Lately, it seems as if everyone wants to talk about who should be on the “Mount Rushmore” of whatever slice of the sports world is of interest at the moment. I do not like “Mount Rushmore” arguments because in order to “leave someone off” the mountain, you have to disparage their accomplishments – and the fact that you are even considering them says they do not deserve disparagement. I will rarely make that kind of reference here.
However, here in Curmudgeon Central, I do often look at the world through the other end of the telescope. Instead of talking about “the best NFL coaches of all time”, I like to think of the worst NFL coaches of all time. And that is what I shall present today…
There are obvious caveats to what follows:
Obviously, these are going to be coaches within my lifetime. I saw my first NFL game in person in 1953. I have no idea which coaches were good and bad during the 1920s and 30s.
These are my opinions and evaluations. Anyone should feel free to add someone to the list – and to remove someone to make room for the addition.
I will not even try to rank them in descending order; I will present the candidates alphabetically.
I will present half of the list today and the other half tomorrow. Today’s list goes from “A” to “K”. See if you can guess any of the folks who might be on tomorrow’s list…
Before I begin, I have to give you an honorary addition to the list. Rick Venturi’s record might indicate he was a solid contender for this list – except that his two NFL gigs came as interim head coach for two truly bad teams. He served a partial season with the Colts in 1991 and then another partial season with the Saints in 1996. His total NFL record as a head coach was 2-17. Normally, I just ignore “interim coaches” because I have no reason to suspect they are going to succeed. I put him here because he had a 3-year tenure as the head coach at Northwestern University from 1978-1980 and his record there was 1-31-1. No matter how you slice it, that record stinks. So, with him “calling the shots on the sidelines” for collegiate and NFL teams, his cumulative record is 3-48-1. Rick Venturi, welcome to the list as an honorary addition.
Joe Bugel is the first entry for the Worst Ten List. After a highly successful tenure as the offensive line coach for the Redskins in the 80s – a line that had at least three Hall of Fame quality players on it – Bugel got the job as the head coach of the Phoenix Cardinals from 1990 to 1993. The Cardinals had no serious Hall of Fame quality players on the field; Bugel’s record there was 20-44. A couple of years later, Al Davis put him in charge of the Raiders in 1977. [Were it anyone other than Al Davis doing the hiring, one would have to ask why he ever got this second chance…] His record in Oakland was 4-12 ending his invitations to be a head coach at that level. His head coaching record is 24-56; the best season ever was 7-9.
Marion Campbell was an All-Pro quality defensive end and a defensive coordinator who put very successful defenses on the field. As a head coach, however … From 1974-1976, Campbell led the Atlanta Falcons to a 6-19 record. Eleven years – and three head coaches later – the Falcons had him reprise his role as head coach. From 1987-1989, Campbell’s Falcons went 11-32. In between those stints in Atlanta, the Philadelphia Eagles promoted Campbell from defensive coordinator to head coach from 1983-1985. Those teams went 16-25-1. Marion Campbell’s cumulative record at three head coaching stops was 33-76-1.
Ray Handley was an offensive assistant coach for the NY Giants from 1984 to 1991. That was the time when the Giants – under the tutelage of Bill Parcells – managed to win the Super Bowl twice. That ought to indicate that there were more than a few competent players on the roster. Handley immediately found a way to get himself cross-wise with one of them. Phil Simms had been injured late in the ‘91 season and Jeff Hostetler led the Giants to a Super Bowl win that year. Handley announced that there would be a QB competition in training camp and then picked Hostetler to be the starting QB for the 92 season. Handley lasted two years with the Giants amassing a record of 14-18. He and his players regularly took shots at one another in the NYC tabloids; not a lot of fans were sad to see him leave the Giants – and all of the NFL for that matter – after two stormy seasons
Richie Kotite had a short playing career in the NFL as a tight end in the 1960s and then spent time as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator in the league prior to the Philadelphia Eagles naming him head coach in 1991. His 4-year career there was 36-28, which looks as if it should disqualify him from this list. What does not show purely from the record is that the Eagles’ defense in the early 1990s was always one of the best in the NFL and Kotite – an offensive coordinator by training – could not parlay a great defense into a much better record. When the Eagles fired him in 1994, he was hired immediately by Leon Hess who then owned the Jets. Hess fired Pete Carroll and said that he hired Kotite because he (Hess) was an old man and if he wanted to see his Jets win the Super Bowl he needed them to do it quickly. Ergo, Richie Kotite. What followed for the Jets was an unmitigated disaster. The team went 3-13 in Kotite’s first year and then managed to do worse (1-15) in his second year. That ended the Jets/Kotite partnership. Richie Kotite finished with a record of 40-56 and did less with more talent that you might think possible.
Joe Kuharich was a modestly successful college coach at the University of San Francisco before taking a head-coaching job with the Chicago Cardinals in 1952. He lasted 1 year in the job posting a 4-8 record. In 1954, Kuharich became the head coach of the Washington Redskins where his teams went 22-26-1. This was the high-water mark of his career because in 1959, Kuharich went back to the collegiate level to take over as head coach at Notre Dame. He was at Notre Dame for 4 seasons and never posted a winning record; he is the only head coach in the history of Notre Dame to leave with a losing record. In 1964, new Eagles owner, Jerry Wolman signed Kuharich to a 15-year contract as coach and GM. Kuharich quickly found it necessary to trade away Eagles’ holdover players such as Sonny Jurgensen, Tommy McDonald, Maxie Baughn J D Smith and Irv Cross getting virtually nothing in return. Between 1964 and 1968, the Eagles went 28-41-1. His total NFL record was 54-75-2 – and he is the only head coach in the history of Notre Dame to leave with a losing record.
Tomorrow, the rest of the list…
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………