The NFL is notoriously a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. Coaches and players are churned out at the drop of a hat when their performance suffers. The success of seasons past carries little to no weight in the constantly evolving league. When the game moves so fast, coaches who can’t cut it are thrown by the wayside. Many came into their roles amidst much hype only to find they were in over their heads. Others were simply great as assistants, but couldn’t gain momentum when finally promoted to a primary role.
For every successful head coach in the NFL, there are several that got lost in the never-ending streak of those who got their shot and failed. In this list, we’ll break down those who failed the most miserably. All were successful at one juncture of their coaching careers, but head coach in the NFL just wasn’t their role. Read on to find out the worst head coaches in NFL history with data courtesy of New Arena.
30. Romeo Crennel:
Crennel has a long resume of success as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. The fact he’s maintained that important position for the Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, and Houston Texans is a testament to that. His success as a high-ranking assistant is taken a step further because of the five Super Bowl championship teams he’s been a part of.
However, like many coaches on this list, he just couldn’t cut the mustard when he was finally granted the chance to be a head coach. Crennel got his opportunity with the Browns and Chiefs, and the results were not pretty. He won only 28 out of 83 total games he coached in the NFL. He also never made the playoffs. Crennel currently serves as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Texans. It’s the role he’s best suited for.
Like Crennel, Bowles was unable to find the success he had as a defensive coordinator when he became a head coach. He fulfilled that role with Grambling State University in the college ranks before becoming a DC with the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL.
The first two jobs in that role earned him a shot at the head-coaching role of the downtrodden New York Jets. Bowles actually found success in his first season with the Jets in 2015, winning 10 games. The hype was then on, however, and he was unable to live up to it in any fashion. Bowles’ teams won five games or less the following three seasons and he was let go. It’s somewhat surprising, even, that he got that long. He’s found a new home as the defensive coordinator with the Buccaneers.
After parlaying a stint as quarterbacks coach for the Oilers and Lions into an offensive coordinator position with Atlanta from 1991-1993, the Falcons made Jones their head coach. He spent three years there from 1994-1996. Jones was ousted after a horrific 3-13 season in his final year.
It wasn’t like the Falcons were devoid of talent during his tenure, however. The team actually made the Super Bowl with their infamous ‘Dirty Bird’ squad just two years later when Dan Reeves took the reigns. In 1998, Jones was hired as the interim head coach for the San Diego Chargers when they fired Kevin Gilbride midseason. He lost seven of the 10 games he coached. That left him with a paltry 22-36 record as an NFL head coach. Jones eventually found fame as the offensive mind behind the explosive attack at the University of Hawaii. But in the NFL, he just couldn’t hack it.
Brooks was a solid coach in the collegiate ranks. You’ll sense that’s a trend amongst the coaches on this list. Many take their shot at the pro level and fail to find success. After time spent as the Los Angeles Rams’ special teams coach back in the 1970s, the team hired Brooks yet again. When the team moved from L.A. to St. Louis in the mid-1990s, they signed Brooks to a four-year deal.
It didn’t pay off, as he went 13-19 in his two seasons with the team. The rest, they say, is history. Dick Vermeil was hired to replace Brooks. The team then found success, winning the Super Bowl only three years later thanks to their “Greatest Show On Turf.” Brooks was largely forgotten as a result. He coached the University of Kentucky from 2003-2009 before retiring.
Kelly will go down as one of the bigger failed hype trains in NFL history. After orchestrating a high-powered attack at the University of Oregon from 2009-2012, the Eagles decided to see if he could replicate it in the pros. Initial results seemed positive. Kelly’s first season with Philadelphia surprised NFL defenses with his ultra-fast style of play. He went 10-6 in his first season. Kelly also became only the second coach in NFL history to win a division title in his first season.
However, there was downside to his style. If his team was unable to sustain drives, it meant his defense would be tired by constantly having to go back on the field. Teams caught up the next year as well. Kelly was later fired during the 2015 season when the team was 6-9. But it got worse for Kelly. Hired by the San Francisco 49ers, Kelly led the team to a pathetic 2-14 mark in 2016. He was fired after one year, taking general manager Trent Baalke with him. Kelly now coaches the UCLA Bruins in the collegiate ranks, and the results have not been pretty there either.
It’s a wonder that Coslet lasted as long as he did with the Cincinnati Bengals. Things started out well for him. The Bengals won seven of the final nine games of the 1996 season after Coslet replaced Mike Shula. He was hired as the full-time head coach, but things soon soured. The team went 7-9 in 1997, not a great number, but not horrific.
While the Bengals had some pieces in place on offense such as Carl Pickens and Corey Dillon, their skills did not translate to wins in 1998. The team went a putrid 3-13. Things didn’t get much better in 1999 as turmoil abound. Finally, in 2000, Coslet resigned after the team was trounced in its first three games of the season. He finished with a 47-77 record in the NFL and lost the only playoff game he ever coached. He also never coached a team to a record above .500.
Capers was yet another successful defensive mind whose skills failed to translate to head coaching. He got his opportunity when he was named head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1996. In his second year, he found great success with a 12-4 record. His Panthers even lost to juggernaut Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship game.
But it was all downhill from there. Capers never coached Carolina to a .500 record other than that year. He produced a 4-12 mark in his final year in 1998. He moved on to become the defensive coordinator for the Jaguars. Capers then resurfaced as the head coach of another expansion team in 2002, the Houston Texans. The deck may have been stacked against him there, but the results were even worse than in Carolina. Capers led the team to an 18-46 record in four years and was fired after the 2005 season. He finished with a 48-80 mark as a head coach in the NFL. Capers then returned to coaching defenses with the Packers and Jaguars.
Morris joined the endless list of defensive coaches to get a shot at a head-coaching gig in the NFL when he replaced the infamous Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. Morris had actually been a part of Gruden’s Super Bowl team in 2002 as a defensive assistant. Gruden was later fired in early 2009 and Morris came in as a 32-year-old prospect with pressure on his shoulders. The early results were not pretty, as he lost his first seven games.
Morris led an improbable turnaround in the 2010 season, leading the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record and barely missing the playoffs. The future looked bright, but the shine was fleeting. He was fired after a 4-12 mark the following season. Morris ended his head-coaching career with a .354 winning percentage. He later resurfaced as a defensive backs coach with the Washington Redskins. Morris is currently the assistant head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, who aren’t exactly having the best season.
Schwartz was well-known for his ability to create dominant interior lines on the defensive side of the ball. He parlayed a successful run as defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans from 2001-2008 into a head-coaching gig with the perennially downtrodden Detroit Lions. It did not work out well.
He went 2-14 in his first season, but the team still kept him. Schwartz then went 6-10 the following year. There were signs of life in 2010 when the Lions made the playoffs. However, New Orleans ousted them in the first round. That would be Schwartz’s only playoff appearance in Detroit. They ended the 2012 season at 4-12. Schwartz saw his last opportunity come in 2013 when the team lost six of its last seven games. He ended his tenure with a .358 winning percentage. Schwartz has not been given another chance as a head coach in the NFL as of today.
There’s no doubt that Erickson was a good college coach. He won two national titles with the storied University of Miami in 1989 and 1991. His overall winning percentage in the collegiate ranks is .650. But when he stepped it up to the pros, the results were nowhere near as good.
His first foray into the NFL was with the Seattle Seahawks. There, he posted a 31-33 record, which isn’t exactly terrible. However, many point to the fact that Seattle’s roster at the time was packed with talented players, making this mark a disappointment. Erickson later returned to the NFL when San Francisco hired him amid much controversy in 2003. His first year back was not the greatest at 7-9, but the wheels truly fell off the cart when he posted a 2-14 mark the following year. He ended his NFL career with a 40-56 mark and returned to the collegiate ranks.
Bugel has a long track record of success as an offensive line coach. He was a member of Joe Gibbs’ staff on their honored Super Bowl championship teams with the Washington Redskins. However, like many on this list, he failed when he was given the reigns of a head-coaching job. Tasked with reviving the then-Phoenix Cardinals from 1990-1993, Bugel unfortunately failed at his task. He had a decent amount of talent at his disposal when he took over there, but it never translated to success on the field. Bugel went 5-11, 5-11, and 4-12 in his first three years in the desert.
He improved quite a bit in his fourth and final year there, posting a 7-9 record. But ownership had seen enough and Bugel was fired. Bugel resurfaced as the assistant head coach for offense with the Oakland Raiders in 1995. He coached well enough that the team hired him as the head coach in 1997. Another 4-12 season followed and Bugel was ousted yet again. He later ended his career as offensive line coach for the Chargers and Redskins. Bugel ended his head-coaching tenure with a brutal .300 winning percentage.
Campo was another successful defensive coordinator who failed when it was time to rise up to the head-coaching ranks. He helped lead the talented Cowboys defense to three Super Bowls in the 1990s, earning him a shot at the top job in 2000. But he was unable to come even close to recreating the success of that dynasty as head coach. Campo posted three consecutive 5-11 seasons, hardly meeting the expectations of “America’s Team.”
Campo was fired after the 2002 season, leaving the Cowboys as the only head coach with a losing record. He later resurfaced with Cleveland and Jacksonville and was even hired back by the cowboys as defensive backs coach. Campo recently returned to college football as a consultant for the USC Trojans. A solid coach, but not one who succeeded in a head role in the NFL.
Zorn himself was a solid NFL quarterback with Seattle in 1970s. After a successful seven-year run as the quarterbacks coach in Seattle, Zorn was hired as the Washington Redskins head coach in early 2008. He promptly led the team to a 6-2 start in its first eight games, but he peaked there. The team went 2-6 in their final eight games of that year.
Yet it became much worse the following year. After a 2-4 start to the 2009 season, Zorn had his play-calling duties taken from him. There were reports he engaged in arguments with players as well. The Redskins finished 4-12 that season and Zorn was fired. Mike Shanahan replaced him the following season.
This is an old-school name you may not remember much, or at all. But Phelan was a solid collegiate football player and coach. He racked up a 137-87-14 overall record with Missouri, Purdue, Washington, and St. Mary’s.
That stint earned him a chance to coach in the NFL, where he coached the Los Angeles Dons, the New York Yanks, and the Dallas Texans. His numbers started off mediocre with a 7-7 record with the Dons. But Phelan’s records went off the rails with 4-8, 1-9-2, and 1-11 marks the next three years. He currently maintains one of the worst NFL head-coaching winning percentages as a result.
Cameron built a reputation for himself when many of his players made it to the NFL following his tutelage as an offensive assistant at the University of Michigan. He later became the quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins and the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.
In 2007, he interviewed for multiple head-coaching jobs. The Miami Dolphins offered him their job. The results that followed were disappointing, to say the least. Miami lost their first 13 games that year and finished last in the AFC East. Cameron was fired and never received another head coaching job in the NFL. His collegiate coaching record is bad, but it’s tough to top his 1-15 overall mark in the NFL. That undoubtedly earns him a spot among the least successful NFL coaches of all-time.
You could argue that the jury is technically still out on Shurmur as an NFL head coach. In a sense, it is, as he’s the head coach of the failing New York Giants. But most are wondering how long that will be the case, as Shurmur’s overall record is simply atrocious. He was hired as the Cleveland Browns head coach in 2011. There, he helped continue the miserable legacy of that franchise with a 9-23 record in two years. Shurmur became the Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator.
He later filled in for Chip Kelly as interim head coach when Kelly was fired in 2015. Shurmur moved on to the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, eventually getting promoted to offensive coordinator. He spearheaded their magical 2017 by coaching prior journeyman Case Keenum to his best-ever season. That earned him another shot at a head-coaching job with the Giants. But he led them to a 5-11 mark in 2018 and the team sits at 2-9 in 2019. Shurmur’s overall head-coaching record is 17-43, making him one of the worst head coaches in NFL history.
Campbell was a respected force as a player. He was also an effective defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. But when he became head coach for both of those teams, the results were far from as encouraging.
He coached Atlanta from 1974-1976 and Philly from 1983-1985. For some reason, Atlanta brought him back as head coach from 1987-1989 despite his sheer ineptitude for the job. Campbell ended his pro coaching career with a paltry mark of 34-80-1, which is the fifth-lowest in NFL history for a coach who coached at least five seasons in the NFL. He never coached a team in the playoffs.
McDaniels is unlike most of the other coaches on this list in that his record wasn’t quite as bad. Of course, it wasn’t all that good. He started with an 8-8 mark in his first season with the Denver Broncos. But stories of him alienating players during his 3-9 mark to start his second season with Denver sealed his fate.
McDaniels is largely defined by his six Super Bowl trophies as an offensive coach for the New England Patriots. He’s been extremely successful in that regard. However, his tumultuous tenure in Denver coupled with how he left the Indianapolis Colts high and dry before the 2018 season seal his fate as a head coach. In that sense, he’s one of the worst.
Old-school coach Peterson had a solid record in the college ranks with Florida State. He didn’t exactly dominate, but he found success. The run earned him a shot in the NFL as the coach of the Houston Oilers.
In a run that was short but not so sweet, Peterson had one of the worst records in NFL history. He went 1-18 in less than two years in Houston. A mark of 3-13 in 1972 and an 0-5 to start 1973 earned him his walking papers. He never coached in the NFL again. If you haven’t heard of his tenure as an NFL coach, now you know why.
“The Ol’ Ball Coach” was certainly a force in the collegiate ranks. He won one national title, six SEC championships, and one ACC championship. Spurrier also racked up a 228-89-2 record in the NCAA as well. Those are solid accomplishments.
However, his NFL tenure was lacking and subpar. Spurrier coached only two seasons with the Washington Redskins. His teams went 7-9 and 5-11 in 2002 and 2003. Rumors of discord with polarizing team owner Daniel Snyder surfaced. While those were far from the exception for a team well known for its all-out dysfunction, the fact remains that Spurrier just didn’t win. He returned to college football with South Carolina for 11 seasons from 2005-2015.
Bradley made a name for himself as the defensive coordinator during the Seattle Seahawks’ early “Legion of Boom” days. That earned him a job to coach the perennially underachieving Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013. Despite his pedigree under Seattle coach Pete Carroll, Bradley was unable to get any momentum rolling in Jacksonville.
It could be argued the team gave him far too long as well. Bradley went 4-12, 3-13, and 5-11 in his first three seasons as Jacksonville head coach. Those are records that many coaches would be fired for. But somehow, he got a fourth chance. Predictably, it ended poorly as well. Bradley was fired after a 2-12 record in 2016. He had an overall .226 winning percentage as an NFL head coach, one of the worst in league history. He currently serves as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Nolan came from a strong football background thanks to his father. He also served as the defensive coordinator for several teams including the Giants, Redskins, Jets, Ravens, Broncos, Falcons, and Dolphins. He’s rarely struggled to find work in that regard, yet his head-coaching tenure in the NFL was an unmitigated disaster.
Nolan was hired as head coach of the legendary San Francisco 49ers in 2005. His first order of business was to select quarterback Alex Smith with the first overall pick of that year’s draft. Smith turned into a fine enough quarterback in his own right. But it was the fact that Nolan passed on future all-time great Aaron Rodgers that essentially sealed his fate before it began. He went 4-12, 7-9, and 5-11 in his first three seasons in the Bay Area. In 2008, he was fired before the halfway point of the season after posting a 2-5 record. Nolan is currently the linebackers coach for the New Orleans Saints.
Like Nolan, Shula had the pedigree of his famous father behind him. It could be argued that was not a good thing. The younger Shula failed to even come close to attaining the level his legendary father Don did with the Miami Dolphins.
Hired to coach the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992, Shula’s tenure was a wreck from the outset. He went 5-11, 3-13, 3-13, and 7-9 in his first four seasons with the team. He was then fired in 1996 after starting out 1-6. Shula’s overall winning percentage in the NFL was a laughable .268. The experience was apparently so bad for him that he left the entire game for more than 20 years. Shula only recently resurfaced in the college ranks with Dartmouth in 2019.
Kiffin also came from a famous family. His father, Monte, was a respected defensive coordinator who led the great 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense to a Super Bowl victory. Lane Kiffin would find no such success in the NFL as a head coach, however.
Hired to resurrect the floundering Oakland Raiders in 2007, Kiffin failed to accomplish that goal. He went 4-12 in his first season in Oakland before getting fired after a 1-3 start to 2008. Kiffin was reportedly opposed to the team selecting LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the first pick of the draft in 2007. Russell became one of the biggest busts in NFL history. There were also rumors swirling that Kiffin had already begun searching for college jobs during his short-lived tenure in Oakland. He later moved on to coach Tennessee, leaving them high and dry as well to coach USC. He now coaches Florida Atlantic. Overall, his NFL tenure was simply a train wreck.
Mornhinweg parlayed a decent reputation as an offensive coach into a head-coaching job with the Detroit Lions from 2001-2002. Despite his successes as a quarterback coach with the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, he was unable to find success as a head coach.
There’s not much else to say other than his record speaks for itself. He went 2-14 in his first season with Detroit and 3-13 in his second. Those are numbers that would get almost any coach fired. He was most recently seen as a quarterbacks coach with the Ravens from 2015-2016 and their offensive coordinator from 2016-2018.
Kotite’s run as the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles earned him a chance as the Eagles’ head coach in 1991. He actually wasn’t horrific in Philly. The Eagles had a winning record with Kotite as their head coach, maintaining a 36-28 mark. Yet most believe with a team featuring stars such as Randall Cunningham and Reggie White, Kotite should have won in the playoffs. He did not. It is worth noting that he did lose the final seven games of his run there.
But then Kotite took over as head coach of the Jets. The results were not pretty. Kotite went 3-13 and 1-15 in 1995-96, sealing his fate as an NFL head coach. Those were largely the two seasons Jets fan refer to as the worst in franchise history. Due to their recent track record, that’s saying a lot.
Marinelli’s run as a defensive line coach in college and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL was successful enough to earn him a shot as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. Beginning his tenure in 2006, Marinelli did not have a good opening season with a pitiful 3-13 mark. That would be enough to get you fired in today’s NFL, but he was given a second chance.
A 7-9 mark in 2007 showed marked improvement, earning Marinelli an unlikely third season in 2008. This is where the wheels fell off. The Lions went winless at 0-16 after he reportedly broke out a horrific offensive gameplan in the offseason. It was enough to make quarterback Jon Kitna walk out of a gameplan meeting, predicting the team would go winless if they played according to that plan. Kitna was traded and the Lions went winless. Marinelli left the head-coaching ranks with a horrific 10-38 record. He has, however, resurfaced with Chicago and Dallas. He’s currently the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys and has found a level of success there.
There are coaches with more losses on this list for sure. But perhaps none have a stranger midseason exit from the NFL head-coaching ranks as Petrino. In 2007, the Atlanta Falcons brought former Louisville coach Petrino on a five-year contract to help star quarterback Michael Vick develop his skills even further. Petrino failed to last even one year.
He stepped down in the middle of his first year after going a putrid 3-10 to start the season. Petrino then returned to the college ranks as the head coach for Arkansas. This short-lived stint was one of the most disgraceful examples of a coach quitting on his team in NFL history. It may be the worst, in fact.
Bell was an NFL commissioner largely responsible for boosting the NFL to the lofty position of the U.S.’s most lucrative sports league that it enjoys today. In that sense, he’s a legend. However, he was also once a head coach. The results in that area were nowhere near as good.
Bell led the Philadelphia Eagles for five years, and that’s a term that was used lightly. He could only muster a 10-44 overall record, numbers hardly good enough for the harsh critics of Philadelphia. He resurfaced with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1941, losing the first two games of the year before being forced to resign. Interestingly, he stayed with the team in some capacity until 1945. But after his coaching days were done in 1941, he held multiple records for futility, including the worst winning percentage ever heading into the 2019 season.
Jackson found measured success as the offensive coordinator of the Redskins, Falcons, Raiders, and Bengals. Many on this list have put forth a similar body of work only to be hired and fail as a head coach. Jackson took over as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2011. His first season actually wasn’t all that bad on paper, as he went 8-8. But the Raiders started out hot at 7-4 and missed the playoffs after dropping four of their final five. That was enough to get Jackson a one-way ticket out of Oakland in only one year.
He rebounded well with Cincinnati from 2012-2015 and was hired by their division rival Cleveland Browns before the 2016 season. What followed was arguably the least successful run with any team in NFL history. Jackson went 1-15 in his first season but somehow got a second chance. He followed it up by the only worse result, an 0-16 season in 2017. For reasons unbeknownst to anyone, Jackson was given the reigns for a third year in 2018. Perhaps the team thought that with their years of stockpiling draft picks and talent, he could finally break through. He did better the next year but was fired after starting the season 2-5-1. He reportedly clashed with outspoken No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield. Jackson ended his Browns run with a 3-36-1 mark and is currently out of pro football.
It’s been a long, brutal list of the least successful NFL coaches, yet it’s Jackson who takes the top spot for his sheer ineptitude at turning around one of the most beaten franchises in sports.