Coaches are the bedrock of every team and franchise. Without them, players wouldn’t be able to function effectively on the field. Usually, they maintain a lower profile than their athletes because they’re older and more mature. However, many NFL coaches have been embroiled in sordid scandals.
So today we’ll look at 25 sordid coaching scandals that rocked football. The likes of Jon Gruden, Bill Belichick, and Urban Meyer feature for their misdeeds and dumb decisions. Some of their choices were harmless but stupid, yet others impacted people in horrible ways. Check out the list below via Bleacher Report.
25. Urban Meyer (2021)
Meyer is the only coach on this list to make four appearances. All of them were avoidable, but perhaps none more so than the Chris Doyle incident. After Jacksonville handed Meyer his first NFL head coaching job, he naturally hired his own assistants. However, he created unnecessary headlines when he put Doyle in charge of the organization’s strength and conditioning department (via ESPN).
Doyle was a controversial figure because of his behavior at the University of Iowa. The strength coach allegedly bullied players, made racist remarks, and created an environment of fear. Somehow, Meyer believed he was an acceptable hire in 2021. The media knew all about Doyle’s history. When combined with Meyer’s past reputation, it made for a sordid story. In the end, Doyle left after just a day on the job.
Saban is one of the most famous and successful college football coaches ever. His tenure with the Alabama Crimson Tide is one of the greatest in history. However, he dipped his toes into the NFL with the Miami Dolphins between 2005 and 2006. But it didn’t end well. The breakup was poor because Saban claimed he wasn’t going to go to Alabama. Then, he quit and signed up two weeks later.
Jay Glazer revealed another reason why Saban departed. Allegedly, he wasn’t popular in the locker room. Glazer claimed that Daunte Culpepper tried to fight him. “Nick Saban, the reason why he didn’t make it in the NFL, Daunte Culpepper tried to fight him one day and the security guy stepped in,” Glazer told FOX Sports. It’s probably a good thing that Saban went back to school because that wasn’t going to end well.
Super Bowl week in 2021 was a nightmare for Andy Reid and the Chiefs in more ways than one. First, they lost when Tampa Bay demolished them in the game itself. But then there was Reid’s arrest before the game. Police picked him up after Reid crashed his Dodge Ram into two sedans in Jackson County. The collision left a five-year-old girl in a coma with severe brain injuries.
Reid was allegedly driving at almost 84 mph in a 65 mph zone and was well over the alcohol limit. Two months later, his victim’s family attorney revealed the life-changing effects of the crash. “The hope is that her pediatric brain injury will heal better in a familiar setting,” he said (via USA Today). “As of right now, she still cannot walk or talk and depends on a feeding tube for basic nutrition.” This is one of the most sordid scandals ever.
Some of the best scandals aren’t necessarily true. But that doesn’t stop the media from running away with a story. That’s what Judge experienced when multiple sources that punches were thrown between him and Marc Colombo. The Giants were in the midst of a tough season and tensions were rife. Judge brought in Dave DeGuglielmo as a consultant and this infuriated Colombo.
Immediately, fans ran away with the idea that they went full Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder on the practice field. However, while they did have a passionate argument, there were no blows. Finally, Judge removed the problem by firing the offensive line coach. “We appreciate what Marc has done, but I felt like this move is in the best interest of the team,” Judge said in a team statement (via NY Daily News).
Richie Incognito’s treatment of offensive lineman Jonathan Martin is one of the most notorious and sordid tales in modern NFL history. However, it wasn’t Incognito’s idea. The player was only following orders and they came from Mosley. Dolphins coaches encouraged players to toughen up Martin and Incognito was only too happy to agree. In the end, it led to Mosley departing the franchise with a cloud over him.
“Chris was on an extended leave dealing with a personal matter, and he and the organization mutually agreed to part ways,” a Dolphins’ statement said at the time (via Florida Sun-Sentinal). But it was evident that it was related to the franchise workplace scandal because of Mosley’s position. The offensive line assistant failed to return to the NFL after agreeing to part ways with Miami. It’s probably just as well.
Technically, this incident occurred during Vrabel’s playing days, but it’s too ridiculous not to share. The Titans head coach was a linebacker for Kansas City when he went to a casino in Indiana. Police arrested the 35-year-old after he took drinks from a fridge without paying for them. Later, they released him on a bond of $600. It was embarrassing for the millionaire NFL player.
The three-time Super Bowl winner called it an unfortunate misunderstanding. Meanwhile, the Chiefs failed to take action against the veteran for his actions. “It was an unfortunate misunderstanding, and I take full responsibility for the miscommunication,” Vrabel said in a statement (via ESPN). “I feel comfortable that after talking with the appropriate parties, we will resolve this matter.”
The second of Meyer’s sordid scandals came during his tenure at Florida. The NFL coach was in charge of their college program and drastically improved results on the field. But this came at a cost because his players displayed astounding indiscipline away from football. Police arrested Gators on 41 occasions over six seasons (via The Ringer). One of these was Aaron Hernandez.
On one occasion Meyer suspended Chris Rainey for just four games after his arrest for aggravated stalking. He quickly developed a notorious reputation for condoning any kind of negative behavior as long as the results were good. This followed him everywhere he went but for good reason. Some players allegedly avoided Florida because of Meyer’s dark approach to football.
A USA Today report made waves because they found issues in coaching background checks. Fulton was one of the most eye-catching names because of his role with Tampa Bay and the sordid details. Dirk Koetter hired Fulton as an offensive assistant out of the junior coaching ranks. But the organization missed his troubled background. Fulton experienced an arrest for domestic violence.
Furthermore, several women alleged that the young assistant had harassed them. Another woman accused him of violence, three months before he joined the Bucs. The former California Citrus College coach’s tenure in Tampa was rocky and didn’t last for long. But it revealed the dubious vetting policies of NFL coaches. This also came up a couple of years later when the Jaguars hired Chris Doyle.
This was the original BountyGate scandal. Ryan was head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles when his team clashed with the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Later, fans referred to the game as the ‘Bounty Bowl’ because of the events that unfolded. An infuriated Luis Zendejas said that he ‘would’ve decked Ryan,’ if he could have stood on two legs. But thanks to Ryan’s financial motivation, he didn’t make it through the game.
The iconic head coach allegedly placed a $200 bounty on Zendejas’s head before the game. He also promised $500 to the player who took out Troy Aikman (via Philly Mag). Eagles Linebacker Jesse Small duly smashed the Cowboys kicker and put him out of the game. After, Cowboys Coach Jimmy Johnson made his outrage clear. He said that Ryan shouldn’t be allowed in the sport and insulted his weight.
The first Gruden brother to appear on this list, Jay’s story isn’t as sordid as Jon’s but it’s still not great. He served the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a part-time offensive assistant and won a Super Bowl ring in the process. Meanwhile, he was head coach of the Orlando Predators at the same time. However, he infuriated both parties when police arrested him on a DUI charge in Tampa (via Orlando Sentinel).
Bucs General Manager Bruce Allen revealed his disappointment. He said: “We talked a lot about individual responsibility. We talked of being part of a team, which he understood well. It’s not the behavior you expect of a coach, whether you’re part-time or full-time.” Coaches must set an example but Gruden fell short in this department. He lost his job in Tampa after the franchise fired his brother.
This might not be the most sordid scandal ever, but it’s one of the most ridiculous stories in NFL history. Del Rio didn’t have a great time as the Jaguars’ head coach. One of his quirkiest additions to the locker room was an ax and tree stump. He placed it in the center of the room because he wanted the players to use it as a motivational tool. It made some kind of sense in theory but it didn’t work out well (via NBC Sports).
Jacksonville punter Chris Hanson decided to try out his coach’s unorthodox method. He swung the ax but missed the stump. Instead, the ax was embedded in his leg and left blood all over the room. Furthermore, it ended his season. It’s one of the most bizarre injuries ever but it’s part of franchise folklore now. Afterward, the franchise director of football technologies, Mike Perkins, bought the ax and kept it in his office.
The son of former NFL head coach Lovie, Mikal rocked football in 2020 because of his connection to a prostitution ring. Smith had a short tenure as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their safeties coach. This came after his father effectively handed him a job. The Arizona Attorney’s Office indicted Smith and his partner Aprel Mae Rasmussen on charges of running the prostitution enterprise.
Allegedly, Smith forced and coerced women into working for him. ABC reported that he used surveillance and threats to keep them under control. He received multiple charges including sex trafficking and money laundering. It was shocking because of Lovie Smith’s stature in the game. His son also coached for Chicago and Dallas but now faces several years in jail.
Pablo Escobar made Miami the cocaine capital of the world. Unfortunately, Dolphins assistant Foerster got too close to the local culture. The offensive line coach made headlines after video footage emerged of him snorting white powder. He resigned from the franchise before they fired him and entered rehab. The incident led to a lot of jokes about the city, but it was serious for Foerster’s career.
Later, Foerster revealed that he had a serious problem. He told TMZ that he was using cocaine for ‘eight or nine consecutive days without pause.’ Foerster first encountered the drug in 2015 but it became an overwhelming and sordid presence in his life. He admitted that the video release helped him to confront his teams. In the end, he bounced back and became the Niners’ offensive line coach.
Before Meyer took over the Jacksonville Jaguars, he wreaked havoc at Ohio State. There’s no denying that he created winning programs during his college days, but scandals arose everywhere he went. In 2018, OSU receivers coach Zach Smith faced allegations of domestic abuse. His wife went as far as filing a civil protection suit against him. After the news broke, Meyer fired his coach (via Sports Illustrated).
But the worst part of this sordid story is that Meyer allegedly knew about Smith’s treatment of his family. However, he chose to ignore it as long as the coach did a reasonable job with his team. It was amoral to the extreme but indicative of Meyer’s personality and history. Finally, Ohio State suspended him for three games because he brought the program into disrepute.
Belichick makes plenty of negative headlines for football reasons, but one of his most sordid scandals came off the field. He married his former wife Debby in 1977 but continued to sow his oats elsewhere. The Patriots coach didn’t expect the world to discover his immoral behavior but then his name came up in a divorce case. Sharon Shenocca testified that Belichick gave her $150,000 to spend on lavish vacations.
Meanwhile, he also allegedly bought her a $2.2 million townhouse for her and her children to live in (via Sportscasting). Her husband wasn’t impressed with this and filed for divorce, casting mud on Belichick’s name. Finally, Belichick had to deal with his own divorce because his wife had enough of him. Since then, he appears to have settled down with former model Linda Holliday. Obviously, women find cut-off t-shirts irresistible.
Cable was the key player in one of the NFL’s most sordid scandals. In the end, it was too much for Al Davis as he fired the Raiders’ head coach. Three women accused Cable of violent abuse and it left him in an untenable position. Of course, it didn’t help that results on the field weren’t great. The head coach failed to post a winning season in the three years before Davis sacked him (via SF Gate).
After firing Cable, Davis obliterated him in a memorable press conference. He called him a liar and also hammered Cable with a $120,000 fine. However, Cable’s wife defended her husband and said that he was always gentle. But this wasn’t true either because he hit her after she cheated on him. Incredibly, Cable returned to the Raiders in 2018 as an offensive coordinator. No doubt Davis turned in his grave.
A veteran defensive coach, Cullen made waves for the wrong reasons in 2006 after a drunk-driving incident. But this wasn’t an ordinary arrest. He drove to Wendy’s for a late-night burger. But the problem was that he was stark naked. The restaurant employees called the police to the scene and they took him into custody. Then, a week later, law enforcement picked him up again after he failed an alcohol test (via Sportscasting).
Cullen received counseling after these incidents and turned his life around. It was crucial because this wasn’t the first time he had trouble with the law. Ole Miss suspended him in 2005 after a public drunkenness arrest at a Subway in Jackson. In 2021, he joined Urban Meyer’s dysfunctional project in Jacksonville. Hopefully, Meyer’s pernicious influence doesn’t have a sordid effect on Cullen.
Belichick is the most successful coach in NFL history but he’s far from an angel. The long-serving Patriots icon is one of the most notorious cheaters in the game because he will do anything to win. ‘Spygate’ was the most sordid of his scandals. According to ESPN, the Patriots videotaped opposition coaches on at least 40 different occasions between 2000 and 2007. The NFL hit him with a record $500,000 fine (via NBC Sports).
This came after the New York Jets discovered that the Patriots were stealing signs and refused to let it go away. However, the bellicose Belichick wears his reputation with pride. It wasn’t even the first time he allegedly cheated because the Eagles accused him of stealing their playbook a couple of seasons earlier. Nor was it the last, as the scandals continued to emerge.
Unfortunately, even good stories in the NFL can turn bad. Brownson broke out as one of the first high-profile female coaches in the league. After impressing at Dartmouth, the Bills took her on as an intern. Then, the Cleveland Browns made her the franchise’s Chief of Staff, an extraordinary position in a male-dominated sport. But the 31-year-old made headlines for the wrong reasons in 2021 (via Yahoo Sports).
Police arrested Brownson after she drove 55 mph in a 35 mph zone while she was two times over the blood alcohol content limit. It was disappointing from the first female positional coach in NFL history. The Browns suspended her indefinitely after the incident. However, Head Coach Kevin Stefanski said that her job wasn’t in danger. It was a humiliating sequence of events for the former D.C. Divas’ athlete.
Payton received a one-year suspension in 2012 as a result of the “BountyGate” scandal. But that’s not the reason why he’s on this list. He took his family from New Orleans to Fort Worth, Texas for the football year. The official reason was that he wanted to put his children in an elite private school. However, there was a more sordid influence behind Payton’s decision to leave “The Big Easy” for a few months.
The Saints coach cheated on his wife and college sweetheart, Beth Payton (via Bleacher Report). She allegedly demanded that they leave town and try to patch up their relationship with a change of scenery. But it didn’t work because they divorced a year later. In the end, Payton returned to Louisiana after his suspension ended. Then he became involved with Skylene Montgomery, a former Miss West Virginia.
Petrino infamously ditched the failing Atlanta Falcons for Arkansas during one of the toughest seasons in franchise history. After Michael Vick’s arrest, the team’s results spiraled out of control. However, nobody pointed a finger at Petrino because of the circumstances. Despite links to the Razorbacks, Petrino was adamant that he’d stay. Then, he left without saying goodbye to his players.
Infamously, he hired his secret mistress as the Development Coordinator of Football (via CBS Sports). It was a fancy title but it was mostly a sordid way for him to keep her close to her. But it ended badly after a motorcycle accident. The Razorbacks fired him because he violated their hiring policies and brought the school into disrepute. Maybe he should have stayed in Georgia.
One of the craziest stories on this list came in 2015 when Kromer was the Bills’ offensive line coach. The news broke that Kromer allegedly assaulted a group of minors on a beach in Walton County, Florida. NBC Sports reported that Kromer became angry after the three boys stole his beach deckchairs. Then, Kromer responded angrily. He allegedly punched one boy in the face and pushed the others to the ground.
Supposedly, Kramer threatened to kill their families. It’s not professional for an NFL coach to attack youths, even if they did take his chairs. The Bills suspended him for six games because it was a bad look for the franchise. However, the court dropped the charges in the end so he walked away scot-free. It was a strange and sordid story but an entertaining one.
‘BountyGate’ remains one of the most infamous sports scandals ever. It’s insane that Williams thought that he would get away with it, but luckily the NFL caught wind of his sordid practices. The former Saints’ defensive coordinator set up a system where players received bonuses for injuring opposition players. It was like something out of a supervillain’s playbook, but real life.
“It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it,” Williams told the media (via CBS Sports). “Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role.” We’re not sure if ‘mistake’ is the right word because he reportedly had similar systems at his previous franchises. In short, he wasn’t sorry for what he did, but rather because the world found out.
If Meyer’s Jaguars were playing well, this story wouldn’t have received so much heat. But his team was a disaster and underperforming. Then, video footage emerged of Meyer in a bar while a younger woman gyrated against him on the dance floor. It was inappropriate and humiliating because Meyer is a married man. Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan said that the coach had to work to regain his trust.
Meyer revealed his remorse. “I just apologized to the team and the staff for being a distraction,” he told assembled media (via Sportskeeda). It was stupid. I explained everything that happened and owned it, and, you know, just stupid, should not have had myself in that kind of position.” Meanwhile, the young woman in the incident accused him of ruining her life. Another day in Meyer’s sordid life.
Gruden’s sordid scandal stunned the NFL after his emails became public. He used homophobic, racist, and misogynistic language as he abused several players and NFL personalities. Also, he shared several pictures of women in bikini bottoms. In one email, he chastised the league for drafting gay players after the Rams selected Michael Sam. Meanwhile, the Raiders’ Carl Nassib became the first star to come out as an active player (via The Guardian).
He also referred to the appearance of black players in a derogatory manner. Furthermore, he called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a homophobic slur. Finally, after the story heated up, Gruden recognized that his race was over. He resigned because he betrayed his players and they knew it. This episode threatened to open another can of worms because he wasn’t the only coach to act this way.