More than 150 head coaches have cycled through the NFL since 1990. Some have been or will be Hall of Famers. Others live in infamy with fans because of how poorly they did, including the just-fired Urban Meyer. This article is about them.
In taking an unbiased look at the worst of the worst over the last three decades, many coaches on this list have been forgotten, while others who are not on this list are remembered and hated. For example, Rich Kotite may be despised by both Philadelphia Eagles' and New York Jets' fans, but he had an 11- and 10-win season and a .482 winning percentage. That's better than the 20 on this list, which includes one coach who was just fired before even making it through a full season and one who is once again enjoying success in the college ranks. Some were just bad. Others were victims of circumstance, but aren't we all.
20. Tom Flores, Seattle Seahawks (14-34, 1992-94)
The Good: The two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach of the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders went on to become the president/general manager of the Seahawks and assumed head coaching duties in 1992.
The Bad: The Seahawks went 2-14 and only scored 140 points in 1992, the lowest of any NFL team ever in a 16-game season.
The Ugly: Seattle showed signs of improvement in 1993, going 6-10. However, the team went 6-10 in 1994 as well. To make matters worse, the Seahawks had the lowest attendance in the franchise’s history at that time. Flores was fired at the end of the season.
Footnote: Despite his lack of success with the Seahawks, Flores was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021 for his performance with the Raiders and his impact on the game as the first Mexican starting quarterback and the first minority head coach in professional football history to win a Super Bowl.
19. Mike Riley, San Diego Chargers (14-34, 1999-2001)
The Good: The Oregon State head coach was hired to helm the Chargers after the disastrous first season with Ryan Leaf at quarterback. San Diego improved to a record of 8-8 in 1999.
The Bad: The Chargers went 1-15 in 2000, with their only win coming by one point.
The Ugly: San Diego rebounded to start the 2001 season at 5-2, but lost its last nine games. Riley was fired at the end of the season.
Footnote: After the Chargers, Riley returned to Oregon State where he coached 12 seasons. He later went to Nebraska for three seasons before becoming the head coach of the San Antonio Commanders for the short-lived Alliance of American Football (AAF) in the spring of 2019.
18. David Shula, Cincinnati Bengals (19-52, 1992-96)
The Good: The Bengals’ wide receivers coach and son of Don Shula was promoted to head coach after new owner Mike Brown fired Sam Wyche. Brown had become the owner after his father, the legendary coach Paul Brown, passed away a few months earlier.
The Bad: Shula never had a winning year in five seasons and was fired after a 1-6 start in 1996.
The Ugly: To hire Shula, Brown passed on a defensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs named Bill Cowher, who went 140-90-1 and won a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
17. Dick LeBeau, Cincinnati Bengals (12-33, 2000-02)
The Good: The Hall of Fame defensive back and inventor of the zone blitz as a coordinator became head coach of the Bengals after Bruce Coslet resigned after week three of the 2000 season.
The Bad: While Cincinnati’s defenses were solid during LeBeau’s tenure, the offenses were atrocious being ranked in the bottom five in scoring in all three of his seasons.
The Ugly: Cincinnati posted a league-worst 2-14 record in 2002. LeBeau was fired at the end of the season.
Footnote: LeBeau continued on as a defensive coordinator, winning two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, before moving on to the Tennessee Titans in the same capacity from 2015-17.
16. Dick MacPherson, New England Patriots (8-24, 1991-92)
The Good: After a successful 10-season run as head coach of Syracuse, MacPherson took the top job with New England after Rod Rust was fired. Under MacPherson, the Patriots improved from 1-15 in 1990 to 6-10 in 1991.
The Bad: Owner Victor Kiam was forced to sell the Patriots to St. Louis businessman James Busch Orthwein. Discussions of moving the franchise to the Gateway City began almost immediately.
The Ugly: The distracted team started the season 0-9 and finished 2-14. MacPherson was fired at the end of the season.
15. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars, (14-48, 2013-16)
The Good: The Seattle Seahawks’ star defensive coordinator was hired as head coach of Jacksonville after Mike Mularkey was fired. After starting the 2013 season at 0-8, the Jaguars rebounded to win four of its last eight games.
The Bad: Jacksonville won a total of eight games in 2014 and ‘15. To make matters worse, they were one of the worst teams in one of football’s weakest divisions.
The Ugly: The Jaguars went 2-12 in the first 14 games of the 2016 season and Bradley was fired. He was replaced by Doug Marrone, who led the team to the AFC Championship Game in his first season, before going 12-36 the next three seasons and getting fired at the end of 2020.
Footnote: After the Jaguars, Bradley became the defensive coordinator for the Chargers for four seasons (2017-20) before assuming the same position with the Raiders this January.
14. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams (10-38, 2009-11) New York Giants (1-3, ‘17)
The Good: The New York Giants' defensive coordinator cemented his reputation fielding lights-out defenses in 2007 and '08. He was named as the Rams head coach, replacing Scott Linehan.
The Bad: St. Louis went 1-15 in 2009, fielding one of the worst teams in NFL history based on performance.
The Ugly: With the league’s easiest schedule, the Rams improved to 7-9 in 2010. However, they were given one of the league’s hardest schedules in 2011 and reverted back to a 2-14 season. Spagnuolo was fired at the end season.
Footnote: Spagnuolo returned to the Giants. After they fired Ben McAdoo during the 2017 season, he was named interim head coach and went 1-3. Spagnuolo has been the defensive coordinator at Kansas City under Andy Reid for the past three seasons, helping the Chiefs make it to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning it in 2020.
13. Rod Marinelli, Detroit Lions (10-38, 2006-08)
The Good: After a 30-plus year career as a defensive coach, Marinelli became the head coach of the Lions. The team went 3-13 in 2006, but started the 2007 season at 6-2.
The Bad: Detroit lost seven of its last eight games to close the season at 7-9.
The Ugly: The Lions did not win a single game in 2008, becoming the first franchise to be winless in a 16-game season. Marinelli and most of his staff were fired after the season ended.
Footnote: Marinelli is currently the defensive line coach for the Las Vegas Raiders.
12. Kevin Gilbride, San Diego Chargers (6-16, 1997-98)
The Good: After putting together blistering offenses in Houston and Jacksonville, Gilbride was hired as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers after Bobby Ross left for the Detroit Lions.
The Bad: Gilbride inherited a team that had been to the playoffs three times in the past five seasons. For the 1997 season, he brought his wide-open offensive style to the Chargers, but did not have the same level of success, going 4-12.
The Ugly: San Diego drafted Ryan Leaf with its first pick in 1998 and won their first two games. Then Leaf proceeded to have one of the biggest meltdowns in NFL history and the Chargers lost their next four games. As head coach, Gilbride assumed the blame and was dismissed after a 7-6 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 11.
Footnote: Gilbride rejoined his old Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin with the New York Giants as quarterbacks coach in 2004 (he became offensive coordinator in 2007) and won two Super Bowls with the franchise.
11. Lane Kiffin, Oakland Raiders (5-15, 2007-08)
The Good: Raiders owner Al Davis made the USC offensive coordinator the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. (That record has since been broken by Rams head coach Sean McVay.)
The Bad: The Raiders drafted LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell and he held out in contract negotiations until the second week of the season. Russell did not start his first game until December and Oakland went 4-12.
The Ugly: After he started the season 1-3, Davis fired Kiffin and then went on television, calling him "a flat-out liar" who was guilty of "bringing disgrace to the organization."
Footnote: In stints with Tennessee and USC, Kiffin did not do anything to counter Davis’ remarks. However, he seems to be restoring his reputation after a successful run as offensive coordinator at Alabama (2014-16) under Nick Saban followed by head coaching gigs at Florida Atlantic (2017-19) and Ole Miss (2020-present).
10. Chris Palmer, Cleveland Browns (5-27, 1999-2000)
The Good: The Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive coordinator was hired to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns during its “inaugural season” in 1999. This was the second iteration of the franchise after the first move to Baltimore in 1996.
The Bad: The Browns were starting from ground zero and their play reflected it. Cleveland went 2-14 in 1999.
The Ugly: As their team stumbled to a 3-13 record in 2000, Cleveland fans felt the proverbial knife twist as they watched the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. Palmer was fired by the Browns at the end of the season and replaced by Butch Davis.
9. Marty Mornhinweg, Detroit Lions (5-27, 2001-02)
The Good: Having established himself as an offensive guru in San Francisco, Mornhinweg took over as head coach of a Lions team that went 9-7 in 2000.
The Bad: Detroit lost its first 13 games in 2001 en route to a 2-14 season.
The Ugly: The Lions started the 2001 season 3-5 before dropping its final eight games. Mornhinweg famously elected to kick instead of receive in overtime against the Chicago Bears and never got the ball back in a 20-17 loss. He was fired at the end of the season.
8. Hue Jackson, Oakland Raiders (8-8, 2011), Cleveland Browns (3-36-1, 2016-18)
The Good: The Raiders’ offensive coordinator was promoted to head coach in 2011 and started the season 7-4.
The Bad: The Raiders finished the season 1-4 and missed the playoffs. Jackson was fired and replaced with Dennis Allen.
The Ugly: After four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson was hired as head coach of the Browns in 2016. He managed three wins in less than full three seasons before he was fired after a 2-5-1 start to the 2018 campaign. He was replaced by his defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who went 5-3 (but the job was given to then-interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens in the offseason).
Footnote: Jackson was recently hired to be the next head coach at Grambling.
7. Jim Tomsula, San Francisco 49ers (6-11, 2010, ‘15)
The Good: Tomsula had served as the interim head coach of the 49ers after Mike Singletary was fired in the last week of the 2010 NFL season. He won his lone game and was kept on as defensive line coach by Jim Harbaugh. When Harbaugh left after the 2014 season, Tomsula was named head coach.
The Bad: Tomsula used tactics that appalled coaches at all levels. He ran short practices with breaks for players to check their phones and shook their hands after blowout losses. The soft approach would not translate to success on the field.
The Ugly: Under Harbaugh, the 2014 49ers suffered key injuries and went 8-8. With Tomsula at the helm, the 2015 squad went 5-11 and fielded arguably the worst offense in franchise history. San Francisco fired Tomsula right before the final game against the St. Louis Rams.
6. Richard Williamson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-15, 1990-91)
The Good: The former Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) head coach and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator was named interim head coach after Ray Perkins was fired near the end of the 1990 season. After beating the divisional rival Minnesota Vikings and impressive showings against the Chicago Bears and New York Jets, he was given the job permanently.
The Bad: Any hopes of that momentum carrying into 1991 were dashed when the Bucs lost their first five games en route to a 3-13 season.
The Ugly: Tampa Bay played its last game of the season, a 17-3 victory over Indianapolis, in front of a home crowd of around 28,000, further cementing its reputation as the NFL’s worst franchise. Williamson was fired and replaced by Sam Wyche.
5. Richie Petitbon, Washington Redskins (4-12, 1993)
The Good: Joe Gibbs’ longtime defensive coordinator was given the reins to the franchise after the Redskins’ coach’s first retirement. Washington won its opener against the defending champion Dallas Cowboys on “Monday Night Football.”
The Bad: Free agency losses and aging veterans caught up with the Redskins and they proceeded to win only three more games. In their rematch with Dallas, they lost 38-3.
The Ugly: Washington finished last in the NFC East for the first time in the franchise’s history and did not have one player invited to the Pro Bowl. Petitbon was fired at the end of the season and replaced by Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
4. Cam Cameron, Miami Dolphins (1-15, 2007)
The Good: Having put together high-powered offenses at both Indiana and with the San Diego Chargers, Cameron was handed the reins to the Miami Dolphins in 2007 after Nick Saban left for the University of Alabama.
The Bad: Cameron shook up the coaching staff and the team, cutting and trading numerous players. One of those trades sent Wes Welker to the New England Patriots.
The Ugly: The Dolphins lost their first 14 games and finished the season 1-15, the worst record in the history of the franchise. Cameron was fired after the season.
3. Rod Rust, New England Patriots (1-15, 1990)
The Good: The veteran defensive coordinator finally got his chance as a head coach when Raymond Berry was fired after the 1989 season.
The Bad: Rust inherited a talent-depleted team and proceeded to go 1-15, the worst record in Patriots history.
The Ugly: After the lone win against the Indianapolis Colts, several Patriots players verbally and sexually harassed Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson. With the franchise in chaos, Rust was fired after the season.
2. Urban Meyer, Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11, 2021)
The Good: After winning two national championships at Florida and one at Ohio State, Meyer came out of retirement to be the head coach of the Jaguars when Doug Marrone was fired.
The Bad: Jacksonville went 2-11 and did not score more than 21 points in any single game.
The Ugly: There is a lot here. In February 2021, Meyer hired former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle, but he had to resign the next day because of accusations of making racist remarks to players while with the Hawkeyes. Then after a 24-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Meyer was caught on video groping a woman at a bar who was not his wife. As Jacksonville continued to lose, reports of Meyer being abusive to his players surfaced, culminating in former kicker Josh Lambo accusing him of being physically abusive during a pregame warmup in the preseason. Given the situation, the Jaguars fired Meyer on Dec. 16 with four games left to play.
1. Bobby Petrino, Atlanta Falcons (3-10, 2007)
The Good: After putting Louisville on the path from mid-major to Power 5 college football program, Petrino took the job with the Falcons. The hope was that the offensive guru could help make Michael Vick a more complete quarterback.
The Bad: Vick was arrested for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring and the terms of his bail prevented him from leaving Virginia and playing for the Falcons (This definitely qualifies as ugly, but this exercise is about Bobby Petrino and not Michael Vick). Without its star quarterback, Atlanta proceeded to go 3-10.
The Ugly: Petrino left with three games to go in the season to take the head-coaching job at Arkansas and informed his players with a four-sentence, laminated note in each of their lockers. No other coach on this list voluntarily left his team after one season. Then in Fayetteville, things got even uglier...
Footnote: After leaving Arkansas in scandal and one season at Western Kentucky, Petrino's career came full circle when he was hired back as Louisville's head coach prior to the 2014 season. After enjoying some success (eight or more wins in each of his first four seasons), Petrino was fired before the end of the 2018 season as the Cardinals went just 2-8 and winless (0-7) in the ACC. Petrino was then hired by FCS Missouri State prior to the 2020 season. He's 13-8 overall and has led the Bears to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons at the helm.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.