Ten Worst NFL Coaches – Part 2

Picking up where I left off yesterday, here are the “second five” on my list of the ten worst NFL coaches since I have paid attention to the NFL. As before, the folks are presented alphabetically…

Rod Marinelli has had one head-coaching gig in the NFL. He led the Detroit Lions from 2006 through 2008. In his second year on the job, he actually got the Lions to a 7-9 record. That was the best regular season record for the Lions since 1999. Marinelli’s overall record was 10-38 which would certainly have been sufficient to get him on the list of coaches I thought about before compiling my list. However, there is one other ignominious element in that coaching tenure that cemented his place on my list:

    In 2008, the Detroit Lions managed to lose each and every game on their schedule. They went 0-16. No team had ever been able to do that since the league went to a 16-game regular season schedule in 1978. He just has to have a place on my list…

Mike McCormack was a Hall of Fame quality offensive tackle in his playing career for the Cleveland Browns. As the head coach of the Eagles, Colts and Seahawks, he enjoyed considerably less acclaim. His first gig was in Philly and the team languished under his leadership to a combined record of 16-25-1. In 1980, McCormack took over the coaching job in Baltimore and had the team at 7-9 in his first year there; unfortunately, the Colts then went 2-14 in 1981 and McCormack was shown the door. In 1982, McCormack went to Seattle to work in the front office there but took over as the interim coach after the players’ strike that year for the final 7 games of that season. Possibly the best coaching decision he ever made was to step down as the interim coach at the end of the 1982 season in order to hire Chuck Knox to fill that role. His overall NFL head coaching record was 29-59-1.

Mike Nixon began his coaching career in 1939 – before I arrived on this planet. He played for Jock Sutherland in college and was an assistant under Sutherland in the NFL. Nixon was an assistant coach in Washington under Joe Kuharich (see Part 1 from yesterday) and got the top job once Kuharich left to go back to Notre Dame. He lasted 2 years in Washington; the Redskins record in 1959 and 1960 was a miserable 4-18-2. His firing after the 1960 season was hardly shocking; nor was his inability to get another head coaching gig the next year. So, he took a job as an assistant with the Steelers. The Steelers went 9-5 in 1962 but the head coach, Buddy Parker, up and quit the job in the middle of training camp just before the start of the 1963 season. Nixon took over the team that had gone 9-5 the year before and managed to get the ’63 Steelers to stagger in with a 2-12 record. Doing the math for you, Mike Nixon’s combined record as an NFL head coach was 6-30-2. And, that is why he is on this list…

Before I give you the name and the credentials of my next nominee, I would like to give you a bit of perspective on the folks who comprise the list of Detroit Lions coaches since the NFL/AFL merger.

    There have been 15 coaches for the Lions since 1970 counting the current incumbent, Jim Caldwell.

    After each of the previous 14 coaches left the Lions (voluntarily or at the behest of management) not a single one of them ever was the head coach of an NFL team again. Not even for a single game…

    In fact, the last head coach of the Lions who did get another head-coaching job in the NFL was Buddy Parker. He was the coach in Detroit from 1951 to 1956.

Darryl Rogers was the head coach of the Detroit Lions from 1985 to 1988. As a collegiate coach at four different schools (including Michigan State and Arizona State) Rogers was highly successful. His collegiate cumulative record was 126-77-7. Then, in 1985 he stepped up from Arizona State to the NFL and the Detroit Lions. Not surprisingly, the Lions’ team he inherited was not very good; they had gone 4-11-1 the previous year. It appeared that Rogers might have them on the right track because the Lions went 7-9 in his first year in Detroit. Unfortunately, the bloom came off that rose quickly. That was the best year the Lions would have under Rogers who was politely asked to leave in the middle of the 1988 season. His overall NFL coaching record – all with the Lions obviously – was 18-40.

    [Aside: Rogers wondered aloud at a press conference after one of the Lions' losses, ‘What does a coach have to do around here to get fired?’ An 18-40 record provided the answer to that rhetorical question.]

David Shula demonstrates that genetics alone are insufficient to assure head-coaching success in the NFL. David’s father, Don Shula won more games than any head coach in the history of the NFL; David also holds an NFL coaching record – albeit not one that any future coach would want to outdo. David Shula lost 50 NFL games faster than any other coach in NFL history; he did that in 71 games. David Shula became head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992 when he was only 32 years old. The Bengals’ team he took over was not a good one; the year before he took over, the Bengals went 3-13 under Sam Wyche. Nevertheless, the team under David Shula did not show much improvement; indeed they finished 3-13 in two seasons under Shula’s leadership. David Shula was fired after seven games of the 1996 season (The Bengals were 1-6 at that point.) and his total record in Cincy was 19-52.

I said yesterday that I did not like the idea of a “Mount Rushmore” for sporting stuff. Clearly, I am not alone in that line of thinking. Consider this comment from Bob Molinaro in a column last weekend in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Enough already: Let’s place a moratorium on the Mount Rushmores of this sport or that. Trying to name the best four players from the NBA, NFL or a MLB franchise is an insipid exercise. Why is four a magic number, anyway? At any rate, even the real Mount Rushmore got it wrong with Teddy Roosevelt. By the time the sculpture was completed in 1941, Franklin had become the more iconic Roosevelt.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

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  • Doug  On February 26, 2014 at 9:45 am

    I think you have disappointed Bobby Petrino by leaving him off this list. Atlanta fans don’t expect a lot, but Petrino set a very low bar for Mike Smith.

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On February 26, 2014 at 10:34 am


      Petrino was on my list before cutting it down to 10 “finalists”. He just was not there long enough to be on this list. Moreover, he went to Atlanta to build a team around Michael Vick – and then the dogfighting business broke. I suspect Petrino’s Falcons would have been significantly better with Vick under center instead of Joey Harrington et.al. Petrino may have even stayed in Atlanta a season or three if Vick had been “available”.

  • Chip Ramsey  On February 26, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Two words: Dave Wannstedt…

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On February 26, 2014 at 11:47 am


      Welcome aboard.

      Dave Wannstedt was the next-to-last name I crossed out to get the number down to 10. What put him off the list was his career coaching record of 82-86 (markedly better than most of the folks who did make the list) and three playoff appearances. I agree that he had sufficient talent to have done better in his time with the Dolphins.

  • Rich  On February 26, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    David Shula is young enough to tack on another fifty losses if any team was just willing to give him his shot.

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On February 26, 2014 at 9:10 pm


      Indeed he is young enough… However, I believe his focus in life for now is the Shula family business of running high end steakhouse restaurants.

      • Rich  On February 27, 2014 at 9:06 am

        If that is the case, I’m sure he can make the steakhouse franchise work. When he was on the sidelines the opposition would often look across the field and see red meat.

        • The Sports Curmudgeon  On February 27, 2014 at 9:19 am


          And that is exactly why he is “on the list” here…

          • Rich  On February 27, 2014 at 4:13 pm

            Well done!

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