Great NFL head coaches are in short supply. For every Bill Belichick, there are about two dozen absolutely terrible coaches running teams across professional football. It’s no wonder teams frequently fire their head coaches after only a season or two, and why the top job in the NFL is often referred to as a “coaching carousel.” Apparently the skills, attitude, and temperament needed to lead men into battle on the gridiron each week are hard to come by. Even coaches who had great success in the collegiate ranks often have a hard time once they reach football’s biggest stage. Here are the 10 worst NFL head coaches of all time.
10. Chip Kelly
Expectations were huge for Chip Kelly when he entered the NFL in 2013. The former head coach of the University of Oregon NCAA program, Kelly was hailed as an offensive genius when he assumed head coaching duties with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, all the hope and promise quickly evaporated when the Eagles struggled under Coach Kelly. Finding it difficult to adapt to the big leagues and treating the Eagles’ professional players like college freshmen, Kelly proved to be a divisive force on the team. Worse, he traded away many of the team’s top talent, including All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy and linebacker Kiko Alonso. Some players on the Eagles even accused Kelly of being a racist. Eventually, he was fired after just three seasons at the helm. He landed another head coaching job with San Francisco 49ers for the 2016 season, but was fired after one season where the Niners went 2-14. Kelly now says he plans to return to the college ranks.
9. Bill McPeak
Players-turned-coaches aren’t always a sure fire recipe for success. Take Bill McPeak, for example. As a defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, McPeak found plenty of success as a NFL player. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl on three occasions during his playing career in the 1950s. However his success in tackling people did not translate to the job of coaching. As the head coach of the Washington Redskins, McPeak did not experience much success at all. In fact, he led the team through one of its darkest chapters in the early-to-mid 1960s. During five seasons leading the Redskins — 1961-65 —the team never finished above .500. Instead, the team went 21-46-3 during his brief tenure as the head coach. While McPeak would never get another head coaching job in the NFL, he did find some modest success as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins in 1973.
8. Mike Mularkey
Mike Mularkey was given the top job coaching the Tennessee Titans mid-way through the 2015 season, replacing Ken Whisenhunt as the play caller. The Tennessee Titans front office made the position permanent ahead of the 2016 NFL season. How Mularkey’s tenure with the Titans goes is still to be determined. But his previous track record may not bode well for the Titans’ future. That’s because Mularkey has already been a head coach on two previous occasions, both of which proved to be disasters. Coach Mularkey spent two years leading the Buffalo Bills in 2004-05, and the 2012 season as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In those previous head coach outings, Mike Mularkey compiled a woeful overall record of just 18 wins and 39 losses. Not exactly a record that should inspire confidence among the Titans faithful. But when you’re desperate, you do what you have to do.
7. Darryl Rogers
The Detroit Lions have suffered a lot of ups and downs in their history. And the team has gone through some truly dreadful coaching tenures over the years. But few, if any,have proved to be as unsuccessful as Darryl Rogers, who lead the Lions in the mid-1980s during one of the team’s most abysmal periods. In 1985, Rogers received the opportunity to coach the Lions, a position that he called his “dream job.” However, that dream quickly turned into a nightmare as the Lions faltered badly under Rogers’ inept leadership style. In less than four full seasons on the sidelines, Darryl Rogers won just 18 games while losing 40 in the same period of time. It’s no wonder that the organization replaced him 11 games into the 1988 season. Fans of the team held a rally in the parking lot of the Lion’s stadium to celebrate the coaching change.
6. Dave Shula
To be fair, it can’t be easy to be the son of football head coaching God Don Shula. It is Don Shula, after all, who lays claim to the only perfect season culminating in a Super Bowl victory – a feat he accomplished with the Miami Dolphins in 1972. His son Dave’s experience as a head coach was not nearly as successful. In fact, Dave Shula is widely regarded as the worst head coach of the modern football era. The younger Shula spent five years as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. During that time, the team cultivated a horrific record of 19 wins and 52 losses. Not surprising, the younger Shula has not received another head coaching offer since being cut loose by the Bengals. In fact, he left football altogether after the Bengals fired him. He now runs Shula’s Steak Houses, a chain of restaurants in the U.S. that play off his father’s success as a NFL head coach.
5. Harland Svare
Another former player-turned-coach was Harland Svare. A linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants, Svare was feared on the field for administering punishing hits and crushing tackles. As a head coach for the Rams from 1962-65, and the San Diego Chargers from 1971-73, Svare proved to be indecisive and weak. As a result, he concluded his coaching career with an abysmal record of 21 wins versus 48 losses. His own worst critic, Svare voluntarily resigned his head coaching job in 1973, acknowledging to the media that he was not well suited to leading a team. He never coached again after leaving the Chargers and went into self-imposed exile – likely because the humiliation of failing as a head coach was too much for him to handle.
4. Marion Campbell
Marion Campbell was a curiosity as a NFL head coach, and his legacy continues to be debated by sports writers to this day. The only coach on this list to successfully oversee a professional NFL team for more than 100 games, Campbell was fairly unspectacular as a head coach. He finished his career with a losing record of 34 wins, 80 losses, and a single tie. While his defensive acumen was unparalleled — he achieved quite a bit of success as a defensive coordinator — anything beyond defense seemed to be too much for him. The offensive units he commanded as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and later the Philadelphia Eagles, were unspectacular to say the least.
3. Jimmy Phelan
We have to take a trip back in time to discuss head coach Jimmy Phelan. That’s because he coached several football teams that no longer exist. In 1951, the last year that the New York Yanks’ (not to be confused with baseball’s Yankees) were in existence, the team went 1-9 under the direction of Jimmy Phelan, a head coach who spent two earlier seasons with the Los Angeles Dons (another defunct team), leading them to a break even 7-7 record in his first season and a losing 4-8 record the following year. Yet despite his terrible track record, Phelan’s last head coaching job was with the Dallas Texans (another team that is now gone) in 1952. How did Phelan do coaching Dallas. They had one win and 11 losses under his direction. That gave Jimmy Phelan a lifetime record of 13 wins and 35 losses. Hmmm, maybe there’s a reason all the teams he coached no longer exist?
2. Dave McGinnis
In the annals of football, there are certain teams that everyone remembers, for better or worse. The 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 New England Patriots, for example, are remembered for perfect undefeated regular seasons. Also the Buffalo Bills team of the early 1990s that made it to four consecutive Super Bowls and lost every single one of them. Those teams are etched in the collective memory of NFL fans for both their victories and defeats. The Arizona Cardinals of the early 2000s are not one of those teams, since they were completely unmemorable under then head coach Dave McGinnis. The team from the dessert went an unspectacular 17-40 from 2000 until 2003 when McGinnis was finally fired for failing to improve the Cardinals’ fortunes. He hasn’t had a head coaching job since and was forced into retirement.
1. Bert Bell
You’ve got to travel back to the Great Depression to appreciate the flaming car wreck that was the coaching career of the late, disastrous Bert Bell. And, to be honest, the game of football that was played in the 1930s and early 1940s is not nearly the same as the game that’s played today. Still, winning and losing has not changed, and that has always been the yards stick by which professional football coaches are measured. And Bell fell far short of the yard stick. As head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1936 until 1941, Bell was much more familiar with losing than winning. In fact, he only won 10 games out of the 58 that he coached in the big league. Fans booed him, players hated him, and the local press corps waged a campaign to have him fired. The miracle was that Bert Bell managed to last five seasons as a head coach.