Being a head coach in the National Football League comes with little job security. In fact, you can easily count on one hand the number of coaches around the league that are currently “untouchable.” Nonetheless, NFL coaching jobs always have, and always will, reign supreme in the opinions of those who are crazy enough to choose a career in the world’s ultimate “what have you done for me lately” industry.
We regularly see NFL head coaches get fired after only one or two years on the job. It can be for minuscule reasons, something completely out of their control, or because they were flat-out bad at their job.
In this article, we look at the coaches whose performances simply were not up to par. With that being said, here are the 10 worst head coaches in the history of the NFL, as determined by their lifetime coaching percentages — i.e. their wins ranked against their losses.
10. Mike Mularkey
After replacing Ken Whisenhunt on an interim basis following Week 8 of the 2015 season, Mike Mularkey (pictured above) is getting the chance to prove he has the goods to be a legitimate NFL head coach, as the Tennessee Titans made the position permanent during the offseason. Give Mularkey’s previous rack record in the role, we hope the organization knows what it’s doing.
Including his nine games at the helm of the Titans this past season, Mularkey has been a head coach on three separate occasions, two years (2004–05) with the Buffalo Bills and one season (2012) with the Jacksonville Jaguars, compiling an overall record of 18-39. Not exactly a mark that should instill confidence in his ability to call the shots. Like we said, we hope the Titans know what they’re doing.
9. Bill McPeak
As a defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bill McPeak found plenty of success. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl on three separate occasions (1952–53, 1956). However, a head football coach for the Washington Redskins, he did not experienced much success.
During McPeak’s five seasons — 1961–65 — on the Washington sidelines, the Redskins never once finished with a .500 record. Instead, the team went 21-46-3 during his brief tenure. While McPeak would never get another head-coaching gig, he did become the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins in 1973. So, at least there’s that.
8. Darryl Rogers
In 1985, Darryl Rogers received the opportunity to coach the team that the above gentleman has probably loved for as long as he can remember. His time at the helm did not go well — for anyone.
In less than four full seasons with the Detroit Lions, Rogers won just 18 games while losing 40 in the same amount of time. It’s no wonder that the organization replaced him 11 games into the 1988 season.
7. Harland Svare
Harland Svare, a linebacker turned head coach, spent eight years as a pro with the LA Rams and, later, with the New York Giants. He then coached the Rams (1962-65) and the San Diego Chargers (1971-73), finishing his coaching career with a lifetime record of 21 wins to 48 losses.
Savare voluntarily left his position in 1973, perhaps because he realized he wasn’t very good at it. That’s not him in the picture, by the way, it’s his teammate, Bob Waterfield. However, it is one of the only surviving pictures of the Los Angeles Rams in the early ’50s (that photo was taken in 1952), and Svare made his debut with the team a year later.
6. Joe Bugel
Over five years as a head coach — four consecutively with the Phoenix Cardinals (now just “Arizona”) and a redemption season/second chance with the Oakland Raiders in 1997 — Joe Bugel was able to compile a 24-56 record over 80 games. That, needless to say, is not a great mark if you want to keep coaching in the NFL.
Bugel’s stint with the Raiders involved a 4-12 season record. He never found another head coaching job in the league again, despite his prolific college coaching resume and extended stints on the coaching staffs of the Chargers and the Washington Redskins.
5. Marion Campbell
The only coach on this list to successfully oversee a professional NFL team for over 100 games, Marion Campbell was decidedly unspectacular as a head coach, finishing his career with an overall record of 34-80-1. While his defensive acumen was unparalleled — browsing through his PFR page reveals an extraordinary amount of success as a defensive coordinator — anything beyond that seemed to be a tall order for the two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman.
4. Dave McGinnis
There are certain teams that everyone remembers for better or worse. The 1972 Miami Dolphins and (almost) the 2007 New England Patriots. The Buffalo Bills of the ’90s made it to four consecutive Super Bowls and lost every single one. These teams are etched in the collective being of the NFL; groups that can be safely referenced in fan conversation with the knowledge that most people will know what you’re talking about.
The Arizona Cardinals of the early 2000s are not one of those teams, and that’s because they went 17-40 from 2000 until 2003 under the stewardship of Dave McGinnis. He hasn’t had a head coaching job since.
3. Jimmy Phelan
In 1951, the last year of the New York Yanks’ (not Yankees) existence, they went 1-9 under the direction of Jimmy Phelan, a head coach who spent two earlier seasons with the Los Angeles Dons of the AAFC, going 7-7 in his first season and 4-8 the second. Phelan’s last head coaching gig would be with the Dallas Texans of 1952. They went 1-11, giving Jimmy a lifetime record of 13-35.
2. Dave Shula
As the worst head coach of the modern era, Shula spent five years leading the Cincinnati Bengals. His time with the team eventually cultivated a disastrous 19-52 record. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that was the last time Shula received a head coaching gig. Don Shula’s son quickly bailed on football to move on to something he was more comfortable with, namely Shula’s Steak Houses.
1. Bert Bell
The football of the late ’30s and early ’40s is not nearly as recognizable as the game that millions sit down to watch every weekend and Monday night. If you don’t believe us, take a look at this “how to play football film” from the era. One of the things that translates strongly from the past to the present, though, is the winning and the losing.
Bert Bell, who was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1936 until 1941, was much more familiar with losing, winning only 10 games out of the 58 that he coached. That is not very good.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.
For the complete list of the worst head coaches in the NFL, click here.