Decade Debate: 10 Worst NFL Head Coaching Hires

Perhaps more than any other sport, a bad head coaching hire in the NFL can ruin a franchise for the better part of a decade. When you consider the free agent and draft acquisitions that are made to fit a coach’s style and philosophy, it’s no wonder that it usually takes years for a team to rebound after a bad coaching hire. As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, here are the 10 worst head coaching hires of the past decade. To be clear, this ranking is based on the result of the hire, and not necessarily the hire itself. (Although the ranking could be a combination of the two.)

10. Eric Mangini, Cleveland Browns, 2009

One might argue that since Mangini hasn’t even gotten through his first year in Cleveland yet that he doesn’t deserve to be on this list. But others will argue that since he was absolutely despised in New York that the Browns should have never hired him in the first place. After all, was the one winning season he had with the Jets worth the Browns giving him a shot? Some of the moves that Mangini has made since arriving in Cleveland haven’t been bad at all: Trading Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, trading down multiple times to acquire more picks in the draft, acquiring safety Abram Elam, etc. But considering he hasn’t won many players over with his crass attitude, has made two quarterback changes and only has one win under his belt, things couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start in Cleveland. It’ll be interesting to see if the Browns fire him after only one season.

9 Romeo Crennel, Cleveland Browns, 2005

Due to his previous sucess as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, not many people criticized the Browns for hiring Crennel at the time. But as it turns out, maybe Bill Belichick had more to do with New England’s defensive success than Crennel did. The Browns posted a 24-40 record under Crennel, who was fired after four years in Cleveland. During that span, the Browns never finished higher than 16th in total defense, which was supposed to be Crennel’s specialty.

8. Denny Green, Arizona Cardinals, 2004

Given the success Green had in Minnesota, he seemed like a good bet to turn around a struggling Cardinals franchise in 2004. But he was fired after just three seasons in the desert while posting a 16-32 record. He also was at the helm of a brutal regular season in collapse in which the Cardinals lost a 20-point lead to the Bears in less than 20 minutes. But hey at least following the game, Denny gave us one of the best post-game rants of the decade:

“The Bears are what we thought they were. They’re what we thought they were. We played them in preaseason — who the hell takes a third game of the preseason like it’s bull****? Bull***! We played them in the third game — everybody played three quarters — the Bears are who we thought they were! That’s why we took the damn field. Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook!”

7. Rod Marinelli, Detroit Lions, 2006

Let’s see, he led a franchise to a 0-16 record for the first team in NFL history. Well, that ought to about sum things up. Marinelli wasn’t actually a bad coach – he just didn’t have the players or the ownership to succeed. But given that he coached a team to a winless record, it’s kind of hard not to include him on a list of worst coaching hires of the past decade. The other problem is that Marinelli didn’t have much coaching experience before Detroit hired him. He had served as the Buccaneers defensive line and assistant coach the season before he became the Lions head coach, but that was it, making Detroit’s choice to hire him all the more questionable.

6A. Art Shell, Oakland Raiders, 2006

Shell was a Hall of Fame player and was named AFC Coach of the Year in 1990 while compiling a 54-38 record for the Los Angeles Raiders in his first stint as the team’s head coach. But things fell apart in his second campaign with the Raiders after Al Davis hired him in February of 2006. Oakland’s defense was statistically one of the best units in the league, but its offense was absolutely atrocious. After compiling a 2-14 record and enduring a season-long feud with receiver Jerry Porter, Shell was fired as the Raiders head coach after just one year.

6B. Cam Cameron, Miami Dolphins, 2007

Cameron was another coach that went one-and-done for his team after leading the Dolphins to a 1-15 record in 2007 and then was fired in the 2008 offseason once Bill Parcells took over in Miami. Under Cameron, the Dolphins flirted with imperfection for 13 weeks before finally beating the Baltimore Ravens in overtime in Week 15.

5A. Steve Spurrier, Washington Redskins, 2002

Considering everyone wanted to see how his offense would translate into the NFL, the hiring of Spurrier wasn’t a bad decision by Daniel Snyder and the Redskins. But he turned out to be a horrible NFL coach for several reasons, none bigger than the fact that he didn’t know how to adjust to the pro game. He thought he could win with quarterbacks like Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews, yet he never gave them enough protection because he would constantly use three, four and five wide receiver sets. In Spurrier’s first game as a head coach, the Redskins racked up 31 points in a Week 1 win over the Cardinals. But his offense was completely shut down the following week as the Eagles routed Washington, 37-7. Defensive coordinators quickly figured out how to at least contain the Redskins’ offense and after leading Washington to a respectable 7-9 record in his first year, Spurrier’s squad stumbled to a 5-11 record in 2003. He resigned as the Skins’ head coach shortly after the season and returned to the college level where he, and so many other coaches belong.

7. 5B. Nick Saban, Miami Dolphins, 2006

Much like other head coaches on this list, the hiring of Saban wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he flat out lied to the Dolphins and to the media about his desire to return to the college ranks after only two seasons in Miami. He actually uttered the statement, “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” just one month before becoming the Alabama head coach. The interesting part is that the Dolphins actually had some success under Saban, who led them to a 9-7 record and a second place finish in the AFC East in his first year. But the team sputtered to a 6-10 finish in his second season before he left them high and dry to coach at ‘Bama.

4. Jim Zorn, Washington Redskins, 2008

After Joe Gibbs retired in January of 2008, owner Daniel Snyder hired Zorn to be the Redskins’ offensive coordinator. That move would have been fine given that Zorn had some experience as an offensive assistant with the Seahawks and Lions, and therefore the next logical step would be for him to become a coordinator. But a few weeks later, Snyder decided to make Zorn Washington’s new head coach, which was a stunning decision to say the least given that the former NFL QB had zero experience as a head coach. The hire looked good at first, as Zorn led the Redskins to a 6-2 record in his first year. But the team collapsed down the stretch to finish 8-8 and as of this writing they’re 3-9 in 2009. Considering the Redskins play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL and that Snyder doesn’t help him out with his careless approach to free agency, it’s hard to blame Zorn for not having much success. That said, this was a hire that never should have happened in the first place. He should still be cutting his teeth as a coordinator instead of preparing to lose his job at the end of the year.

3. Scott Linehan, St. Louis Rams, 2006

Linehan had a fair amount of success as an offensive coordinator with the Vikings and Dolphins before being hired as the Rams’ head coach in 2006. But he was a disaster in St. Louis, getting into frequent disputes on and off the field with star players Steven Jackson, Torry Holt and Marc Bulger. He only made it through 36 games as a head coach, posting an 11-25 record over that time.

2. Marty Mornhinweg, Detroit Lions, 2001-2002

Poor Marty Mornhinweg; the guy can run an offensive, but he was a disaster as a head coach. Before his two-year stint in Detroit, Mornhinweg was an offensive assistant with the Packers and was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator from 1997 to 2000. The man had experience in the NFL, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad decision at the start. But Mornhinweg went on to compile a brutal 5-27 record with the Lions and will always be known as the coach that won the coin flip in overtime and took the wind instead of the ball. In case you forget what happened, Detroit never got the opportunity to test the wind because the Bears (their opponents that day) went drove right down the field and kicked the game winning field goal. After flubbing his only head coaching opportunity, he went to the Eagles and has had a great deal of success as Philly’s offensive coordinator. Some guys just aren’t cut out to be head coaches and Marty is one of them.

1. Bobby Petrino, Atlanta Falcons, 2007

Given that Petrino was one of the hottest head coaches at the time, this wasn’t a bad hire at the start – it just turned into a horrifying decision not long after. Not only was Petrino completely outmatched for the pro game, but he also couldn’t even finish one season in Atlanta before bolting to go call the hogs in Arkansas. Considering his penchant for job-hopping, Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank should have known better. Blank wanted the flashy hire – the hotshot college coach with the offensive scheme that would give defensive coordinators nightmares for years. But the only nightmare was Petrino himself, who couldn’t communicate with his players because he didn’t understand that instilling fear in athletes doesn’t work on the professional level like it does in college. He wasn’t handed the best situation in the wake of the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal, but instead of being a man and toughing things out in his first year, he left in the shadow of the night, along with whatever respect and dignity he had left. Here’s hoping the weasel never gets another opportunity to coach in the NFL.

Honorable Mention: Lane Kiffin (Oakland Raiders, 2007); Raheem Morris (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2009); Tom Cable (Oakland Raiders, 2008); Dick Jauron (Buffalo Bills, 2006), Steve Mariucci (2003, Detroit Lions); Mike Nolan (San Francisco 49ers, 2005); Dom Capers (Houston Texas, 2005).

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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