There’s only one phrase that comes to mind for those that strive to be an NFL head coach: job security be damned.
If you don’t inherit some miraculously talented football team (cough, Andy Reid to the Chiefs, cough), you better pray the GM hits on the draft picks. If not, you might feel the deftly placed wing-toed shoe of the owner in your backside come January. Because the truth is, whether the fans care to hear it or not, the vast majority of coaches who get one of the rare few 32 head coaching positions are usually very good coaches (see: Pete Carroll of the 1994 Jets, Bill Belichick with the Browns).
Everyone wants to catch lightning in a bottle these days. Do you think Jeffery Lurie thought Andy Reid was a bad coach when he fired him last year? No, he’s not stupid. He understands the kind of coach Reid is, a coach who won 130 regular season games and 10 playoff games for the Eagles over 14 years. But many owners lack patience, or maybe just want to gamble and would rather take the chance on a trendy new coach (Chip Kelly) than wait for established coaches to turn it around.
Now to be clear, there are some coaches who are so bad they basically force the owner to fire them. There is one factor that more than anything leads to this: stubbornness, an inability to learn and adjust. Two recently departed names come to mind, Jim Schwartz of the Lions and Greg Schiano of Tampa bay. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone make a locker room hate them more than Schiano, and Schwartz, well. . . imagine how quickly he would have been fired if he wasn’t the coach of a team riddled with talent like Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Matt Stafford? What an underachieving embarrassment of riches. Seriously, I wonder if they just played charades and connect four in team meetings. Yeah, he’d probably be on this list.
The reality is, the best coaches make the most of what they have. Some of it is X’s and O’s. A big part of it is being a coach your team believes in, a coach your team wants to fight for. Sometimes no amount of coaching can get a talented team to put their bodies on the line week in and week out if they just don’t believe. But when you see a team rise up and play their hearts out against teams that are just truly more talented than they are, you know you’ve got a good coach.
But analysis be damned, owners want results. No one gets fired for winning. . . oh wait, sorry Lovie Smith. I guess some people get fired for winning due to psychotic bouts of incompetence by the GM who wants ‘his own man’ for the job.
As previously mentioned, Pete Carroll almost made it on this list, coaching the 1994 Jets for one season and going 6-10. Now, he’s about to be emulated and analyzed by every franchise in the league to see where his coaching genius lies. Whether the coaches on this list were fired or unceremoniously got up and left, they’re all a part of the wildly volatile and endlessly entertaining story of the NFL.
10. Jim Mora — 2009 Seattle Seahawks — 16 games
An assistant head coach to Head coach Mike Holmgren. Jim Mora was hired in 2007 with a five-year contract at around $4 million per year. During 2008, Mora was to be the one to take over the team after Holmgren retired at the end of the year in a rare feat of planned succession. The expectations might’ve been his downfall, as he was fired after going 5-11 in his only season at the helm. His replacement? USC head coach Pete Carroll. The gamble pays off for them, it would seem. It’s worth noting that since taking over the UCLA bruins in 2011, Jim Mora turned the franchise around from decades of mediocrity to a 19-8 record over two seasons. Don’t be surprised if you see his name in the NFL again someday.
9. Hue Jackson — 2011 Oakland Raiders — 16 games
With such a small sample, it’s hard to know what to make of Hue Jackson. Another act of succession, albeit not planned, Jackson replaced Tom Cable in 2010. Buoyed to the position by his success creating a strong offense lead by the second best rushing attack in football, Hue Jackson looked like a strong hire after the first eleven games, as the team went 7-4. In the last five they lost four, giving up an average of 36.5 points per game in the losses. He was fired after the team went 8-8. I’d be willing to bet if the timeline was switched, if they went 1-4 to start the season and finished 7-4 he’d have kept his job, and we’d know more about him as a coach. The NFL is a fickle mistress.
8. Cam Cameron — 2007 Miami Dolphins — 16 games
It’s hard not to think Cam Cameron was a man who was given the gift of a career due to the wild success of a wonderful hall of famer named Ladanian Tomlinson. Granted, he knew what to do with an offense when it was bursting with talent. After the meteoric success of the Chargers, Cameron was hired to the Dolphins in a four-year deal with undisclosed financials. He proceeded to go 1-15, the worst record in team history. He was fired on January 3rd 2008 when GM Jeff Ireland took over (ugh, sorry Dolphins fans). Cameron was also offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens for a number of years, but was fired mid-season in 2012 after the offense struggled mightily. What did they do that year? Oh, only win the Super Bowl. Man, that has to suck.
7. Art Shell — 2006 Oakland Raiders — 16 games
A rare re-hire, Art Shell coached the Raiders twice. His first tenure for the then Los Angeles Raiders from 1989-1994 was largely a success, with a winning in record five of his six years in command, going 54-38 over that span. His 2006 campaign did a fine job bringing that winning percentage down with a miserable 2-14 season and one of the worst offensively in history, scoring only 10.5 points per game. They had a season total of 7 passing touchdowns and 24 INTs. Despite being 3rd in overall defense, the team’s offensive ineptitude doomed the team for failure and Shell to be out looking for another job.
6. Rob Chudzinkski — 2013 Cleveland Browns — 16 games
Another coach whose resume is hard to figure out, Chudzinski gained popularity after turning the offensive of the 2011 Carolina Panthers from miserable to a relative success with QB Cam Newton leading the charge. Cleveland hired Chud, the longtime Browns fan, on January 10th 2013, and the team had early success going 3-2 before the tragic knee injury of GM-favorite QB Brian Hoyer. The team sputtered to a 4-12 end, but showed growth and competitiveness especially in the young phenom Josh Gordon who completely exploded into elite status with hardly any help at the QB spot. He was then abruptly fired before the calendar year was over on December 29th. They should be thanking him for making their bundles of draft picks that much nicer.
5. Bobby Petrino — 2007 Atlanta Falcons — 13 games
More famous in recent news for his motorcycle accident/adultery scandal (can’t make this stuff up) where he hired Jessica Dorrell to the Arkansas Razorbacks, had an affair with her, and crashed his motorcycle with her on it. He was later fired after the investigation. In his one NFL season, he was hired in 2007 to a five-year $24 million contract. During training camp Michael Vick had been implicated in the infamous dog fighting scandal. Needless to say the season didn’t go well, and after going 3-10 with three games left, Petrino resigned to take the Arkansas job (didn’t that work out well). Rather than address the team, he simply left notes in the player’s lockers of his departure. Way to go down with the ship. Stay classy, Robert.
4. Lou Holtz — 1976 New York Jets — 13 games
Lou’s one year foray into the NFL was one to be forgotten. In his introduction, he said “I believe in God, Lou Holtz, and the New York Jets”. At least one of the three can’t be disputed now. In Joe Namath‘s swan song year for the Jets, they had the worst defense in football and went 3-11, but Holtz resigned before the final loss of the season. He did go on to continue a strong college coaching career, but his try at the highest level was an abject failure. John Facenda famously said for NFL films: “Perhaps the best thing to say about the 1976 New York Jets season is that it’s over.” It was a very quote-inspiring year for all the wrong reasons, apparently.
3. Pete McCulley — 1978 San Francisco 49ers — 9 games
When Pete McCulley took the head coaching job of the 49ers, he had never been a head coach at any level in Football. He had been an assistant his entire career, either as a QB coach or a receivers coach. After they traded five (yes, five) draft picks including a first rounder for a very worn-down O.J. Simpson, the season collapsed in a heap and McCulley was fired after nine games, going 1-8. The 1978 49ers would go on to set an NFL record 63 turnovers that season, going 2-14. Regardless, McCulley was in way over his head, and why he was hired or why they traded for O.J. are questions only the regime could answer. Or you could just chalk it up to general incompetence.
2. George Allen — 1977 Los Angeles Rams — 2 preseason games
George Allen coached with the Rams three times in his career, once as an assistant and twice as a head coach. Every time appeared to be cursed some way or another. As an assistant in 1957 he was fired after one year and as a head coach in 1966 he coached for five seasons, but not before being sued by Bears owner George Halas over breach of contract, accusing Allen and the Rams of “chicanery”. In his third stay as head coach in 1977, he brought a strong disciplinary mindset, which chafed the very talented roster of the Rams. After two awful preseason games and player outcry, the owner fired Allen in an attempt to save the season. To his credit, defensive coordinator Ray Malavasi took over and the team went to the NFC championship game.
1. Bill Belichick — 2000 New York Jets — 0 games (1 day)
That’s right. For one glorious, awful, befuddling day, the dark lord of the Sith was the head coach of the Jets. Another rare planned succession, Bill Parcells’ highly touted assistant was in line to take over when Parcells stepped down in 1999. In an unprecedented fit of weird, his introductory press conference became an impromptu resignation speech. He scribbled “I resign as HC of the NYJ” on a blank sheet of paper, then gave a speech to explain his resignation, claiming “uncertainties surrounding my position as it relates to the team’s new ownership” as his reason for leaving. The Jets cried foul, saying Belichick was still under contract. The commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed, so the Patriots traded a 2000 first round draft pick to the Jets for him. They used the pick in a trade to get Shaun Ellis. At least it was a Pro-Bowl player. Really though, the Jets should’ve seen this as an omen. I wonder if soothsayer will be an NFL coaching position soon. Retire already, Bill.
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