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Top 16 Worst Head Coaches in the NFL since 1970: Urban, Petrino or Holtz?

The 10 Worst coaches in the NFL since 1970!
Publish Date: 05/18/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

The NFL has had a lot of great coaches in its history. Unfortunately, they have had more terrible coaches than great coaches. Today, we are going to have a look at the worst-ever coach in the NFL. Josh McDaniels will soon be added to this list!


Losing and losing badly are huge parts of the criteria, but doing stupid things while losing also helps. You have guys on here who tried things that never should have been tried; you have college coaches who were good coaches who just couldn’t cut it at the NFL level. You can find our list of the best college football coaches which may also interest you.

16) Frank Kush

Kush, the final full-time coach in Baltimore Colts history, experienced many unfortunate episodes throughout his tenure. His initial season (1982) is one of four winless campaigns (0-8-1) during post-merger NFL history; then the Elways wanted nothing to do with him; they used Kush as their reason to avoid signing him to any contract. That trade caused division within Baltimore’s front office as they went 15 years without a reliable QB before Kush resigned his post to join USFL’s Arizona Outlaws before eventually folding in 1986.

Video: Frank Kush dead at 88

Frank Kush dead at 88

15) Marty Mornhinweg

As CEO and general manager of the Detroit Lions, Matt Millen made a crucial mistake by hiring Marty Mornhinweg as his head coach. Mornhinweg would lead them through 2001 and 2002 as they made the transition from Pontiac Silverdome to Ford Field.

Lions fans will always remember his questionable decision to hand the ball off to the Chicago Bears during overtime on November 24, 2002. Unfortunately, the Lions would lose without touching the ball during extra period.

Mornhinweg concluded his tenure in Detroit with eight consecutive losses. If Marty ever coaches anything ever again, you will need to find the best Betting site to bet against his team, because you would be sure to win!

Video: Vintage Coach Marty

Vintage Coach Marty

14) Eric Mangini

The supposed “Mad Genius” failed miserably in Cleveland. And worse than anything was the way he handled the team’s high-priced quarterbacks, Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Colt McCoy and Jake Delhomme. There was never any commitment to any of them.  Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski went so far as to call Mangini’s hiring by the Browns as the worst coaching hire from the past 25 years. In his 2013 memoir, former player Nate Jackson, who was briefly part of the Browns practice squad during the 2009 preseason, sharply criticized Mangini. Jackson wrote that Mangini’s coaching style had so alienated his players that they seemed “deep in despair” with “no fight left in them” only a few months after Mangini took over.

Video: Skip Bayless takes the ultimate low blow on Eric Mangini

Skip Bayless takes the ultimate low blow on Eric Mangini

13) Cam Cameron

Cam Cameron was hired by the Miami Dolphins in 2007 to replace Nick Saban, who left to build what would become an immense college football empire with Alabama Crimson Tide.

Cameron had already achieved success as the offensive coordinator of the high-scoring San Diego Chargers, earning him this opportunity from a field of at least 13 candidates. His selection was confirmed and he was given a four-year contract worth of salary over that span.

With quarterbacking trio Trent Green, Cleo Lemon and John Beck at their disposal, the Dolphins lost six games by exactly one field goal that season and only won one contest via overtime.

Maybe Miami wasn’t as bad as its record would indicate. Under Tony Sparano, they went 11-5 and made the playoffs the following year.

Video: bad press conference

bad press conference

12) Les Steckel

After taking over for the legendary Bud Grant, Minnesota posted its worst record in nearly a quarter-century, prompting management to replace him with…Bud Grant. The Vikings went 3-13 in Steckel’s only year, he was a very strict disciplinarian which did not go over well in Minnesota.

Video: A message from former NFL Head Coach Les Steckel

A message from former NFL Head Coach Les Steckel

11) Ray Handley

He took over for Bill Parcells just months after a Super Bowl title, and the Giants were nothing but mediocre following a decade of dominance. And although he had the misfortune of several stars (Lawrence Taylor, Leonard Marshall, Phil Simms, Ottis Anderson) passing their prime on his watch, Handles dug his own grave. Handley tried to be an exact opposite of Parcells and it obviously did not work out the way he planned.

Video: 1991 New York Giants coach Ray Handley is angry leaves Quarterback Jeff Hostetler or Phil Simms

1991 New York Giants coach Ray Handley is angry leaves Quarterback Jeff Hostetler or Phil Simms

10) Rich Kotite

Kotite was a paltry 4-28 to say his team was bad would be an understatement. What makes his tenure with the Jets so miserable is what happened after he was canned in favor of Bill Parcells. They almost made the playoffs a year later and nearly the Super Bowl the season after that.

Video: ESPNEWS Rich Kotite Steps Down As NY Jets Head Coach 1996

ESPNEWS Rich Kotite Steps Down As NY Jets Head Coach 1996

9) Hue Jackson

Hue Jackson cannot be judged solely based on his tenure as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. After all, the team had already been in crisis long before he took charge.

However, it’s hard to find any positives in a 3-36-1 record. Jackson started as a coach of the Browns in 2016 and 2017, yet owner Jimmy Haslam chose to keep him. Unfortunately, after an inconsistent 2-5-1 start in 2018, Jackson was dismissed following their loss to rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

Video: Goodbye Hue - Hue Jackson's Time in Cleveland

Goodbye Hue – Hue Jackson’s Time in Cleveland

8) Dave Campo

By the time he took over, the Cowboys dynasty of the mid-1990s was becoming old and slow. But since he had Jerry Jones—who was willing to spend, spend, spend—Campo’s teams didn’t lack talent the same way that other NFL bottom-feeders did. (Bill Parcells’ playoff season the year after Campo was fired was proof of that.) However, the Cowboys stumbled in the season opener, losing to the expansion Houston Texans in the Texans’ very first game.

Dallas entered week 13 with a 5–7 record and led the San Francisco 49ers 27–24 with about 2 minutes to play. Facing a fourth and one at the 30-yard line, Campo opted for a field goal attempt even though considerable time was left in the game. The attempt failed, and taking over at the 30, the 49ers drove down the field to win the game. Campo’s team was blown out the next two games and again finished the season 5-11, after which he was fired. He is the only Cowboys head coach to have left the team without posting a winning season or coaching a playoff game.

Video: Dave Campo is released as Coach of the Dallas Cowboys (2002)

Dave Campo is released as Coach of the Dallas Cowboys (2002)

7) Rod Rust

Rust was an excellent coordinator, but as a head coach he failed miserably. His Pats lost all but one game in his lone season at the helm, barely defeating the equally woeful Colts 16-14. In Rust’s defense the Patriots weren’t exactly loaded with talent, but 1-15 is hard to ignore.

In Rust’s defense, it is hard to judge him off this season because he had a horrible roster. I am betting that with a more talented team, he may not be on this list.

Video: American football coach Rod Rust Died at 90

American football coach Rod Rust Died at 90

6) David Shula

Where to begin on this one? The Brown family was very tight with the Shula family, so maybe it was nepotism? Then again two years before the Bengals hired Shula the Eagles tried to hire him. Shula won his first two games, and that was as good as it would ever get. Shula is the losingest coach in the modern era of the NFL period, who has coached at least 50 games.  Shula’s stint with the Bengals was horrendous and the team was dismal during the 1990s. The team compiled a 19–52 record over Shula’s four and a half years at the helm. He was fired after starting the 1996 season 1–6. Shula lost 50 games faster than any NFL coach in history (71 games).

Video: 1994 Wk 05 Shula vs. Shula Pregame Feature

1994 Wk 05 Shula vs. Shula Pregame Feature

5) Bill Peterson

Peterson was an innovative and winning college football coach. In 1972, Peterson joined a select group who have been head coaches in high school, at the major college level and in the National Football League (NFL). As has been the case with a number of successful college coaches, Peterson did not fare well as a head coach in the NFL. Peterson coached the Houston Oilers for the entire 1972 season and for five games in the 1973 season. The team finished 1–13 in 1972 and 0–5 in his five games in 1973. His career record in the NFL was 1–18, and his .053 winning percentage is the lowest for any coach after the NFL/AFL merger who coached at least an entire season.

Video: The Greatest NFL Coach In history

The Greatest NFL Coach In history

4) Lou Holtz

Lou Holtz guided the New York Jets during the first 13 games of their star-crossed 1976 season.

Holtz had been recruited away from North Carolina State and brought with him a collegiate attitude to the Jets. He even went so far as to pen an inane fight song for the team!

Holtz lamented the difficulty of the professional game compared to that of college. Like Petrino, he left before his first season ended (with a 3-10 record) in order to accept the head coaching job at the University of Arkansas. You gotta love Lou Holtz also, as he makes our list of dirtiest College Football coaches.

Video: Most Powerful Speech: The 3 Rules to a Less Complicated Life | Lou Holtz | Goalcast

Most Powerful Speech: The 3 Rules to a Less Complicated Life | Lou Holtz | Goalcast

3) Rod Marinelli

The Marinelli era began poorly, as the Lions lost the first five games of the 2006 season before beating the Buffalo Bills 20–17. The Lions lost seven games in a row between weeks 10 and 16 before ending the year on a high note by beating the Dallas Cowboys 39–31. The 2007 season started off well for the Lions as they started 6-2. However, the Lions lost seven out of their last eight games, and finished the 2007 season 3rd in the NFC North with a 7–9 record. Despite a perfect 4–0 preseason, Marinelli coached the 2008 Lions to a winless 0-16 campaign, the worst and only winless season for any NFL team since the 16-game regular season was instituted in 1978. 0-16 has to get you on this list.

Video: Ron Marinelli Last Words... Detroit Lions 0-16 FAILED

Ron Marinelli Last Words… Detroit Lions 0-16 FAILED

2) Bobby Petrino

A man that disappears without a trace during the season has to be number 1! If he had quit after the 2007 regular season had ended, he probably wouldn’t have been crucified. But to quit midseason to take the job at Arkansas later that week—and tell his players by leaving a printed note in their locker—was a disgrace. Lucky for him Urban Meyer came along to take the top spot from him.

In April 2012, Petrino was involved in a motorcycle crash on Arkansas Highway 16 near the city of Crosses. He was riding with former Arkansas All-SEC volleyball player Jessica Dorrell, whom he had hired on March 28 as student-athlete development coordinator for the football program after she served as a fundraiser in the Razorback Foundation. Petrino initially said he was alone on the motorcycle. However, on April 6, just minutes before a police report was to be released showing Dorrell was also aboard, Petrino revealed that Dorrell was not only a passenger, but that he had been conducting an adulterous relationship with her. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long placed Petrino on an indefinite paid leave of absence while he reviewed the situation.

On April 10, Long announced that Petrino had been fired. During Long’s investigation, it was discovered that Petrino made a previously undisclosed $20,000 cash gift to Dorrell as a Christmas present. It was also revealed that Dorrell may have received preferential treatment in her hiring on the football staff, as Petrino’s relationship with Dorrell was not disclosed and Petrino was on the hiring committee. Long determined that Petrino’s attempts to mislead both him and the public about the accident and his relationship with Dorrell were grounds to fire Petrino for cause. Long also determined that the $20,000 payment could expose Arkansas to a sexual harassment suit if Petrino were retained.

Video: The BIGGEST SCUMBAG In Sports Who's STILL Coaching!

The BIGGEST SCUMBAG In Sports Who’s STILL Coaching!

1) Urban Meyer

Maybe there is some recency bias at work here, but Urban Meyer’s 11-month tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars was been filled with missteps, gaffes and embarrassments that earn him our top spot.

Here is a selection of those errors:

* Appointed strength coach Chris Doyle despite allegations of racist and bullying behavior at the University of Iowa

*Led to a penalty against the team due to excessive contact during OTAs

* Berated assistant coaches he hired by calling them “losers” during a staff meeting.

* Publicly threatened to fire anyone found leaching information to the media.

* The Tim Tebow experiment

* Allegedly kicked place-kicker Josh Lambo during warmups before a preseason game

* James Robinson, one of the team’s most effective players, had to leave due to an apparent injury but later it was shown that he wasn’t hurt he just wanted out.

* Team officials publicly admitted to factoring vaccination status into roster cuts, leading to an NFLPA investigation and subsequent public statement.

* CREATED A MAJOR DISTRACTION by staying in Ohio and socializing with a woman other than his wife on video after a Thursday loss in Cincinnati instead of traveling home with the team.

Video: How Urban Meyer TRICKED The Jacksonville Jaguars...

How Urban Meyer TRICKED The Jacksonville Jaguars…

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