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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / The Grueling Truth's Top 10 Sports Lists / Top 10 Worst Coaching Decisions in Super Bowl History

Top 10 Worst Coaching Decisions in Super Bowl History

Publish Date: 05/10/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

The worst coaching decisions in Super Bowl history: Is some of this the old hindsight, which is 20/20? Of course, it is, but some real head-scratchers are on this list. Most of these decisions were made by great coaches. It just goes to show you even great coaches have errors in judgement.


The criteria is simple: for the most part, these are decisions that led to the coach who made the decision or decisions responsible for losing the game. Football, especially in the NFL, is not an easy game to coach, and this is a list of ten Head Coaches that failed miserably in the biggest game!


10) Mike Ditka giving the ball to Refrigerator Perry instead of Sweetness (Super Bowl XX)

No, this was not a game-altering decision, but it was still an atrocious decision by Ditka. Walter Payton had spent a decade on bad teams in Chicago, and he was the most loved and greatest player in Bears history, and he deserved to score in the Super Bowl.

Instead, we got a sideshow touchdown from William Perry, best known as the Refrigerator. That Touchdown should have been Payton’s.

Video: William

William “Refrigerator” Perry – Touchdown Super Bowl XX

9) Belichick benches Malcolm Butler (Super Bowl LII)

Belichick may never reveal why he kept Butler off the field in Minnesota, and while more developments could alter our opinion of this decision, leaving his best defensive back on the bench. At the same time, Nick Foles and the Eagles tore up his secondary. It seems like an awful big mistake by the GOAT!

Belichick did lose three Super Bowls and two of them were affected by calls he made. When you have one of the greatest Super Bowl Quarterbacks of all time sometimes it’s better to not take chances.

Video: Bill Belichick responds to criticism for benching Malcolm Butler | SportsCenter | ESPN

Bill Belichick responds to criticism for benching Malcolm Butler | SportsCenter | ESPN

8) Andy Reid takes his time (Super Bowl XXXIX)

Heโ€™s one of the greatest coaches of all time and has since won a couple of Super Bowls, but Reidโ€™s reputation for bad clock mismanagement is one of the reasons heโ€™s on this list. Reid has had a few high-profile clock mistakes, but none came on a bigger stage than his first Super Bowl appearance as a head coach. Trailing the Patriots by 10 with 5:40 to go in the game, Reid oversaw a dawdling Eagles touchdown drive that took almost four minutes.

The time consumption forced Philadelphia to try an unsuccessful onside kick rather than pinning the Patriots deep and trying to force a stop. Though the Eagles would get the ball back with 46 seconds left, it was at their own 4-yard line with no timeouts โ€” a situation that Donovan McNabb was unable to create anything from.

Video: Patriots vs. Eagles: Super Bowl XXXIX Full Highlights | NFL

Patriots vs. Eagles: Super Bowl XXXIX Full Highlights | NFL

7) Tony Dungy kicks it to Devin Hester (Super Bowl XLI)

Dungy should be held accountable for kicking to Devin Hester to open up the Bears-Colts Super Bowl of 2007. After returning five punts and kicks for touchdowns that season, Hester had become Dungy’s number-one target all week despite telling his players not to kick to Hester; Dungy made up his mind late in the week that the Colts would look scared if they kicked away from Hester – giving the Bears 7-0 lead just 13 seconds into game time.

It kept the game competitive well into the second half in a driving rainstorm. Sometimes, it’s better to look scared!

Video: [HD] Devin Hester Opening Kickoff Return | Superbowl XLI | Extended Version

[HD] Devin Hester Opening Kickoff Return | Superbowl XLI | Extended Version

6) Bill Belichick going for it on 4th-and-13 (Super Bowl XLII)

As many may recall, the heavily favored Patriots were defeated in this game by only three points after Eli Manning went on his miracle drive with David Tyree and Plaxico Burress. What many fans may forget is that in the third quarter, Belichick had an opportunity to extend the Patriots’ 7-3 lead with a 48-yard field goal attempt from Stephen Gostkowski; instead, he gambled by going for it on fourth down 13, an attempt which ultimately failed.

Belichick’s defenders may point out that Gostkowski only managed one long FG of 45 yards that season, but his chances of adding three extra yards had to be better than converting fourth-and-13 against the Giants. Simply put, this play can be explained as pure arrogance from both teams in refusing to acknowledge until late into the game that they were engaged in an important fight where every point counted.

Video: The Biggest Upset in NFL History | Giants vs Patriots Super Bowl XLII

The Biggest Upset in NFL History | Giants vs Patriots Super Bowl XLII

5) Bill Parcells kicks it to Desmond Howard (Super Bowl XXXI)

Howard had already nearly broken two kick returns early in the game, yet that didn’t dissuade Parcells from opting to kick the ball to him again. Just minutes earlier, the Patriots had cut the Packer’s lead to 27-21, and the Patriots had the momentum with several minutes remaining in the third quarter; Howard took off on a 99-yard return touchdown winning the game and winning the Super Bowl MVP with his 154 return yards.

Parcells took away his teams momentum and lost the game with this one decision. Howard’s kick return touchdown will go down as one of the biggest game-changing plays in Super Bowl History!

Video: Desmond Howard Super Bowl Kickoff Return Touchdown (1996)

Desmond Howard Super Bowl Kickoff Return Touchdown (1996)

4) Forrest Gregg calls four straight plays for no gain on first-and-goal (Super Bowl XVI)

As part of the Packers’ legendary offensive line during the Ice Bowl, I guess that leads us to try to pound the ball into the endzone. Cincinnato was down 20-0 at halftime due to an error field first half. The Bengals cut the lead to 20-7 and had the ball first-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Pete Johnson carried twice before being stopped. Ken Anderson attempted a pass to Charles Alexander that was caught for no gain, then on fourth down, Gregg again went back to Johnson for nothing.

While we will later criticize another coach for not running the ball in this situation, Gregg’s crime here was being so predictable; Niners defensive players had keyed on Johnson for most of the afternoon and Johnson was a beast to tackle, the right call would have been a Ken Anderson bootleg with a run/pass option.

Video: Super Bowl XVI - The 49ers Goal Line Stand

Super Bowl XVI – The 49ers Goal Line Stand

3) Joe Gibbsโ€™ risky screenplay (Super Bowl XVIII)

Have you ever cursed your coach when they decided to take a knee at the end of a half instead of trying for another score? Joe Gibbs might be at the root of that frustration: Trailing 14-3 against the Los Angeles Raiders with only 12 seconds in the first half, Gibbs called for a screen pass at Washington’s own 12-yard line despite it going for 67 yards earlier in the season; unfortunately, Jack Squirek picked off Joe Theismann’s pass and returned it for a pick-six that gave Los Angeles that helped lead to an impressive 38-9 victory.

Gibbs may be the greatest coach in NFL history, but he still made a fatal mistake in this game. Gibbs mistake turned Raiders Linebacker Jack Squirek into one of the forgotten heroes of the Super Bowl!

Video: Jack Squirek Super Bowl Pick Six (1983)

Jack Squirek Super Bowl Pick Six (1983)

2) Kyle Shanahanโ€™s entire second half of play-calling (Super Bowl LI)

Shanahan may go on to be an outstanding head coach with the 49ers, but that won’t cause anyone in Atlanta to forget what happened in Houston. Shanahan made several critical mistakes as the Falcons offensive coordinator, including abandoning run for pass plays that allowed the Patriots to return from a 28-3 deficit and win in overtime.

While we could list his missteps at length, here’s just one more: With 4:40 left in the game, the Falcons had made it to New England’s 22 and still held onto a 28-20 advantage with an overall 98.1 win expectancy rate. Shanahan made an unwise call by going for a pass on second down instead of opting for three runs that could have either eaten into the clock or forced New England to use its timeouts, leading to Matt Ryan getting sacked 12 yards downfield and a holding penalty taking Atlanta out of field goal position altogether – placing Patriots back into play to complete the comeback attempt. Instead of creating an 11-point advantage for the Atlanta Falcons.

You also had the continuous snapping of the ball with ten to twenty seconds left on the play clock throughout the fourth quarter. The Falcons coaches were the reason that they lost this Super Bowl.

Video: The Atlanta Falcons BLOW 28-3 LEAD in the SUPER BOWL || Super Bowl 51

The Atlanta Falcons BLOW 28-3 LEAD in the SUPER BOWL || Super Bowl 51

1) Pete Carroll doesnโ€™t give the ball to Marshawn Lynch (Super Bowl XLIX)

Has ever so much depended on one play in a Super Bowl? Suppose Carroll hadn’t tried so hard on second down from the 1, handing off to one of their premier running backs instead of calling for Russell Wilson to throw a slant pass to Lockette with one timeout remaining and 26 seconds left on the clock. In that case, chances are the Seahawks likely would have won their second consecutive Super Bowl and extended Belichick-Brady’s drought to ten years. Unfortunately, Carroll did call for this risky play, and we all know what happened next; Carroll, Wilson and Seahawks fans will remember this interception forever.

With a timeout left, at worst, run the ball to get the yard. You can always throw on the next down if you want. This was NY gar the worst one-play coaching decision in Super Bowl history.

Video: Pete Carroll:

Pete Carroll: “OH NO!” after last minute interception in Super Bowl XLIX

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