With Jay Gruden finally getting the axe (and really Redskins, what took you so long?) and Dan Quinn’s time in Atlanta on life support, I began thinking about other unsuccessful coaching tenures in NFL history and what it took for these guys to finally be let go. Now we aren’t talking one and done coaches like the immortal, Les Steckel’s 3-13 single season in Minnesota. I still have nightmares about that. At a minimum my coaches had to have three seasons of mediocrity with one franchise to make my list. With that in mind, here are some of my fantastic failures in the coaching ranks.
Tom Flores – Seattle Seahawks (1992-1994): Flores had a solid coaching career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders from 1979 through 1987. In that time he led his team to 83 regular season wins against 53 losses and claimed two Super Bowl rings. He would eventually move on to the Seahawks front office in 1989 and finally back to the coaching ranks in 1992. He should have quit while he was ahead. His three seasons on the Seahawks sidelines all ended in double-digit losses. A 14-34 record later Flores was fired as head coach, unable to repeat his success with the Raiders. If only he’d first taken a head coaching job at USC where he could quickly escape town amidst scandal before coaching the Seahawks. Ah well 20/20 hindsight.
Mike Ditka – New Orleans Saints (1997-1999): Dikta was a great tight end for the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys. From 1982 through 1992 he would coach the Bears. His no-nonsense attitude helped him achieve a career regular season record of 106-62 and a Super Bowl ring in 1985 with one of the most dominant teams in NFL history. After finishing the 1992 season with a 5-11 record, Ditka and the Bears parted ways. Ditka had a five-year hiatus before coming back to coach the New Orleans Saints. His tenure there became a travesty. After two 6-10 seasons, Ditka sold the farm to move up in the 1999 draft to take Ricky Williams. The low point of this tenure was his magazine cover with Williams wearing a wedding dress. The honeymoon ended quickly as the Saints went 3-13 prompting fans to look for their Aints paper bags. The Ditka magic was gone and he was fired after the season.
Dave Campo – Dallas Cowboys (2000-2002): Dave Campo joined the Dallas Cowboys as a defensive backs coach then eventually the defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson. He was part of three Super Bowl champions in his assistant coaching role. He seemed to be a natural choice to take the head coaching reins when Chan Galey was fired after the 1999 season. He was dealt a difficult blow right off the bat during his tenure when he lost Troy Aikman for the season due to a concussion (which eventually turned into his retirement after the season). It really never got better. In his three seasons Campo would have a 15-33 record, finishing each season with identical 5-11 records. No other head coach in Cowboys history has never had at least one playoff appearance so he’s got that going for him, which is nice if you don’t root for the Cowboys.
Rod Marinelli – Detroit Lions (2006-2008): Marinelli was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their defensive coordinator when the Lions offered him their head coaching job. Marinelli had been successful in Tampa with Jon Gruden, winning a Super Bowl ring. He has to wonder what ever made him leave the Florida sun. After a 3-13 first season Marinelli gave Lions fans hope getting the team to off to a 6-2 start in season two. Over his next 24 games, Marinelli would have a Hue Jacksonesque 1-23 record, including the first ever 0-16 season in NFL history. It’s difficult to be the most disappointing coach in Lions history but Rod Marinelli managed to pull of the …feat?
There you have four of the biggest coaching disappointments in NFL history. I’m sure there are several more but these names stuck out most to me. Drop your choices in the comments and read the works of my Blitzed colleagues.
Until we meet again never design a killer play on a cocktail napkin, don’t trip over the kid you hired to hold your headset cord, and for God’s sake take off the headset anyway. Why do you need a headset and a kid hired to handle the cord when you’re walking around your kitchen in your lounge pants. That’s just wrong.
Yours in football,
Mike Zimmer Ears is a Minnesota Vikings expert, podcaster, published author and a regular columnist for Blitzed Football. You can find his latest book on baseball here.