion there. We know we'd get killed. But a coach? A coach just stands there like an asshole. Anyone can do that, right? Right?

Well, as we're about to show you, NOT anyone can do the job. In fact, pretty much no one can. But bad coaches are often unforgettable in their own, odd way. Each has a moment of glaring incompetence that sticks in a fan's craw until the day he or she dies. Denny Green will be remembered for taking a knee in the '98 NFC title game; "They are who we thought they were!"; and pretty much nothing else. Once you **** up as a coach, that becomes your brand.

It's humbling. Whatever aura of mostly unearned authority you had as a new coach riding into town is quickly replaced with an invisible dunce cap affixed to your head for eternity. But because screwing up is almost the norm (Green doesn't even make the list!), it takes a truly special football mind to qualify as the worst of the worst. Here are the 16 coaches, ranked according to their awfulness, who embody the NFL's proud tradition of awful coaching:

16. Buddy Ryan (career record: 55-55-1)


Is any crappy coach in league history more beloved by a fan base than Buddy Ryan still is in Philly? He gave reporters entertaining quotes, often at the expense of his own players. He once put a bounty on the Cowboys' kicker. He punched Kevin Gilbride, and even if it happened when he was in Houston, the act only endeared Ryan that much more to the likes of Paulie from East Passyunk. (According to the late Dave Duerson, Buddy was also something of a racist.) "Buddy Ryan," A.J. Daulerio once wrote, "was a walking, talking version of the mythology Philadelphia fans idolize about themselves." People in Philly like Buddy Ryan because Buddy Ryan wasn't Andy Reid, never mind that Buddy Ryan, with his immensely talented roster, never won a single playoff game (something even Rich Kotite did in Philly). A month after the Gilbride punch, the Cardinals grabbed Ryan to try to rescue the franchise.* "You've got a winner in town," Ryan declared during his introductory press conference in the desert. He went on to win 12 games in two seasons before getting ****canned again.

15. June Jones (career record: 22-36)


June Jones led the Falcons to the playoffs in 1995, in just his second year. But in Week 4 of '96, after Jeff George basically pissed in his coffee, Jones stubbornly clung to the run-and-shoot, an offense that officially died that year, at the hands of Jones and Bobby Hebert. (Augusta Chronicle headline, Dec. 24, 1996: "Falcons Fire Jones, Finally.") Jones would get another head-coaching gig two years later, even though he admitted up front that he didn't want it. "It's not my ambition to be a head coach again," he said after the Chargers fired Kevin Gilbride. But San Diego was stuck with Ryan Leaf and somebody had to be in charge. Jones played out the string and wisely took off to coach Hawaii after that.

14. Dennis Erickson (career record: 40-56)


We actually had to look it up to remind ourselves that Dennis Erickson had been an NFL head coach with two different teams. As this list proves, a lot of successful college coaches make for terrible NFL coaches. But Erickson's first NFL go-round, with the Seahawks, was merely mediocre. Only after he returned to the college ranks and won some more did Erickson's true ****tiness set in with the 49ers. He lasted two seasons, winning just nine games, after which the Niners' owner was willing to fork over $7.5 million just to make him go away. A year later, Erickson got a college coaching job again—in Idaho.

13. Kevin Gilbride (career record: 6-16)


Kevin Gilbride has bounced around the league for so long as an offensive coordinator it's hard to remember he actually spent more than one season as the Chargers' head coach, and that his brief tenure in San Diego was an unmitigated disaster. Just how bad did things get in those 22 games? Gilbride immediately went into petty-autocrat mode with the press, forbidding reporters from watching practice and limiting the media's access to players. He proceeded to go 4-12, which earned him the opportunity to draft Ryan Leaf. Just six games into Gilbride's second season, with Leaf already ****ting the bed as his QB, the Chargers couldn't take it anymore and fired Gilbride. He's openly lobbied for multiple head coaching gigs since, but no one seems to want him.

12. Butch Davis (career record: 24-35)


This list might as well be lifted straight from the Browns' media guide, huh? Fresh off a Sugar Bowl win with the Hurricanes, Butch Davis was pretty hot **** when he came to Cleveland in 2001 to carry on the franchise's legacy of dropping a bowling ball on its foot. In Davis's second season, the Browns actually made the playoffs. And in their only postseason game since their return to the league, Kelly Holcomb threw for more than 400 yards, and the Browns still gagged on a 17-point second-half lead. Against Tommy Maddox. That would be as good as Davis's days on Lake Erie would get: Two years later, when Davis was finally dismissed with five games to go, the Browns had just given up 58 points in a loss to the Bengals. Davis was thus free to eventually get his ass fired again as a scandal-ridden college coach.

11. Romeo Crennel (career record: 28-55)


Remember how everyone had a hard-on for Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis in 2005, when they were plucked like overripe fruit from the Parcells-Belichick coaching tree to take over the Browns and Notre Dame, respectively? Now remember how long it took for everyone to figure out that Weis was just a blustery asshole and that Crennel was nothing without Belichick. Crennel coached five full seasons on his own with the Browns and the Chiefs. He lost at least 10 games in four of them, and his face assumed the expression of a man eternally on the cusp of a deep, existential wince.
Click link for the top 10.
 

Henry

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I'd have Petrino at #1.

I think Zorn and Kiffin both escaped the list due to the fact that they were being sabotaged by terrible ownership. Not that either was a good coach, but there was more going on than just crappy coaching.
 

Lanky Livingston

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I'd have Petrino at #1.

I think Zorn and Kiffin both escaped the list due to the fact that they were being sabotaged by terrible ownership. Not that either was a good coach, but there was more going on than just crappy coaching.
Spurrier was subject to the same terrible ownership that Zorn was...
 

Boone

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Marine Corps Virginia

Richie Petitbon? He seemed to me to be epic-ally over his head as a head coach. I'm glad we moved on quickly on him although he was a great Redskin and nice man.

Zorn? I think they showed mercy not putting him on the list since no one with a rational mind would've expected him to succeed.
 

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Rich Kotite is #1 on that list...I don't care what anyone says!
 

Henry

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Spurrier was never cut off at the knees like Zorn. He was never a lame duck coach like Zorn was.

Snyder loved Spurrier like a shiny toy. He'd have given Spurrier anything Spurrier actually cared enough about to ask for, which just happened to turn out to be nothing.

Zorn was no great coach, but he was never really given a chance.

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