NFL

30 NFL Coaching Decisions That Ruined Reputations Forever

Darren - January 13, 2021
NFL

30 NFL Coaching Decisions That Ruined Reputations Forever

Darren - January 13, 2021
Mandatory Credit: Bleacher Report

21. Bill Parcells

A New York Giants’ icon and NFL Hall of Famer, Parcells is one of the league’s all-time great head coaches. But even the very best are capable of making implausible decisions from time to time. His moment of poor judgment while in charge of the New York Jets in 1997. To be fair, the toxic nature of that franchise is enough to bring anybody down, so it’s difficult to blame him too much.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

The Jets were behind with seconds left on the clock against the Detroit Lions. They were at the Lions’ nine-yard line with the opportunity to kick a field goal and send the game to overtime. But instead, Parcells ordered a halfback pass. Of course, the Lions intercepted it and ended the Jets’ postseason dreams. One kick could have changed the entire course of history.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

20. Jim Zorn

Dan Snyder stripped Zorn of playcalling duties, which says a lot. In 2009, Zorn ordered one of the most bizarre trick play attempts ever. Trick plays are only great if a team can pull them off correctly. But when they don’t, coaches catch a lot of heat, especially in the social media era. This was a fake field goal attempt which still sounds wacky even though it was over a decade ago.

Some fans suggested that Zorn instigated the play as a way of getting his own back at Snyder, who was set to replace him with Mike Shanahan anyway. Seven Redskins ran over to the left side of the play and instantly everybody knew what was happening. There was even laughter in the press box because it was so obvious. Anyway, the Giants intercepted Hunter Smith’s fake attempt and sealed this moment’s place in history.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

19. Mike Shanahan

The story of Robert Griffin III is one of the most tragic quarterback tales of them all. The former Baylor star had a magnificent rookie season and even made the Pro Bowl. But he never played in it because of a devastating injury that effectively compromised his entire career. Furthermore, Shanahan had significant responsibility for Griffin’s injury.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Griffin tweaked his knee in week 14 in 2013 but came back for the postseason. When he felt it again, the Offensive Rookie of the Year should have left the field. But Shanahan didn’t protect his rookie QB and kept him in. Then Griffin tore his ACL and LCL and totally wrecked his future as a starter. His form never recovered and he ended up bouncing around the league as a backup.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

18. John Fox

The Chicago Bears endured two miserable seasons with Fox in charge of their fortune. In short, he challenged his own team into a turnover. Bears’ fans immediately called for his head after the boneheaded move which had to be seen to be believed. It looked like Benny Cunningham scored a touchdown but the referees rightfully ruled him out on the one-yard line.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

However, Fox, in his wisdom, decided to challenge it. He had nothing to go on because Cunningham actually lost the ball forward into the endzone. As a result, the officials ruled it a touchback and gave the Packers possession of the football. He shouldn’t have called the challenge and instead told his team to get onto the line quickly to run a play. What a disgraceful call by the coach this was.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

17. Chuck Pagano

Pagano is unfortunate enough to feature twice on this list but he deserves it for a couple of inept plays that nobody will ever forget. We made it clear that trick plays must work or they’re doomed to look incredibly stupid. The Colts led the Patriots by just a single point when Pagano made one of his daftest decisions. He ordered his team to go for a shocking fake punt attempt.

There are two reasons why this play failed. First, it was inherently dumb and the Patriots immediately shut it down. But then, to add salt into Pagano and the Colts’ wounds, several of their players were in illegal positions. Even if it had worked, the referees still would have ruled it out. It was a farcical enterprise and should never have been conceived in the first place.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

16. Rex Ryan

First of all, let’s acknowledge the fact that Mark Sanchez wasn’t the reincarnated Johnny Unitas. However, the New York Jets needed him as their starter in 2013 but he wasn’t available. Why? The short answer is because Ryan broke him. It happened during a preseason game when Ryan made one of the strangest decisions possible and paid the price for it.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Usually, the coaching staff are very aware of their players’ fitness levels and manage them carefully during the preseason. But for some reason, Ryan left Sanchez in late into the game. His carelessness affected the Jets’ entire season because Sanchez tore his rotator cuff. As a result, Jets’ fans enjoyed the displays of Geno Smith for a season. They truly have suffered, haven’t they?

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

15. Lovie Smith

Smith’s obsession with Rex Grossman during his tenure as head coach of the Chicago Bears was borderline creepy. Grossman did nothing of note to validate his coach’s faith. In fact, he arguably cost Smith his best opportunity of winning a Super Bowl. The Bears played the Colts on that fateful night in Miami but squandered a chance to beat their opponents. Smith’s decision to keep Grossman in was a key factor.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

They made the final, but Grossman didn’t have a great individual season and only played two more games as the Bear’s starter after this. He literally threw the game away in the fourth quarter with one of the laziest passes ever seen in the event. Furthermore, his overall effectiveness to that point was minimal with just 44 yards through three quarters of play. But Smith was too stubborn to take him out.

Mandatory Credit: Bleacher Report

14. Joe Gibbs

When a bad call happens during the regular season, it’s not that bad. A team can pick themselves up and move on. But all of a coach’s decisions in Super Bowls must be perfect. Otherwise, it will probably result in defeat. Some teams have never even reached a Super Bowl in their history so it is not an opportunity to waste. Unfortunately, Gibbs killed the Washington Redskins’ chances of winning against the L.A. Raiders in 1983.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

The Redskins had an unbelievable offense all season but it didn’t click against the Raiders, who led 14-3 with just 12 seconds in the first quarter. Washington had the ball on their own 12-yard line. The safe option was to take a knee but instead, Gibbs called a risky screen pass. The Raiders intercepted it and scored a touchdown, putting the game beyond Washington.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

13. Adam Gase

Gase’s time in charge of the New York Jets was horrific from beginning to end. He made countless bad decisions and despite boasting about his scoring credentials, the Jets had the worst offensive record in the NFL in 2020. It’s not easy to pick a single bad moment because that’s like trying to find something dirty in a sewer. But one of the bleakest came in a blowout against the Miami Dolphins.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Miami led 24-0 at the end of the third quarter but the Jets had a fourth down inside their opponent’s territory. However, instead of ordering his team to keep the attack going, he sent out his kicking team for a 55-yarder. However, Sam Ficken never achieved a kick beyond 54 yards and didn’t make it this time. He smashed it wide left and Gase received a lot of abuse for pathetic decision.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

12. Forrest Gregg

The Cincinnati Bengals have done almost nothing exciting for most of their existence. But they did make Super Bowl XVI against the San Francisco 49ers. However, Gregg didn’t have the tactical chops to outwit the opposition and they failed to upset the Niners.  After falling 20-0 behind in the first quarter, the Bengals slowly grew into the game and got scores on the board. They were nine feet from San Francisco’s endzone when Gregg failed in his duties.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

He told his QB to offload to fullback Pete Johnson and repeated this multiple times. But each time, the Niners sniffed it out. Gregg’s lack of flexibility and know-how prevented the Bengals from reducing the deficit. It also potentially cost them a win on the biggest stage of them all. These decisions matter.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

11. Chuck Pagano

Marlon Mack scored a 21-yard touchdown for the Colts against the Rams in 2017. The Colts were down 10-0 in the first quarter when Scott Tolzein hit Mack with the pass and the running back scored. One of his feet stayed in bounds but officials ruled him out. That was fine because there was a video review available and they could overrule the decision. But then Pagano made one of the most boneheaded decisions of the season.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Instead of waiting for the replay, he pushed his team to the line of scrimmage where they duly messed everything up. In the end, they scored a field goal bringing the score to 10-3 instead of 10-7. Pagano’s attempt at brilliant tactical innovation resulted in his team’s capitulation. Finally, the Rams scored another 27 unanswered points while Tolzein had an appalling game.

Mandatory Credit: Bleacher Report

10. Bob Gibson

When a quarterback takes a knee it’s one of the most iconic images in football. Victory formations symbolize a job well done. However, in 1978, Bob Gibson demanded that his players continued to play because he hated this practice. New York Giants’ head coach John McVey entrusted his offensive coordinator to call plays. But this literally cost his team a win against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

The bullying Gibson terrified his players. He ordered Joe Pisarcik to offload to Larry Csonka and his quarterback didn’t question. But Pisarcik fumbled the ball with devastating consequences. Philly star Herm Edwards picked up the ball and ran for the winning touchdown. Gibson’s moment of hubris resulted in his making one of the dumbest decisions ever seen on a football field.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

9. Bill Belichick

Belichick arguably cost his team a Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts because he was too cautious. But that isn’t why he is on this list. After all, the Patriots’ coach is a record-breaking, six-time Super Bowl winner. It’s difficult to criticize him on the field when it comes to results. However, he stained his reputation with the ‘Spygate’ scandal. Furthermore, he threw Tom Brady under the bus with ‘Deflategate’.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Belichick arranged for one of his video assistants to tape the New York Jets’ defense signals before their game. When the Jets discovered this, it resulted in a major outcry. Meanwhile, in ‘DeflateGate,’ Belichick failed to defend or protect his legendary star quarterback from the media. Instead, he actively told the media that they should talk to Brady instead of bothering him. This was the strangest of decisions considering Brady’s importance to the team.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

8. Marty Mornhinweg

Mornhinweg lasted two seasons in charge of the hapless Detroit Lions. They went 2-14 in their first year under his leadership and 3-13 in the second. This should provide an indication of how terrible he was in the hot seat. Furthermore, he was directly responsible for some of their losses. One clear and notorious example occurred at the end of a game against the Chicago Bears.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Mornhinweg won the overtime coin toss and chose the direction to defend instead of the ball. Of course, everybody knows that taking the ball is almost always the right course of action. However, Mornhinweg pointed to the wind direction, placing more value on that than possession. It was almost poetic that the Bears won the game by way of a 40-yard field goal.

Mandatory Credit: Bleacher Report

7. Dan Reeves

Eugene Robinson had the night of his life before the Super Bowl in 1999. After winning the Bart Starr Award for outstanding character, he celebrated by trying to find a prostitute. But he ended up soliciting an undercover police officer instead of an actual lady of the night. As a result, he enjoyed the hospitality of Miami P.D. for the night. There were probably better ways to prepare for the biggest game of his life.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, Coach Reeves knew all about this situation but started Robinson anyway. It was perplexing because he was clearly not in the condition – physically or mentally – to make a positive impact on the game. Indeed, that proved to be the case. The Broncos destroyed the Falcons in a 34-19 blowout. It was embarrassing for everybody involved. In the end, Reeves handed back his Bart Starr award.

Mandatory Credit: Bleacher Report

6. Jason Garrett

One of the most idiotic and clumsy decisions on this list, this one was frankly ridiculous. The Dallas Cowboys played the Arizona Cardinals with just seven seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys had the opportunity to win the game from a field goal. Dan Bailey promptly kicked the ball between the posts. But the problem was that it didn’t count because Garrett took that exact moment to call a timeout.

What he was thinking, nobody knows. As well as canceling out Bailey’s score, Garrett also rattled his kicker. Bailey missed his second attempt at the field goal which sent the game into overtime. This proved costly because, of course, the Cardinals ended up winning. One lapse in concentration and poor judgment cost his team the win. Nobody forgets these kinds of cringe-inducing moments.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

5. Dennis Green

The 1999 NFC Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons was a dramatic affair. With just 30 seconds left on the clock, the teams were level at 27-27. The Vikings were third-and-three on their own 30-yard line with two timeouts still available while the Falcons had none. But then Coach Green made the wrong call. He told his quarterback to take a knee and send the game to overtime.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Looking back, this was one of the most painful decisions in Vikings’ history. An exciting attacking unit with the likes of Randy Moss and Randall Cunningham, who knows how far they could have gone? They could have forced the ball closer and potentially found space for a winning field goal. However, the Falcons capitalized on Green’s error of judgment and scored first in overtime.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

4. Wade Phillips

Phillips made Doug Flutie the Bills’ starting quarterback for the 1999 season. The unassuming signal-caller played well throughout the year, leading the team to an 11-5 record. Nobody even considered the possibility that he wouldn’t start Buffalo’s first postseason game against the Tenessee Titans. But Phillips put Rob Johnson in for Flutie in one of the most notorious decisions of all-time.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Later, Phillips claimed that owner Ralph Wilson forced him to start Johnson. However, it didn’t work. Johnson went 10-for-22 for 131 yards and no touchdowns while the Titans sacked him six times. The Bills didn’t even score until the third quarter. Then, the Titans pulled off the ‘Music City Miracle,’ by scoring a 75-yard touchdown with seconds left on the clock. It was a terrible day at the office for Phillips and co.

Mandatory Credit: Sky Sports

3. Dan Quinn

The Atlanta Falcons’ 2017 Super Bowl meltdown is the stuff of infamy. However, that’s not why Quinn makes this list because it was more a team meltdown. Instead, it relates to a 2015  regular-season game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons trailed the Niners 17-13 and found themselves on the one-yard line on fourth down. Then Quinn made the fatal call to send out his kicking team.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

This was plain stupidity because even by scoring the Falcons still trailed. But they basically gave the ball to the Niners to hold for a remaining couple of minutes on the clock. If they went for a touchdown they may not have gotten it, but the reaction to this would have been very different. In the end, many news sources called it one of the worst coaching decisions in NFL history.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

2. Pete Carroll

Carroll probably wakes up in a cold sweat at night as a result of one of the worst decisions in Super Bowl history. The Seahawks played the New England Patriots in Super Bowl IX and were just a yard from victory. The coach had a choice to make. They could keep the ball grounded and unleash the juggernaut that was Marshawn Lynch or they could do something much riskier.

To the disbelief of millions of viewers, Carroll went with the latter option. Then came Malcolm Butler’s famous interception of Russell Wilson’s pass to Ricardo Lockette. The Patriots won the game 28-24 after Carroll’s infamous call. Later, he defended the attempted play by revealing statistics that showed Lynch’s relative ineffectiveness from similar positions throughout the regular season. But it was too late for that.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

1. Doug Peterson

Peterson unleashed moral carnage in 2020 when he made one of the most controversial coaching decisions on this list. In sum, he blatantly tried to tank to improve his team’s draft prospects. First, he started rookie QB prospect Jalen Hurts before replacing him with third-stringer Nate Sudfield. Washington sacked Sudfield twice and the hapless signal-caller committed two turnovers in the final game of the regular season.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants reacted furiously because they missed out on the postseason after the Eagles effectively threw the game. However, Peterson’s biggest risk was unsettling his roster with his dubious decision. If the Eagles won, they would have dropped from sixth to ninth pick. Technically, they didn’t do anything wrong, but the ramifications of this clear effort to lose will live on because the NFL could change rules for the future. Pederson was then fired after this decision was the last straw for him.

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