Bad Call: The Worst Head Coaches in NFL History
Behind every bad team is an equally bad coach. Here are the worst head coaches in NFL history based on winning percentage. The numbers are shockingly low and the teams impressively bad. And no, Hue Jackson is not No.1 on the list…
35. Mike Mularkey
Winning Percentage: .404
You know how disappointing it is to receive a lump of coal on Christmas? It’s getting the present — if you could even call it that — that no one wants. That’s kind of like what Mike Mularkey has been given as a coach. Mularkey has tried to lead numerous desperate franchises back into relevancy to no avail. Mularkey’s first head coaching gig was with the Buffalo Bills. That ended with a 14-18 record. After a long hiatus from head coaching, Mularkey’s next head coaching job was even tougher and rougher.
He was tasked with saving the sinking ship that was the Jacksonville Jaguars. After one 2-14 season, Mularkey was shown the door. But he wasn’t done yet. In 2015, Mularkey took over as the head coach for the Titans, a gig he held onto until the conclusion of the 2017 season. His record there was 20-21.
34. Ken Whisenhunt
Winning Percentage: .403
Ken Whisenhunt has done a lot of great things as a coach. Whisenhunt’s first crowning achievement was getting very creative with his play calling as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator during Super Bowl XL. Needing some much-needed separation over the stingy Seahawks, Whisenhunt dialed up a wide receiver pass that successfully went for a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s eventual Super Bowl triumph.
Whisenhunt also proved himself capable by improbably guiding the Cardinals to an appearance in Super Bowl XLIII where they lost to his former team — the Steelers — in a nail-biting game. But for all the good, Whisenhunt has also been the man in charge behind a lot of losing, most notably in Tennessee where he had a 3-20 record before getting fired.
33. Norm Van Brocklin
Winning Percentage: .398
Don’t confuse the quarterback Norm Van Brocklin with the coach. The quarterback was legendary, a Hall of Famer, two-time NFL Champion, and NFL MVP. The coach was a different, sadder story. Van Brocklin coached the Vikings for six seasons and the Falcons for seven seasons. In those 13 seasons, Van Brocklin’s teams never made the playoffs, with most teams hovering around or below a .500 record.
Arguably the most notable facet of Van Brocklin’s coaching experience was his public disdain for soccer-style field goal kickers, which is now the standard in football. Had Van Brocklin been more fond of those kickers, maybe he wouldn’t be on this list…
32. Leslie Frazier
Winning Percentage: .398
An accomplished defensive coach, Leslie Frazier could never find his groove as a head coach. Frazier was hired 10 games into the 2010 season after Minnesota had enough of Brad Childress. Frazier went 3-3 in the final six games of the year, prompting Minnesota to offer him a full-time position.
In three full seasons at the helm, Frazier guided the Vikings to the playoffs once but also led the charge to the bottom in 2011 when the Vikings finished with the league’s second-worst record. Following a futile 2013 season, the Vikings dismissed Frazier who has since returned to assistant coaching roles around the league.
31. Vince Tobin
Winning Percentage: .394
A football lifer, Vince Tobin has been around the game since he was but a boy. But all that time spent playing and coaching didn’t mean Tobin was on track to become a talented, successful head coach. A defensive-minded coach, Tobin got his big start in the NFL as a defensive coordinator with the Bears back in 1986- the year after Chicago won the Super Bowl.
In 1996, the Arizona Cardinals hired Tobin to be their next head coach. After two up and down seasons, Tobin guided the Cardinals to their first playoff win in 50 years with a Wild Card victory over the Cowboys. After that triumph, the Cardinals returned to futility, and seven games into the 2000 season Tobin was fired.
30. Gregg Williams
Winning Percentage: .393
Gregg Williams is best remembered for his role in the New Orleans Saints “Bounty Gate” scandal, not for his time as head coach of the Buffalo Bills. In New Orleans, Williams and other coaches instructed defensive players to deliberately attempt to injure and knock out opposing players in exchange for a hefty chunk of change.
This diabolical scheme was an attempt to make the Saints a tougher, more feared team, and to an extent, it worked. The Saints went onto win Super Bowl XLIV. For his actions, the NFL suspended Williams for one season. Since his return to the league, Williams has maintained his role as defensive coordinator.
29. Gus Dorais
Winning Percentage: .392
Well, losing has been in the Detroit Lions’ DNA for just about ever. Gus Dorais was Detroit’s head coach from 1943-1947, and things started off on a high note, as Detroit’s record drastically improved and Dorais appeared to have righted the ship. However, the smooth sailing was just false hope, and shortly after the success came the much more devastating failures.
Dorais and the Lions once again plummeted to the bottom of the rankings. Following a disappointing 1947 season, Lions owner Fred Mandel Jr. relieved Dorais of his position, despite Dorais signing a five-year contract extension prior to the ’47 season.
28. Todd Bowles
Winning Percentage: .388
The New York Jets are stuck in a vicious cycle of losing, firing their coach, hiring a new coach, integrating a new system that takes too long to develop, and firing the new coach again. It’s a negative feedback loop that has kept the Jets in the AFC East’s basement for years. Being in Tom Brady’s division doesn’t help either.
New York hired Bowles, a defensive-minded coach, in 2015 to replace Rex Ryan, a coach who guided the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship Games. Initially, Bowles looked like a great fit, but with each passing season, the Jets staggered more and more. Bowles was ousted after a 4-12 2018 campaign.
27. Bruce Coslet
Winning Percentage: .379
The Cincinnati “Bungals,” as they are endearingly referred to by fans who have been forced to endure near constant misery, are a tragic franchise. Bruce Coslet inherited the Bengals midway through the 1996 season after Dave Shula, who we’ll address later on, was fired.
Coslet, who was a fan-favorite in the 80s, wasn’t able to muster up any magic as a head coach, and the Bengals never finished above .500 under his reign. Prior to leading the Bengals, Coslet was the head coach for the New York Jets, where his results weren’t much different. In Coslet’s four seasons in New York, the Jets never finished better than 8-8.
26. June Jones
Winning Percentage: .379
What’s more regrettable? His absurd polo shirt or his record? June Jones is best known as the former head coach of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team, but before that gig, Jones was the Atlanta Falcons head coach for three full seasons and the Chargers head coach for just 10 games.
In Atlanta, Jones installed the Run and Shoot offense which initially showed great promise. Jones and quarterback Jeff George were in sync, and in Jones’ second year, the Falcons made it to the playoffs. However, that successful campaign was followed up by a 3-13 season and an ugly public feud with George. Both Jones and George were dismissed from the team.
25. Dom Capers
Winning Percentage: .375
We have to feel sorry for Dom Capers because he was given the reins to a nascent franchise with a roster comprised of castoffs and rookie draft picks. And that scenario happened twice. Capers was the first coach for both the Carolina Panthers, where he did exceptionally well, and for the Houston Texans, where success was nowhere to be found.
In Houston, Capers was in charge of David Carr and an offensive line with more holes in it than a slice of swiss cheese. In Houston, Capers never won more than seven games in a season and finished 2-14 in his last season.
24. Lindy Infante
Winning Percentage: .375
Lindy Infante got his head coaching start in Green Bay, and in his second season (1989) was named NFL Coach of the Year. That 1989 season would be one of only two seasons that Infante guided his team to an above .500 record. After a 4-12 1991 campaign, Infante was dismissed by the Packers.
Five years later, Infante was given a second chance at coaching when he accepted the job in Indianapolis. There he lasted for two years, and after a miserable 3-13 1997 season, Infante was fired, effectively forcing his retirement from the league. Lindy went 0-1 in the playoffs and sadly passed away in 2015.
23. Jack Patera
Winning Percentage: .372
Like Dom Capers, Jack Patera was given the near-impossible task of building a competitive team from scratch when Seattle hired him to be the franchise’s first head coach. Things were rough from the start as Seattle started its inaugural season 2-12 during a time when the NFL season was only 14 games.
After the miserable start, things improved slightly for the fledgling franchise with Patera leading the team to consecutive above-500 seasons. However, this was just a flash in the pan and the losing returned for good. Two games into the 1982 season, Patera was fired and retired from football.
22. Mike McCormack
Winning Percentage: .364
As an offensive lineman, McCormack was about as dominant as they come and was the man leading the way for legendary running back Jim Brown. McCormack, however, was not able to duplicate his success as a coach. In his six years coaching for three different teams, McCormack never finished a full season with an above-500 record.
When the Seahawks fired the aforementioned Patera, McCormack led the team to a 4-3 record during the strike-shortened 1982 season. After the 1982 season, McCormack took up an administrative role with the Seahawks and never coached again. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.
21. Jim Schwartz
Winning Percentage: .363
How many futile coaches have made their presence felt in the automotive capital of America? If you’re a Lions fan, too many. Jim Schwartz is a talented defensive coordinator who played an integral role in helping the Philadelphia Eagles win Super Bowl LII over the New England Patriots.
But as a head coach, Schwartz could never do much with a Lions team surprisingly replete with talent. Schwartz was Detroit’s head coach from 2009-2013, and under his oversight, the Lions had only one winning season and one playoff appearance, losing in the 2011 NFC Wild Card Game to the New Orleans Saints.
20. Ray Perkins
Winning Percentage: .359
Ray Perkins was the head coach for the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In New York, Perkins’ tenure was marked by moderate success and moderate failure, but Giants fans should forever be grateful for the time he spent there because he was the one who hired Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, and Romeo Crennel- the triumvirate that later led the Giants to multiple Super Bowl victories.
Following New York, Perkins coached at the University of Alabama before accepting the Tampa Bay job. In Tampa, Perkins compiled a 19-41 record in four seasons of misery. After Tampa, Perkins continued to coach in a variety of capacities for multiple teams.
19. Jim Dooley
Winning Percentage: .357
Jim Dooley was a far more superior player than coach, something that every coach on this list has in common with the former Chicago Bears leader. Dooley played his entire NFL career with the Chicago Bears. After retiring from playing, Dooley became an assistant with the Bears, coaching both the offenses and defenses.
In 1968, at the young age of 38, Dooley was promoted to head coach, and the Bears appeared to rally around their young leader, going 7-7 in his first year. That 7-7 season would be his best, with each subsequent season being marked by losing records and ugly play.
18. Walt Kiesling
Winning Percentage: .353
Back when football was but an afterthought and the NFL was just an incipient concept, Walt Kiesling was bowling people over from his offensive guard/tackle position. After a successful playing career, Kiesling took up coaching and was a fixture for the then-Pittsburgh Pirates who later became the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Kiesling ended up coaching for a total of nine seasons on two separate occasions. Neither stint as head coach was fruitful and Kiesling never made it to the postseason as a head coach. Kiesling passed away in 1962 and was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.
17. Dan Henning
Winning Percentage: .344
Dan Henning was around the NFL for an astonishing six decades, both as a player and coach. In 1966, Henning was a quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, then a part of the AFL. But he wasn’t much of a professional quarterback, so he embarked on a coaching journey that made stops at the collegiate level and the pros.
Henning was the head coach of the Falcons from 1983-86 and the Chargers from 1989-91. In his seven seasons as a head coach, Henning never had a .500 season. The closest he came was finishing 7-8-1. He’s also notable for being the Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator from 2008-2010 where he implemented and popularized the Wildcat offense.
16. Romeo Crennel 28-55
Winning Percentage: .337
Another coach from the Ray Perkins turned Bill Belichick coaching tree, Romeo Crennel was a defensive stalwart on the Patriots who helped the team form one of the NFL’s most formidable defenses during their first three Super Bowl victories. As a head coach, though, there was nothing formidable about Crennel’s teams.
His first head coaching gig was with the Cleveland Browns from 2005-2008. That was the first problem. He was coaching the Browns. After that, Crennel became the head coach in Kansas City for a season and a half. In 2012, his last season as a head coach, the Chiefs finished 2-14. Today, Crennel is the defensive coordinator in Houston.
15. John McKay
Winning Percentage: .335
In 1976, John McKay left USC to become the first head coach in Tampa Bay history, and that move, like others who have tried to take over a newborn team, did not pan out. McKay, in the Bucs’ inaugural ’76 season, led the team to an 0-14 record, the first in NFL history.
The next season, McKay and the Bucs started off by losing the first 12 games, bringing his record to an embarrassing 0-26. McKay, much to either his credit or the ineptitude of the Bucs’ front office, lasted as the coach until the conclusion of the 1984 season.
14. Mike Nolan
Winning Percentage: .327
The suit looks good, the record doesn’t. Mike Nolan spent more time in the mirror adjusting his snazzy outfit than studying the playbook and getting his team prepared for inevitable defeat. Nolan, the son of legendary coach Dick Nolan, coached the 49ers for four seasons, with his best season producing just seven wins.
Nolan was fired midway through the ’08 season and has stayed in the league as a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, most recently with the New Orleans Saints. Nolan’s return to a head coaching position seems highly unlikely given his track record, but then again, Hue Jackson has, shockingly, been given multiple opportunities.
13. Bill Austin
Winning Percentage: .321
For a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, with such a rich history and culture of winning, it’s amazing how many horrible coaches they’ve had since their inception. Bill Austin, pictured here during his one year with the Redskins, coached the Steelers for three seasons from 1966-68.
The team that wore black and yellow at home left every game covered in black and blue because of the severe beatdowns they took every Sunday. Austin stuck around the NFL until 1985, operating primarily as an offensive line coach. In 1954, Austin, as an offensive lineman for the Giants, was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl.
12. Bill McPeak
Winning Percentage: .313
Bill McPeak, born and raised in Pittsburgh, was three-time Pro Bowl defensive end for the Steelers. Then he became the head coach of the Washington Redskins from 1961-65, and those five seasons can be summarized in one word: bad. McPeak’s head coaching career got off to a brutal start after his team went 1-12-1.
Things improved slightly the next season before plummeting once again to a 3-11 record. Each of McPeak’s final two seasons resulted in 6-8 records. McPeak, following his dismissal, moved onto assistant coaching roles with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. He passed away in 1991.
11. Harland Svare
Winning Percentage: .310
A hard-hitting, bone-crushing linebacker who anchored the defenses of the Rams and Giants, Harland Svare brought his defensive mentality to coaching. Defense, as they say, wins championships, but coaching is drastically different than playing, and the skillset did not transfer.
Svare coached the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers for a total of seven years. None of those seven years were marked by success, as Svare never had a winning record and his teams never even came close to the playoffs. After a 1-6-1 start to the 1973 season, Svare resigned and never coached again. Svare is a graduate of Washington State University.
10. Darryl Rogers
Winning Percentage: .310
What do we have here? Another Lions coach? Yes, yes we do. The reason Detroit has been stuck in a perpetual cycle of misery is because they hire coaches who may not be fully qualified and keep them too long. They are so worried about reviving sunken costs that they lose sight of how quickly the proverbial ship is sinking.
Cut your losses and move on, please. Rogers, who coached Detroit from 1985-88, never amassed more than seven wins in a season. The Lions, much like they are today, were the laughing stock of the league as they dwelled in the basement of their division.
9. Marion Campbell
Winning Percentage: .300
What are you glaring at, Marion? Are you upset because the equipment director gave you a jacket that said “Staff” not “Coach”? What’s most amazing about Marion Campbell is how he was given so many second chances. Campbell’s first run as the Falcons’ head coach ended with just six wins, but that was enticing enough for Philadelphia to name him their head coach a few years later.
In Philly, Campbell’s three seasons were equally poor, but again, he was rewarded with another head coaching job…back in Atlanta. In his last three years coaching, Campbell never won more than five games in a season. He really was the Falcon that could not fly.
8. Joe Bugel
Winning Percentage: .300
Joe Bugel has been around football his entire life. He’s a student of the game and master tactician in virtually every facet but head coaching. Bugel coached the Phoenix Cardinals (now Arizona) from 1990-1993, going 20-44 and not winning more than seven games in a season.
Bugel, whose hot seat in Arizona eventually burned up, left the desert and took a brief hiatus from the game before becoming Oakland’s head coach in 1997. They call Oakland the black hole and Bugel’s time there certainly lived up to the moniker. In his lone season as head coach, Bugel and the Raiders went 4-12.
7. Dave McGinnis
Winning Percentage: .298
The Arizona Cardinals are represented here on back-to-back slides, and it’s no wonder the team has largely been one of the least successful franchises in the NFL since the Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1988. At the turn of the millennium, the Cardinals turned to Dave McGinnis, their former defensive coordinator.
Well, to put it lightly, McGinnis and the Cardinals got their wings clipped and the bird that was the franchise never took flight. In four years, McGinnis lost 40 games while only winning 17. The Cardinals set him free after the 2003 season and he hasn’t taken a head coaching job since.
6. Jimmy Phelan
Winning Percentage: .271
Back in the glory days of football, before late hits, pass interference on every play, and commercial breaks after every play, there were two teams that squared off against each other in a no-holds-barred battle. Leading the charge on the field was Jimmy Phelan, a star quarterback for Notre Dame who had his career cut short because of mandatory military service during WWI.
After the War, Phelan became a successful coach at the college level before trying his luck in the professional ranks with the Los Angeles Dons of the AAFC and the Dallas Texans of the NFL. The AAFC and NFL were not so forgiving on Phelan, and in his four years coaching, Phelan only managed a .500 record once.
5. David Shula
Winning Percentage: .268
The son of Don Shula, David Shula was meant to coach in the NFL from the day he was born. Football is the family business of the Shulas, and David was the heir to the throne. Except he wasn’t fit to be king. Shula attended the prestigious Dartmouth College before playing one year in the NFL.
After that season, Shula worked for the Dolphins, Cowboys, and Bengals as an assistant coach. Then, in 1992, Shula was promoted to head coach. Then everything went south and the losing compounded. Shula became the fastest coach in NFL history to lose 50 games. He also lost the two games he coached against his father.
4. Gus Bradley
Winning Percentage: .226
The Jacksonville Jaguars have largely been irrelevant since their inception in 1995. They’ve had a few moments of glory and many more moments of misery. The fanbase is horrible and rumors constantly swirl whether Jacksonville will become the NFL’s first team to play home games in Europe.
As of now, the Jags are pretty much a fixture in the NFL’s London game, so the move isn’t so far fetched. So when Gus Bradley took the head coaching job in 2013, he was destined to fail from the start. No explosive offensive players and a lackluster defense meant Bradley would rarely taste victory. In four seasons, Bradley and the Jags won a meager 14 games.
3. Steve Spagnuolo
Winning Percentage: .212
Steve Spagnuolo was a defensive mastermind who devised a masterful gameplan used to defeat the unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. That victory made Steve a hot commodity around the league, and the St. Louis Rams made him an offer he could not refuse.
Spagnuolo became the Rams head coach in 2009, and the vaunted defenses he orchestrated were nonexistent. In his three seasons in St. Louis, Spagnuolo compiled a pathetic 10-38 record. As the interim head coach for the Giants in 2017, Spagnuolo went 1-3 and, unsurprisingly, was fired at the end of the season.
2. Hue Jackson
Winning Percentage: .205
Folks, the Cleveland Browns have been bad for a very, very long time. An almost unimaginable amount of time. And part of that misery has to be attributed to Hue Jackson, the man who led the Browns for three and a half seasons before finally being told to take a hike. Jackson’s first head coaching opportunity came in 2011 with the Oakland Raiders where he was previously the team’s offensive coordinator.
Jackson finished that season 8-8 and was promptly fired. A few years later, Jackson was “leading” the Browns, and in 2016, his first season, Jackson and the Browns went 1-15. He followed up that season with the NFL’s second 0-16 season. Somehow, despite a 1-31 record, Cleveland decided to bring Jackson back. After starting the 2018 campaign 2-5-1, the Browns deservedly fired Jackson.
1. Bert Bell
Winning Percentage: .179
Drumroll please. Bert Bell, my fellow readers, is statistically the worst coach the NFL has ever seen. Bell had a major impact on the game of football and the growth of the NFL. He served as the league’s commissioner from 1946-59. Before taking on an administrative role with the league, Bell was the coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Neither venture was successful, as Bell had only one season where he won over two games. That set the standard for bad. Two games into the 1941 season, Bell was relieved of his position. Now if only we could glean some information as to why the Eagles and Steelers decided to keep him around for so long…