An elite sports star’s career at the highest level does not last very long. Most retire from competitive action by their mid-thirties. For many, the natural progression is to take the step into coaching. But many of the very best players have failed to achieve great success in coaching. The truth is that not all athletes make great coaches. Of course, some are excellent, but others are not effective at all.
It’s easy to assume that a superstar will be a success in every facet of their lives, but the truth is very different. Sometimes they expect too much from less talented players and flop as coaches. So today we’re going to look at 35 successful athletes from different sports. All of these moved into coaching but failed miserably. We’ll look at their records as well as the reasons behind their respective failures. Check out the list via Grunge.com below.
35. Forrest Gregg
A three-time Super Bowl champion and a five-time NFL champion, Gregg enjoyed incredible success in football. He spent 18 seasons in the league, mostly with the Green Bay Packers, and was a consistent presence. The nine-time Pro Bowler was one of the top players of his generation. But it’s fair to say that he didn’t have the same success as a head coach despite making the Super Bowl with the Bengals.
The Bengals stunned everybody that year, but in the end, fell short against Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, that was as good as it got for Gregg. He failed to win anything meaningful during his time as an NFL coach and only achieved three winning seasons in 11. It’s fair to say that this wasn’t the career that he expected but it’s the lot for many former superstars.
Alongside his older brother Gary, who also features on this lift, Neville was a Premier League mainstay for many years. After he departed from Manchester United, Neville spent many years with Everton where he became club captain. He also represented England on many occasions and enjoyed an excellent career. When he retired, he entered the world of coaching.
He worked with England U-21s before taking the England Women’s head coach job in 2018. This was despite the fact that Neville had no experience in the women’s game. He was an unmitigated disaster as he failed to motivate his players. Eventually, he walked away when David Beckham took him to Inter Miami as the expansion franchise’s new head coach in 2021.
A five-time All-Star selection, Wills enjoyed an illustrious playing career in MLB. A three-time World Series champion with the L.A. Dodgers, it’s safe to say that he is an icon in California. Meanwhile, he also played for the likes of the Pirates and the Expos. It seems like a matter of time before he makes the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. However, his coaching career definitely tarnished his legacy.
Wills’ win percentage really isn’t good at all. He took charge of the Seattle Mariners for less than two seasons and established one of the worst records in baseball history. The former great was a magnificent player but failed to make the cut as a serious head coach. His record stood at just 26-56 (.317) before the Mariners finally fired him. It’s a shame when sports heroes fail like this.
One of the greatest strikers in soccer history, Van Basten was a magician for the Dutch team in the 1980s. He was a serial winner with Ajax and A.C. Milan in an illustrious career. Furthermore, Van Basten scored some of the best goals ever, including a magnificent volley to seal European glory for the Dutch in 1988. However, injuries forced him to retire in his prime.
Later, Van Basten became a soccer manager. Unfortunately, he didn’t achieve the same glories as in his playing days. He failed to win the league with his old team Ajax before taking the Holland national team head coach job. Once again, he failed to achieve anything meaningful in the hot seat. Finally, he left coaching and moved to an executive position in the world governing body FIFA.
A two-time Super Bowl winner, Van Brocklin enjoyed a spectacular playing career in the NFL. The quarterback spent 12 seasons in the league with the likes of the L.A. Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles. He earned a reputation as one of the best signal-callers of his day and was a highly effective presence in the Rams’ offense. After he retired from playing, he moved straight into coaching.
Even though he coached for several seasons, he failed to reach the same heights. In five seasons with the Vikings, he only had a single winning season. Then in Atlanta, he achieved the same in seven. A losing record in eight of 13 seasons is not good at all. Fans expected so much more from a man of Van Brocklin’s prestige and reputation. But he couldn’t get the wins from the touchline.
Former Manchester United defender Neville was one of the best right-backs of his generation. The soccer star was incredibly loyal to his team and gained respect for his professionalism. Meanwhile, he focused on finishing his coaching badges before the end of his career. Neville gained a lot of knowledge about working with different types of players because he wanted to become a manager in his own right.
Finally, he received a unique opportunity when his friend Peter Lim effectively handed him the Valencia job. The Singaporean businessman thought it was a great idea to give Neville one of the biggest teams in Spain despite the Englishman’s lack of experience. In sum, he totally failed and left at the end of the season. It was a traumatic experience for Neville and he hasn’t coach again since.
A Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens, Savard was a superb and prolific goalscorer. He racked up 473 goals throughout his career and spent the majority of his time with the Chicago Blackhawks. Savard became a fan favorite in the Windy City and loved his time in Illinois. Then, he received the opportunity to return in 2006 as the franchise’s new head coach, but it didn’t work out.
It’s always a risk to return to a team in a coaching capacity because so many things can go wrong. A player risks their entire legacy when they take this step. Savard managed to salvage his but still failed to make a positive impact as the Blackhawks’ coach. Chicago fired him after just four games, to the disbelief of many fans. However, his replacement led them to the playoffs so it worked out.
Staunton was one of the best left-backs in England throughout a long professional career. The Irishman played for the likes of Liverpool and Aston Villa with great success. Meanwhile, he was his country’s record holder for most appearances with 102 caps. When Ireland was in need of a new manager he seemed like the perfect choice. Staunton knew the squad well and had also played at the highest level.
But it was an unmitigated disaster. Staunton lacked any charisma and led the country to its darkest night. In 2006, they lost a European qualifier against Cyprus, 5-2. This was one of the grimmest periods in Irish soccer history and Staunton became a laughing stock. The country failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and duly fired Staunton. In the end, he was relieved to walk away.
Some will say that it’s insane that Ditka is on this list because of his achievements with the Chicago Bears. He did win a Super Bowl as head coach, but the fact is that he inherited an excellent defense. It’s easy to look at a record without contextualizing it. After coaching the Bears, Ditka went to the New Orleans Saints and absolutely failed. This is where he truly showed that he wasn’t up to it as a coach.
Ditka made some appalling decisions throughout his New Orleans career. He infamously traded all of the Saints’ draft picks to the Redskins because he was desperate to sign Ricky Williams. This was one of the worst draft decisions ever made and his gambit failed. Williams never had a chance to live up to that kind of pressure but his coach didn’t help him out at all.
One of Chelsea’s most legendary players, Lampard returned to the Blues in 2019. Chelsea was in crisis after they fired manager Mauricio Sarri. Furthermore, UEFA hit them with a transfer ban. Lampard saw this as the perfect opportunity to make a name for himself as he effectively had a free season to play with. That was fine but then before his second season, they spent almost $300 million on new players.
However, Lampard lacked the tactical nous to get the best out of his new signings. He chopped and changed his starting line-up as his star signing Timo Werner failed to fire. Meanwhile, Chelsea was defensively frail and at risk of missing out on a Champion’s League place. In the end, Abramovich pulled the plug on the Lampard experiment and fired the club icon.
The Green Bay Packers have had some legendary quarterbacks. Starr is surely up there with the best of them. He led them to victory in the first two Super Bowls and was the MVP in both games. However, he definitely wasn’t one of the best coaches in the franchise’s history.
He only posted one winning season in nine as the team’s head coach. Overall that’s pretty terrible by anybody’s standards. When somebody has such a strong emotional connection to your franchise, it’s tough to cut them loose. In the end, the Packers had to put sentiment to one side.
Kotite had a solid if an unspectacular career in the NFL as a player. He enjoyed steady game time in two spells with the New York Giants and also played with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His coaching record really isn’t great at all because of crazy decisions and a prickly personality.
First of all, he flopped with the Philadelphia Eagles and gave strange excuses for unusual plays during games. Then he had a shot at redemption with the New York Jets. He led the team to the two worst seasons in their franchise. Kotite is definitely one of the worst NFL coaches ever and totally failed with both teams.
A New York Knicks hero, Reed won two NBA Championships in the Big Apple. Furthermore, he was a seven-time All-Star as well as an NBA MVP winner. What the Knicks would do to have somebody like Reed on their roster today. However, as good a player as he was, he wasn’t one of the best coaches.
Reed was head coach of the Knicks before moving to the New Jersey Nets. He didn’t have much success with either franchise. He made the playoffs once but otherwise posted a losing record during his time on the sidelines. From there, he moved to the front office and didn’t leave it.
With all of Unseld’s success as a player, it was natural to assume he would be one of the top coaches in the league. However, the NBA Hall of Famer never translated his talent to the sidelines. Somehow he survived as head coach of the Washington Bullets for six seasons with an overall record of 202–345.
Unseld did spend his entire playing career in the capital, even helping them to an NBA championship. Perhaps they felt sentimental about the former five-time All-Star and NBA Finals MVP. In the end, his mediocre record was just too much as he failed in his coaching efforts. They do mediocre very well in Washington.
The likes of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar brought the magic to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. But every team needs role players like Rambis to be solid and dependable. In fact, these types of players often make the best coaches because their egos aren’t as big but they’ve still played at the highest level.
Unfortunately, that was not true in Rambis’s case who totally failed. A great assistant, Rambis was shockingly poor as the main man. In his first year as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, he went 15-67. The next year they improved to 17-65. Ten years later he led the Knicks to nine wins and 19 defeats. The job wasn’t for him.
One of the few players to cross the divide from Manchester United to Liverpool, Ince was a tough-tackling midfielder. While he was a very good player, he’s definitely not one of the best coaches in the world. In fact, his reputation as a soccer manager is very poor now as he failed to impress at any of his teams.
After success with MK Dons in the lower leagues, he became the Premier League’s first black manager with Blackburn Rovers. But they won just three games in six months and the club fired him. Then, he lost a record nine straight games in his next job in charge of Macclesfield. Nobody has hired him since.
Trammel’s record as head coach of the Detroit Tigers was nothing short of abysmal. Fans expected so much more from the six-time All-Star. With four Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards, Trammel was one of the best players of his generation.
He was also one of the worst coaches. In 2003, his old team brought him back. However, it really didn’t go well as his first season ended with an appalling 43-119 record. This was the worst MLB record since 1962. He posted two more losing seasons before the Tigers pulled the plug and started fresh. It’s safe to say that the experiment failed.
A true NBA icon, Baylor changed the course of the Minnesota Lakers franchise. By the end of his career, the 11-time All-Star solidified his reputation as one of the greatest players in the history of the league. That’s why there is a statue of him in Los Angeles.
However, we know the best players don’t always make the best coaches. He took on the New Orleans Jazz job for three seasons but they didn’t go well. In the end, he held a record of 86-134 as the team failed to make a single playoff appearance. When the franchise moved to Utah, they didn’t invite Baylor.
Souness is one of Liverpool’s greatest players of all-time. However, the former Reds’ captain’s reputation has never recovered from his time as manager of the club. In sum, the players resisted his attempts to change the culture at the club and this set the club on a dark path of 30 years without a league title.
Furthermore, he was responsible for the horrendous Ali Dia signing at Southampton. A hoax phone call convinced him that Dia was the cousin of World Player of the Year George Weah. Dia made one appearance as a substitute and performed gloriously badly. However, Souness did enjoy success in Scotland with the Glasgow Rangers.
In terms of sheer ability, Rose was probably one of the best coaches on this list. Of course, that doesn’t say much because most of them were absolutely terrible. But the baseball legend was a genuinely decent coach and led the Cinncinatti Reds to a 412-373 record over six seasons.
However, failure comes in all shapes and forms. The manner in which Rose left Cinncinnati definitely comes under this category. An investigation exposed his gambling on MLB games and resulted in his permanent exclusion from the Hall of Fame. It also ended his involvement in professional baseball.
It all started off so well for Edwards, but better coaches then found him out. After an excellent nine-year career in the NFL, he decided to move to the sidelines. After a few years in college and NFL assistant, the New York Jets decided to hire him despite his total lack of head coach experience.
They did make the playoffs in his first couple of seasons but steadily got worse and worse. Finally, they went 4-12 in his last season before they fired him. He then moved to the Kansas City Chiefs and went 2-14 in an appalling year. To be fair, he is doing a reasonable job with Arizona State in the Pac-12 but he failed in the NFL.
Shell’s inclusion on this list may seem harsh because he has a winning record as a coach. But that doesn’t explain the full picture. You could make a strong argument that he underachieved with the Oakland Raiders with several poor performances. Unfortunately, fans don’t like to contextualize.
The Hall of Famer returned for a second spell in 2006. The Raiders had one of the best defenses in the league, at least on paper. But they were just a shell of themselves as Shell ran them into the ground. Their 2-14 record was the Raiders’ worst season since 1963. Nobody wanted him as head coach after that.
Adams is one of the greatest players in Arsenal’s history. He won four league titles and three FA Cups and built a reputation as one of the Premier League’s best ever defenders. Unfortunately, his success on the playing field didn’t translate to the sidelines.
The former England international has failed with every club he has tried to manage. These include Wycombe Wanderers, Portsmouth, and Granada. He lost all seven games in charge of the latter, making him one of the worst coaches in Spanish history. Furthermore, opposition teams ridiculed him for his fashion sense.
The Boston Celtics love McHale and with good reason because he spent his entire career with them. First of all, the Hall-of-Famer won three NBA Championships with the franchise. Furthermore, he was a seven-time All-Star during his 13 years in green.
After flickering between GM and interim head coach roles in Minnesota, McHale joined the Houston Rockets. He took them on one good playoff run but otherwise disappointed in the role. Finally, after a 4-7 start to the 2015-16 season, the Rockets fired him. He hasn’t coached since after he failed to impress.
Many regard Maradona as the greatest soccer player of all-time. The Argentina World Cup winner is a true living legend but he’s never been one of the best coaches. In short, his maverick personality has never made him the best candidate to guide a team to success.
Not that he hasn’t had opportunities. Maradona managed the Argentinian national team in the 2010 World Cup. However, Germany annihilated his team 4-0 in a humiliating defeat. Furthermore, he failed to do anything good for Al Wasl in the UAE. His personality was too big for his teams and he failed to deliver the same success as his playing days.
If you play for one team for 16 years, then you’re probably going to be a legend. When you win five Stanley Cups with your team then you’re an icon. The Montreal Canadiens love Gainey. A four-time All-Star and Selke Trophy winner, Gainey brought a huge amount of success to the Quebec franchise.
However, his coaching career was not as successful. He led the Minnesota North Stars to the Stanley Cups finals in his first season in charge of them but never came close to replicating that again. From then on it was mediocre season after mediocre season until he went to the now-Dallas Stars front office.
Former Manchester United captain Keane won everything there was to win in club soccer. The Irish midfielder was one of the most passionate and inspiring figures on the field. His intensity was legendary, even if he sometimes went too far and allowed his dark side to emerge.
However, his approach to the sport has not translated well to management. Keane’s biggest success so far as a coach was Sunderland’s promotion to the Premier League. Since then it’s been disaster after disaster. His intensity brings him into conflict with his players because he demands too much from them.
Singletary had a stellar NFL career with the Chicago Bears. With 10 Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl win, the Windy City faithful loved the linebacker. But it all went wrong for him when he decided to become a coach. After working as an assistant with the 49ers, he found himself in the interim head coaching job.
Singletary revived their spirits and the front office saw enough to offer him the full-time job. Yet this was a major mistake. The team went 0-5 before the 49ers fired him. Since then, Singletary’s coaching career has collapsed. His last job was with a Texas high school. In the end, he failed at every level.
Trottier had one of the most glorious playing careers of any athlete on this list. First, he led the New York Islanders to huge success with four Stanley Cups and 500 goals in 15 years. Then helped take the Pittsburgh Penguins to their first two Stanley Cup victories.
Everybody hoped that the Hall of Famer would be one of the best coaches in the sport, but it wasn’t to be. He took on the head coach job at the New York Rangers, his former team’s rival. But Islanders’ fans could be happy because he totally shut down the Rangers’ offense and nullified their offense. That was the end of his head coaching career.
Arguably the most talented English soccer star of his generation, Gascoigne led Tottenham Hotspurs to the FA Cup. The playmaker was prodigiously talented, before injuries and mental illness irreparably damaged his career. However, he did take the opportunity to become a manager.
But not all of the best players can be coaches. Even so, Gascoigne’s reign in charge of the non-league side Kettering Town was spectacular. The board sacked him after he continuously showed up drunk. Even by the poor standards of the coaches on this list, that’s truly unique.
McGregor may seem like a strange choice but he is definitely one of the worst coaches on this list. He led Team Europe against Urijah Faber’s Team USA on The Ultimate Fighter reality show in 2015. While he provided some moments of entertainment, his overall coaching contribution was minimal.
The Irishman only really cared when SBG teammate and training partner Artem Lobov was fighting. Furthermore, McGregor pulled some strings to bring Lobov back after the Russian lost his first fight. In sum, his bias and desire to self-promote made ‘The Notorious’ a terrible coach.
A Detroit Pistons legend, Thomas was a destructive force in the NBA as a player. A 12-time All-Star, he was also a two-time NBA Champion, just before Michael Jordan broke out and drove the Bulls towards immortality. Thomas was also a destructive force as a coach, but not for the right reasons.
As head coach of the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks, he performed abysmally with both teams posting losing records. In short, he was a phenomenal player but one of the worst NBA coaches ever. Thomas also failed as Knicks’ General Manager and bankrupted the Continental Basketball Association.
A Boston Red Sox icon, Williams was truly magnificent throughout his playing career. An MLB Hall of Famer, he was also the last player to bat over .400 in a single season. That’s an astonishing statistic. Baseball fans expected him to carry his brilliance to the Washington Senators.
However, he didn’t. His coaching career in charge of the Senators/Texas Rangers was an unmitigated disaster. After a winning season, they gradually got worse and worse. The Rangers decided enough was enough after a terrible first year in Arlington and sent Williams on his way.
Johnson is a truly legendary NBA figure. The former Laker deserves all of the respect in the world for his achievements as a player on the court, as well as his efforts to educate people about AIDS. But it’s simply true that he’s one of the worst coaches in NBA history.
To be fair, the Lakers were really bad when Johnson took over. But he didn’t produce any magic for them at all. He led them to a record of five wins and 11 defeats in his short spell as head coach in 1994. Wisely, the team agreed not to prolong this misery and Johnson walked away at the end of the season.
Gretzky is one of those rare players who transcended the confines of his sport. He is one of the greatest NHL players ever. ‘The Great One’ won four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and holds the records for most goals and assists in NHL history. He very likely is the greatest of all-time.
But as we’ve said all along, even the greatest players don’t always make the best coaches. Gretzky took charge of the Phoenix Coyotes for four seasons, or at least, he attempted to. In the end, his winning percentage was a pedestrian .473. That winning percentage was far from good enough from the expectations set forth for this all-time legend.