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NFL's 20 Worst Head Coaches Since 1990

Greg Schiano

Greg Schiano

Here are the 20 worst head coaches that have roamed an NFL sideline since 1990

Starting with the 1990 NFL season, there have been about 150 head coaches to roam the sideline. While this span has included the tenure of current Hall of Famers like Don Shula, Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells as well as likely future ones such as Bill Belichick, there have been many who didn’t or haven’t fared near as well.

To that point, six head coaches were given the pink slip after the 2013 season. Fortunately for this group, only one’s lack of success made enough of an impression, albeit a bad one, to make Athlon Sports’ list of the worst NFL head coaching tenures since 1990. Sorry Greg Schiano, but as you found out for yourself, the Big East and the NFL are two entirely different animals.

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20. Scott Linehan, St. Louis Rams (11-25, 2006-08)

The Good: Started his head coaching career by going 8-8 in 2006. He served as offensive coordinator for Minnesota and Miami from 2002-05 and Detroit from 2009-13.

The Bad: Things went downhill for him and the Rams after that 8-8 campaign in 2006. Opened the ’07 season with eight straight losses.

The Ugly: Won just three of his final 20 games, fired after starting 2008 season 0-4. Lost eight in a row to end tenure in St. Louis, as his Rams were outscored by 178 points (22.3 ppg).

Footnote: Linehan was not retained by new Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell, but he was hired in January to serve as Dallas’ offensive coordinator.

19. Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-21, 2012-13)

The Good: Revived Rutgers’ football program after a lengthy stretch of mediocrity and national relevance. Parlayed that success into the Bucs’ head job and had his team in the playoff hunt in mid-November of his rookie season after winning five of six games.

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The Bad: The Bucs lost their next five in a row to end any playoff hopes, finishing 7-9 and in last place in the NFC South. Started 2013 season with eight straight losses, half of them by three points or fewer.

The Ugly: Rubbed many of his coaching peers, notably Tom Coughlin, the wrong way with some of his tactics, such as blitzing the quarterback on a kneel down late in the game. Alienated many of his players for his heavy-handed coaching style. Embroiled in a series of scandals last season, including a MRSA outbreak in the locker room as well as the benching and eventual release of quarterback Josh Freeman, neither of which he (nor the team for that matter) handled properly.

18. Joe Bugel, Phoenix Cardinals (20-44, 1990-93)

The Good: Ended his tenure with the Cardinals on a high note, going 7-9 in 1993.

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The Bad: Became offensive coordinator for Oakland Raiders in 1995 before getting another shot at head coach in 1997. Raiders went 4-12 that season, his last in the NFL.

The Ugly: Never finished higher than fourth in the division in any season as a head coach, his career winning percentage is just .300 (24-56).

17. Norv Turner, Oakland Raiders (9-23, 2004-05)

The Good: Has gone 114-122-1 (.483) overall in his 15 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, serving stints with Washington and San Diego in addition to Oakland. Was 56-40 in his six seasons leading the Chargers, which included three AFC West division titles. He has also been the offensive coordinator for six different teams, including on Jimmy Johnson’s staff in Dallas when the Cowboys won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and ’93.

The Bad: Teams seemed to constantly underachieve; his career playoff record is 4-4 with just one conference championship game appearance (AFC, 2007).

The Ugly: Won just nine games in two seasons in Oakland. The Raiders’ rushing offense and defense ranked near the bottom of the league both seasons.

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Footnote: After spending the 2013 season in Cleveland as the Browns’ offensive coordinator, Turner was hired in January by Minnesota first-year head coach Mike Zimmer to run the Vikings’ offense.

16. Dennis Erickson, San Francisco 49ers (9-23, 2003-04)

The Good: Overall NFL head coaching record is 40-56 (.417), as he went 31-33 in four seasons with Seattle (1995-98). He also has 179-96-1 career record as college head coach and won national championships at Miami in 1989 and ’91.

The Bad: Never fully embraced by 49ers fans, who along with the media questioned his hiring in February 2003 as the replacement for the fired Steve Mariucci. Salary cap problems throughout the roster hampered his ability to build a winner.

The Ugly: The 49ers went 2-14 in 2004 with both wins coming in overtime. The team ranked 30th in scoring offense (16.2 ppg) and last in scoring defense (28.2 ppg).

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15. David Shula, Cincinnati Bengals (19-52, 1992-96)

The Good: The son of Hall of Fame legend Don Shula went 7-9 in 1995.

The Bad: He followed that up with a 1-6 start in 1996, leading to his dismissal.

The Ugly: Has the second-lowest career winning percentage (.268) all-time among NFL head coaches (min. 50 career games).

David Shula

14. Josh McDaniels, Denver Broncos (11-17, 2009-10)

The Good: Got his first head coach job at just 33 years old, won his first six games with Denver. 

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The Bad: Didn’t exactly endear himself to fans when he traded then-starting quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago less than three months after being named Broncos’ head coach. Also traded up into the first round to select Florida quarterback Tim Tebow with the 25th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

The Ugly: Won just five of his final 22 games, fired after starting 2010 season 3-9.

Footnote: Following his firing by the Broncos, McDaniels served as the offensive coordinator in St. Louis for one season before eventually returning to New England, where he started his professional coaching career. Has been the Patriots’ offensive coordinator since 2012, the same role he held from 2006-08.

13. Dick MacPherson, New England Patriots (8-24, 1991-92)

The Good: Coached at UMass and Syracuse for a total of 17 seasons prior to the Patriots, posting a 111-73-5 mark. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Dick MacPherson

The Bad: Didn’t have as much success in the pros, winning just a quarter of his games in his two seasons in New England.

The Ugly: The 1992 Patriots lost their first nine games to open the season and their final five to finish things out. Team scored less than 13 points per game, including zero points three different times.

12. Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14, 2012)

The Good: Fared better as Buffalo’s head coach from 2004-05, going 14-18. Also enjoyed a highly successful stint as Atlanta's offensive coordinator from 2008-11, as he was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) following the '08 season.

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The Bad: First Bills team went from 9-7 in 2004 to 5-11 in ’05, losing eight of its last 10 games.

The Ugly: Didn’t get much of a chance or much help of any kind in his one and only season in Jacksonville. Injuries decimated the Jaguars’ offense, as the team struggled to score points (15.9 per game) all season and lost its final five games by an average of nearly 14 points per game.

Footnote: In January, Mularkey was hired by new Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt to be the team’s tight ends coach.

11. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams (10-38, 2009-11)

The Good: Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants from 2007-08 and is credited as the architect of the defensive strategy employed by the team in its Super Bowl XLII victory over the previously undefeated New England Patriots. 

Steve Spagnuolo

The Bad: Had four different losing streaks of six or more games during his three seasons with the Rams.

The Ugly: In between a 7-9 record in 2010, Spagnuolo’s Rams won a total of three games (3-29) combined in the ‘09 and ’11 seasons. Following his dismissal from the Rams, Spagnuolo served as New Orleans’ defensive coordinator in 2012, overseeing a defense that broke the NFL single-season record for most yards allowed.

Footnote: After getting fired by the Saints after the 2012 season, Spagnuolo joined the Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff as a defensive assistant. He was promoted to secondary coach in January.

10. Chris Palmer, Cleveland Browns (5-27, 1999-2000)

The Good: Hired as head coach of expansion Cleveland Browns upon their return to the NFL in 1999. He also has served as offensive coordinator for Jacksonville (1997-98), Houston (2002-04), and Tennessee (2012).

Chris Palmer

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The Bad: Lost first seven games, he also had separate seven-game losing streak during 2000 season.

The Ugly: His Browns’ offenses finished last in the NFL in both total and scoring offense in both seasons.

9. Art Shell, Oakland Raiders (2-14, 2006)

The Good: Played tackle for 15 seasons for Raiders (1968-82), earning eight Pro Bowl invites and first-team All-Pro honors twice. Inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1989 also finished heading coaching career with winning record (56-52 overall).

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The Bad: After six successful seasons as head coach for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1989-94, where he went 54-38, he made the wrong decision in choosing to come out of retirement to coach the Oakland Raiders in 2006.

The Ugly: His 2006 Raiders allowed a respectable 20.8 points per game, but scored nearly half as many (10.5 ppg), a big reason why they won just two games. The offense scored six or fewer points six times and were shutout completely on three different occasions.

8. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs (4-15, 2011-12)

The Good: Has won five Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach with the New York Giants (1986, ’90 seasons) and New England Patriots (2001, ’03, ’04), where he had the opportunity to work under Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.

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The Bad: His championship pedigree has never carried over to his head-coaching jobs. His overall record is 28-55 (.337), including 24-40 as Cleveland’s head coach from 2005-08.

The Ugly: Only winning season came in 2007 when he led the Browns to 10-6 record, but they still missed the playoffs. Went 2-1 as Chiefs’ interim head coach to close out 2011 and get him the full-time gig, but followed that up with 2-14 mark and was fired by the team on Dec. 31, 2012.

Footnote: Crennel was hired in January by the Houston Texans to be team’s defensive coordinator under new head coach Bill O’Brien.

7. Marty Mornhinweg, Detroit Lions (5-27, 2001-02) .156

The Good: He has been more successful as offensive coordinator for San Francisco 49ers (1997-2000) and Philadelphia Eagles (2006-12). Currently in that role for the New York Jets.

Marty Mornhinweg

The Bad: First career win didn’t come until 13th game, a 27-24 victory over Minnesota.

The Ugly: Won his five games by a combined total of 18 points. Biggest win was by five points (three times).

Footnote: Mornhinweg was not retained by new Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly when he took over following the 2012 season, but instead was hired by Rex Ryan in January 2013 to be the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator.

6. Lane Kiffin, Oakland Raiders (5-15, 2007-08)

The Good: Following his success as offensive coordinator at USC, was hired by Al Davis in January 2007. At the time, he was the youngest (31) head coach in Raiders franchise history and in the entire NFL since 1946. Landed back in the collegiate coaching ranks when he was named University of Tennessee’s head coach in 2009. Left Tennessee after just one season to return to USC as the Trojans’ head coach in 2010.

Lane Kiffin

The Bad: Finished his first and only full season with the Raiders 2-10 after getting off to a 2-2 start. In college, he has established a pattern of running afoul of the NCAA and rubbing his peers the wrong way during his time at both Tennessee and USC.

The Ugly: Fired by Davis “for cause” just four games (Raiders went 1-3) into the 2008 season. His 2012 USC team, which was ranked No. 1 in just about every major preseason poll, stumbled to a 7-6 record, including a disappointing 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Fired by USC last September after arriving back in Los Angeles early the next morning following a 62-41 loss at Arizona State.

Footnote: HIred in January by Nick Saban to become Alabama's offensive coordinator after Doug Nussmeier left for the same position at Michigan.

5. Rich Kotite, New York Jets (4-28, 1995-96)

The Good: Went 36-28 as Philadelphia Eagles head coach from 1991-94.

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The Bad: Lost five games in 1995 by seven or fewer points.

The Ugly: Lost 12 in a row from 1995-96, lost seven games in ’96 by 14 or more points.

4. Rod Marinelli, Detroit Lions (10-38, 2006-08)

The Good: After getting fired from Detroit, he joined Chicago as assistant head coach/defensive line in 2009 and became defensive coordinator the following season. The 2012 Bears defense finished first in the NFL in takeaways, third in scoring defense and fifth in total defense.

Rod Marinelli

The Bad: His Lions’ teams were outscored by a total of 440 points in his three seasons, for an average of 9.2 per game.

The Ugly: Even though they went a perfect 4-0 in preseason play, the 2008 Lions went winless during the regular season, becoming the first NFL team in history to go 0-16.

Footnote: Joined Monte Kiffin's defensive staff in Dallas in 2013 after Marinelli was not retained by new Chicago head coach Marc Trestman. Marinelli was promoted to defensive coordinator for the Cowboys in January following the demotion of Kiffin.

3. Cam Cameron, Miami Dolphins (1-15, 2007)

The Good: Cameron enjoyed considerably more success as an offensive coordinator for both the San Diego Chargers (2002-06) and the Baltimore Ravens (2008-12). His Chargers’ offenses from 2004-06 ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in total offense and top 5 in scoring offense.

Cam Cameron

The Bad: His lone coaching win came in the Dolphins’ 14th game of the season, a 22-16 overtime win against a Ravens team that would finish with just five victories.

The Ugly: Cameron's Dolphins were outscored by 170 points (437 to 267); the team averaged less than 99 yards rushing per game and allowed more than 153. Cameron was fired by Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh after a loss in Week 14 of the 2012 season and replaced by Jim Caldwell. The Ravens would go on to beat the 49ers to win Super Bowl XLVII.

Footnote: ;After getting fired by Baltimore, Cameron returned to the collegiate ranks as LSU's offensive coordinator under Les Miles. He has directed the Tigers' offense the past two seasons.

2. Rod Rust, New England Patriots (1-15, 1990)

The Good: Spent 14 seasons in the NFL as a defensive coordinator for Kansas City (1978-82, ‘88), New England (1983-87), Pittsburgh (1989), the New York Giants (1992), and Atlanta (1996).

Rod Rust

The Bad: Won just one game in 1990, a 16-14 victory in Indianapolis.

The Ugly: His Patriots were outscored by 265 points in 1990, an average of 16.6 points per game. Five losses were by 28 or more points.

1. Bobby Petrino, Atlanta Falcons (3-10, 2007)

The Good: Parlayed his success as the head coach at Louisville and his reputation as an offensive-minded coach into the Falcons’ job in 2007.

Bobby Petrino

The Bad: With just three seasons’ worth of NFL coaching experience, including just one as an offensive coordinator (2001, Jacksonville), he never seemed to be able to adjust to the pro game. Neither of the NFL offenses he was responsible for ranked higher than 20th in total or scoring offense in either of his two seasons.

The Ugly: Resigned just 13 games into the season, informing the team, his coaching staff and the players of the decision via a four-sentence statement printed on a piece of paper. He left the Falcons to go back to the college ranks, becoming Arkansas’ new head coach, leading the Hogs to a 34-17 record in four seasons. He was fired by Arkansas in April 2012 for cause after a motorcycle accident involving a female passenger revealed an adulterous affair and a string of poor decisions made by Petrino in hopes of keeping it secret.

Footnote: After a one-year hiatus, Petrino returned to the coaching ranks last fall and led Western Kentucky to an 8-4 record. After Charlie Strong left Louisville for Texas, Petrino jumpted at the opportunity to return to the place where his coaching career got started, seemingly bringing his journey full circle.